In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicized jobs.

–Daniel J. Boorstin, US historian

I’d like to devote this blog article to talking about the props of our curriculum and program:  our Curricular Leaders.

And I’d like to feature some resources, especially the new Course Directors’ Community as a place for those leaders to find some support (

A few weeks ago, on January 10, our Course Directors, Competency Leads, Year Directors and other curricular leaders took part in our semi-annual Curricular Leaders’ Retreat.  We had an action packed day, with workshops that actually included work time, with 10 different options throughout the day from which people could choose as well as 2 plenary sessions and a Be Tech Savvy, Teach Savvy finale.  The topics were: Narrative Feedback for Clerks, Ideas for SGL, Blueprinting your Course, Building a Quality Exam, Poll Everywhere, Remediation, Evaluating Complexity of Cases, Graded Team Assignments, Teaching Diagnostic Reasoning in Pre-Clerkship, and Presentations on Med Ed research colloquia.  We had lots of food, lots of breaks for discussion, and (I hope) lots of fun!  The slides, handouts and everything else from the day are posted on MEdTech in the Faculty Resources Community at

Dr. Sanfilippo kicked things off with a report that included some very telling videos:  Lucy and Ethel at the Chocolate Factory (http:/http:/, Spinning Plates while balancing on a ball (and jumping rope), and of course the iconic scene where the crew tries to turn the Titanic from the iceberg: “Why isn’t it turning?!”.


The theme, of course, is the challenge of the role of the Curricular Leader—the art of coping with faster and faster deadlines, the skill of balancing and juggling clinical work, research and academic work, the delicate tension of steering a team and a curriculum and moving in time to avoid program icebergs.

This is the role of the unsung hero—the ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and triumph in the face of obstacles that may seem overwhelming.

It’s important to know that our curriculum runs as well as it does because of our 37 Course Directors, 6 Competency Leads, 10 Directors, 5 additional Committee Chairs, 3 Integrated Clerkship Site Leads, 8 Regional Clerkship Discipline Reads and 3 Learner Advocates in Regional Education.   And an Associate Dean extraordinaire, too!

Our Course Directors have a new role description.  In addition to carrying out the specific roles of clerkship or preclerkship Course Directors, there are these 10 general roles:

  1. Provide orientation to and mentoring of new faculty members, ensuring cohesion of all course teaching/assessment.
  2. Ensure that the assigned course objectives are taught within the course.
  3. Review sessional content and ensure that there is appropriate integration among the learning events within the course and with other courses as applicable.
  4. Ensure that teaching methods are varied and appropriate to the course objectives in accordance with the Teaching Methodology Policy (CC-10)
  5. Ensure that assessment strategies are in accordance with the Student Assessment Committee Policy (SA-05) and the Student Assessment Practices and Procedures.
  6. Oversee the course, provide content for the course’s Web site and review the Web site, ensuring that the information on it is correct.
  7. Complete the course review process with the Course and Faculty Review Committee.
  8. Engage in professional development.
  9. Identify faculty development needs in the course through the CFRC course directors’ survey and to the Educational Development Team and Year Director.
  10. Identify information and resources relevant to courses.

The full UG Course Directors’ Role Description can be found on our new Course Directors’ Community at

It’s one thing to state the roles in a document; it’s another to enact them.  At the last retreat, curricular leaders had asked for some time to network, and to give each other tips about being a Course Director or Competency Lead.  We were able to build this into the retreat, and half an hour later, we have some results to show you.

