This essay was written for the 2018-2019 HMS Dean's Report in answer to the question "What was your most formative or memorable experience in your training at HMS?"
I came to Harvard Medical School from the University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in 2016 as a candidate for the Master of Medical Sciences in Medical Education degree. My main mission was to learn the newest principles of medical education and apply them to the medical curriculum reform in my home institution. HMS had launched a new curriculum called Pathways in 2015, and my home institution had also started a new integrated and interactive curriculum in 2016.
To simply apply the new HMS curriculum to my university, however, might not be a good approach because of the inherent differences in the two schools and their cultural settings. My mission was to learn new principles that could be used back home in Vietnam. In my two-year journey at HMS as I pursued this essential mission, the insightful mentorship I received and the flexible program in which I was enrolled provided my most memorable experiences.
Students are enabled to address different challenges in medical education throughout the world having gained a unique perspective at HMS.
Upon my arrival at HMS in the fall of 2016, I shared my concerns about which direction I should take with my academic mentor in the MMSc program, Edward Krupat. Instead of giving me easy answers to what and how I should learn from HMS, he just shared his experiences with HMS’s recently adopted Pathways curriculum. His story showed that it is not always possible to claim an easy victory in curriculum reform—even at HMS. Technical competencies in medical education were necessary but not sufficient, and the reform process could be painful sometimes.
His insightful words greatly resonated with me. It helped me to make very good choices about the specific courses to take while taking into account the important of both technical and adaptive competencies in medical education.
I registered for courses in medical education, including instructional formats and qualitative research at HMS, and took courses in statistics in education and adult development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I also attended courses at Harvard’s Kennedy School, including adaptive leadership, art of communication and developing people. While courses at HMS and HGSE provided me with technical competencies, HKS provided me with adaptive competencies. I hope that my newly acquired competencies might translate into future successful interventions.
I might not have been able to realize my mentor’s insightful guidance without the flexibility of the HMS training program. The MMSc in Medical Education Program was not one size fits all but focuses on individualization. More than 50 percent of the program courses were selective or elective, and learners can choose the courses most appropriate to their needs. Besides the core competencies needed to earn the MMSc in Medical Education, all candidates are encouraged to individualize their learning to address their specific missions. All those who complete the degree are both similar in general quality and different in specific competencies. Students are enabled to address different challenges in medical education throughout the world having gained a unique perspective at Harvard Medical School.
I highly appreciated the insightful mentorship and program flexibility during my two years at HMS. Ships in the vast sea of knowledge have different destinations. The flexibility of the training program is necessary for all the ships to travel to different destinations, and the excellent mentorship helps prevent them from becoming lost in a sea of uncertainty.