Get to Know the New Dean for Medical Education

Bernard Chang on exciting, but daunting, challenge of training leaders in medicine, enhancing clinical learning

Sideview of Chang in white coat holding mic while speaking to audience of students, many in white coats
Bernard Chang (far right) moderates the patient clinic during the class of 2024’s first week. Image: Steve Lipofsky

It should be no surprise that Bernard Chang, the new dean for medical education at Harvard Medical School, is passionate about medicine and teaching — and believes there is no better place to learn to be a doctor than at HMS.

Less well known is that Chang also trained in classical piano, once played on the stage at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, and thought about majoring in music.

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The decision to pursue a science career rather than follow his musical calling was not easy, he said. But he believes that being a musician has enhanced his skills as a medical educator, such as recognizing the performance aspect of lecturing.

“The intonation of your voice, the variations in tone and delivery over the arc of the lecture, are important for making a dry subject like cerebellar circuitry engaging,” he said, having taught neuroanatomy for many years.

Much like musicians in an orchestra, medical educators must work together and complement one another — and both teams have a leader guiding them to achieve a shared purpose.

Chang raised the baton before the HMS Program in Medical Education on July 31, when the Class of 2027 arrived on campus. He follows Edward Hundert, who served as dean for medical education for nine years.

Harvard Medicine News interviewed Chang about the daunting, but exciting, challenge of training physicians who will become leaders in myriad fields of medicine and reflect the diversity of patients they will serve.

HMNews: Congratulations! How does it feel to be the new HMS dean for medical education?

Chang: It’s both exciting and daunting. It’s exciting because we have a great opportunity to lead nationally and internationally in shaping the future of medical education. There are many things that we have done extraordinarily well that we need to continue.

But there are other things we’ve done that should probably grow and change. And we’re not doing this in a static, neutral environment. Many of the bedrock principles and methods we’ve used in medical education are under threat. We need to find new ways to ensure that we have a diverse and inclusive class. We need to find new ways to make sure that our students, in their clinical environments, are getting the best type of learning from faculty.

Our clinical affiliates have just been through a once-in-a-century crisis in terms of the COVID pandemic. Our teaching faculty are facing pressures from their hospital networks to a degree that we've never seen before. And access to health care is a huge pressure point. Those are the daunting parts.

HMNews: HMS’ Program in Medical Education has expanded to include an anti-racism task force and LGBTQ+ material integrated throughout the curriculum so that it is more inclusive of populations that haven't been adequately served by health care. What are your priorities for centering health equity in the curriculum?

Chang: This is so important and is one of my highest priorities going forward. It's not lost on me that the mission statement of Harvard Medical School says that part of what we're doing is improving health and well-being for all. Those two words — “for all” — emphasize succinctly that part of our goal is to make sure that all of the best things about the profession of medicine really are accessible to everybody, to all of our patients, to all of our communities. We've made great strides here at HMS, but there are still many more things to be done.

Specifically with regard to health equity, the PME anti-racism task force created a 75-page, comprehensive document outlining key recommendations. Now, an anti-racism subcommittee of our highest-level curricular governance committee, the Educational Policy and Curriculum Committee, is focused on implementing those recommendations.

It's a great start, but we need to make sure that in the coming years we tackle all the elements that will reduce inequities.

Part of it is having the right students here. Part of it is having the right faculty in front of those students — making sure that our teaching physicians, including in the preclerkship classroom, represent the broadest and most inclusive community possible. Part of it is making sure our clinical environments allow students to work with patients from many different communities and backgrounds, which is going to be required of them in their future careers.

There is a lot to do, and it won’t be easy, because if it were easy, we would've already accomplished it. But I look forward to engaging with the anti-racism subcommittee and following the task force’s blueprint.

Chang on screen in greenish suit and blue shirt looking off to the left thinking
Chang on studying access to care for patients with seizure disorders
Chang in video smiling at onscreen camera
Chang on his measure of success