Here are the Tips and Traps curricular leaders shared with each other at our recent retreat.

retreat 1


  • Develop objectives for themes, such as oncology, throughout curriculum, as it spans from 1st to 4th year
  • Use MEdTech:  Curriculum Search Function and other functions will let you see what is covered in other courses, which allows building on previously taught material and avoidance of unnecessary overlap
  • Use keywords or tags to ensure all material gets picked up in a MEdTech search
  • Ask for help – you will get it!  Communicate.  The Education Team (Sheila Pinchin, Eleni Katsoulas, Theresa Suart and Alice Rush-Rhodes) will come to sessions, help you plan, search for links, etc.  Your Program Assistants and Curricular Coordinators will also help in many ways.
  • Your course should have defined goals, objectives, curricular content and you should an overall picture of your course and related curricular components
  • Remember your courses/clerkship rotations are not designed for becoming a specialist in that discipline; breadth and depth need to be appropriate
  • Deal with student issues personally and quickly (professionalism & ethics)
  • Balance between micromanaging and some flexibility
  • Assessment Tips:  Write exams before course starts and tweak as needed; Blueprint immediately after course is completed
  • Use team work to design (or redesign) the curriculum—to have objectives assigned to your course, to link to other parts of the curriculum, to integrate competencies, interprofessionalism, etc within your course

The Integrated Clerkships contributed these specific ideas, but they’re actually useful for all courses:

  • Be guided by expressed student needs
  • Students enjoy exposure to other disciplines
  • Find great teachers and keep them enthusiastic
  •  Expose students to real professional dilemmas (but don’t overwhelm them), e.g. ethical issues re EOL conversation
  •  Expose students to ethical interaction w/ industry (relate to C Courses)


  • Micromanaging;  rigidity, square pegs and round holes
  •  Communication—try hard to communicate with other course directors, with Ed Team, with faculty in your course, with students, with MEdTech, with Curricular Coordinators…
  • Not being able to see the big picture, i.e. what is concurrent, before & after in the curriculum
  • Time management for prep and delivery is more extensive than originally thought
  • If the work is unrealistic, it is unrealistic. Tell someone you cannot make the deadline. There may have been an error.
  • Relative & accidental invisibility of good programming (Eg. History of medicine, often ignored in accreditation)
  • Some patient-based issues get accidentally ghetto-ized, eg. (1) women in repro only (2) palliative care for oncology cancer only

The Integrated Clerkships have these concerns:

  • Work on faculty appointment which can be somewhat obstructive for some community MD’s willing to teach
  • Work on overextending expectations of a community, esp. with student wellness
  • Being overly-exposed to a particular [ethical] agenda
  • Ensure the sessions are aligned with Curricular Objectives
  • Ensure interdisciplinary objects are understood and taught

retreat 2

Now that this list has been compiled, it will go to our Associate Dean. There are some solutions already present through MEdTech, the Curricular Coordinators, the UG Educational Team, the Office of Learner Wellness, Bracken Library of Health Sciences, the Curriculum and Program Committees which are some of the resources that curricular leaders (and all faculty) can access.  We are also ably supported by the Office of Regional Education, the Office of Faculty Development, the Office of Interprofessional Education, and the Office of Health Sciences Education.

One resource is the new community for Course Directors built by the UG Educational Team.  It’s at

Courese Director 2014-01-20 at 9.33.22 AM

It contains information we’ve gleaned from interviewing Course and Year Directors, from  experience, and from consulting medical education literature.

One section we compiled with the help of Dr. Sue Moffatt contains the Course Director Checklists organized into Before, During and After the Course:

You may also find the Assessment Planning section helpful (tho’ there is still more to come)

There’s a lot more:  from Course Planning to Student Roles, to the Curriculum structure and the Committee and Leadership structure.  Why not dive in and look around?

Our Curricular Leaders support the program through their hard and varied work.  They work diligently at aligning the triumvirate of learning objectives, teaching strategies and assessment.  They often teach a great deal in their courses, and are responsible ultimately for the assessment of the students’ progress.  They have huge communication responsibilities with Year Directors, Curricular Coordinators, in committees, and with their faculty members and students.  They are curriculum builders and adapters.  They, along with the faculty who teach in our program, are heroes in the work they do…

Typically, the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of myth a world-historical, macrocosm triumph. Whereas the former–the youngest or despised child who becomes the master of extraordinary powers–prevails over his personal oppressors, the latter brings back from his adventure the means for the regeneration of his society as a whole.

–Joseph Campbell The Hero with a Thousand Faces