School of Medicine’s role in developing leaders discussed

Dean Steven L. Kanter with former deans Betty Drees, M.D., Harry Jonas, M.D., and Richardson Noback, M.D., from left, at the Tradition of Leadership event.
Dean Steven L. Kanter withformer deans Betty Drees, M.D., Harry Jonas, M.D., and Richardson Noback, M.D., from left, at the Tradition of Leadership event

The UMKC School of Medicine marked its 45th anniversary celebrating the school’s rich tradition of developing leaders.

School of Medicine faculty members presented the preliminary findings of a research project at an April 8 event titled “A Tradition of Leadership.” The research project is a study of the factors that have led graduates of the B.A./M.D. program to leadership roles.

In his opening remarks, Dean Steven L. Kanter, M.D., said the study originated from his observation that the school had produced a substantial number of graduates who have ascended to leadership positions in patient care, research, education, the military, organized medicine, industry and government. “I was curious to know why this medical school is graduating so many individuals who achieved so much,” he said.

Kanter’s curiosity led to the alumni leadership research project. Two of the authors of the study, Louise Arnold, Ph.D., professor emerita of medical education and research, and Jennifer Quaintance, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical and health informatics and director of medical education support services, discussed the methodology and early results at the April 8 event.

For the purposes of the study, leadership was defined as documented achievement as administrators, clinicians, researchers or educators in substantial local, regional or national medical institutions, organizations or societies. The authors determined that of 213 of the 1,664 B.A./M.D. students who graduated from UMKC from 1976 to 1999 met the criteria.

The authors conducted interviews with 48 of the 213 graduates and asked them to identify the factors they believed had contributed to their leadership development. Many graduates indicated their experiences in medical school influenced their growth.

In interviews, graduates said the culture of the medical school was one of the key factors. Graduates described the learning environment as supportive, nurturing, friendly and encouraging. “No one told you that you couldn’t do something,” one respondent said.

Many graduates said the docent system was crucial in their development. They said the junior-senior partnerships and other aspects of the system taught responsibility, collegiality and other important concepts. The docent team, Arnold reported, “became a place for learning how to build and be part of an effective team.”

Three former deans and an alumnus participated in a panel discussion after Arnold and Quaintance presented the findings.

Founding Dean Richardson Noback, M.D., said the School of Medicine’s admissions process identified students who demonstrated a capacity for leadership. Noback said the school looked for students who had a “sustained record of application to a difficult task through time with excellence in performance.”

Noback’s successor, Dean Emeritus Harry Jonas, M.D., said UMKC medical students benefit from being exposed to patient care as first-year students. “The beauty of this program is the early, early clinical experience you have.”

Jonas said the School of Medicine’s skeptics focused on the accelerated curriculum. “They didn’t understand the docent system. They didn’t understand the integration of the humanities and medical education.”

Dean Emerita Betty Drees, M.D., agreed with the finding that the junior-senior partnerships and other aspects of the docent system are critical to UMKC graduates’ future success. “I think one of the reasons why they’re such effective clinicians is because they train in a team environment, and medicine is very much a team activity,” she said.

Michael Weaver, M.D. ’77, an alumnus and clinical associate professor of emergency medicine, said the phrase “patient-centered care” reminds him of his experience as a medical student at UMKC. “I would say that we had a student-centered learning approach at this institution.”

Stuart Munro, M.D., professor of medical humanities and social sciences, led the panel discussion.

Paul Cuddy, Ph.D., senior associate dean for academic affairs, and Susan Hathaway, Ph.D., assistant teaching professor of pediatrics, are co-authors of the research project, along with Arnold, Quaintance and Kanter.