Audrey Tran, M.D. class of 2021
“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” -Victor Hugo
At 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday, I was rushing through the PDX airport to catch an early morning flight. There was a bustling spring break crowd at security check, which made the airport feel less eerie. I, too, was excited for my spring break destination — namely, the Westin Hotel in Denver, Colorado for the 2018 Western Group on Educational Affairs (WGEA) conference! Soon many fellow classmates, sixteen of us in total, would also arrive in Denver to embark on a three-day medical education adventure.
Who are we? We are the Women’s Leadership Development Program (WLDP), a group of women on campus that learns tangible leadership and community-building skills. In our monthly workshops, we draw inspiration from narrative medicine, wellness training, relational skill-building, and strength-based leadership theory. Our ultimate goal is to empower women-identified medical students to uphold leadership positions.
But the most powerful thing about our community is not what we do, but rather how we make those around us feel. Radical in its simplicity, and grounded in its vision, WLDP is more than a workshop series — it is a deeply nurturing community. Women in this space are empowered to voice ideas, share personal challenges, and navigate their personal and professional identities with authenticity. In doing all these things, WLDP creates and upholds a safe space in which medical students feel unconditionally supported along their unique journeys.
Our collective enthusiasm for WLDP manifests into a palpable, contagious energy when we share our work at conferences. In the fall, for example, many of us attended the 2017 Oregon Medical Association (OMA) Conference: Putting the Joy Back Into Medicine. Since presenting, we have consistently garnered public support for WLDP from the OMA (incidentally and comically, I show up on the 2018 OMA conference flyer twice).
We set out to inspire a similar effect at the 2018 WGEA conference. At our first workshop, Dr. Megan Furnari facilitated a conversation that introduced the WLDP curriculum and its impact on the OHSU community. Again, it was the way in which information was shared that transformed the conference space into a communal one.
Second-year medical students Hannah Dischinger, Kara Konigsfeld and Sasha Narayan used the power of narrative to share their deeply personal journeys to medicine. Erynn Beeson, a fellow first-year medical student, said of the experience, “It takes a lot of courage to share your most vulnerable moments to strangers. It was incredibly humbling to represent OHSU with this group of women, and I have so much faith in them as the next generation of women physician leaders.”
By practicing vulnerability, a trait not often seen in medicine, Hannah, Kara and Sasha invited others in the room an opportunity to do the same. It was humbling to see how each story organically initiated a stirring of recognition in other medical students and educators in the room. It encouraged medical professionals, of various generations and institutions, to consider how their own journeys to medicine could have been different had they had the support of a program like WLDP.
At the poster session, we continued the conversation with other conference attendees, including AAMC administration, residency directors, and medical school deans. Many in the group cited the poster session as a highlight of the conference, as they were able to engage in fervent dialogue about the importance of the WLDP, and how it could change the horizon for women leaders in medicine. Sarah Owens, also a first-year medical student, commented on the possibility of implementing WLDP programs across schools: “There were countless numbers of women who echoed our narratives, which shows that not only is our program important and impactful, it has immense value and deserves to be replicated at other institutions for those women to gain the same leadership experience.”
The next day, WLDP participated in a second workshop, where a panel of students discussed personal and professional identity formation, and the extent to which medical schools should be responsible for cultivating both. It was humbling to converse with esteemed medical professionals as if there were no medical hierarchy — though, in some ways, students are the true “content experts” in terms of medical education, as we are the ones who experience the effect of curriculum changes in real time.
For the rest of the conference, we participated in other medical education workshops. For myself, I found talks on generational differences in medicine and physician advocacy curriculum particularly powerful, and I hope to incorporate some of these insights at OHSU. Other noteworthy talks from the conference were a talk by UCSD students on racism and unconscious bias, and a workshop and panel of UCSF and OHSU medical education leaders on how to navigate a career as a physician-educator.
One of the biggest takeaways from this conference, for all of us who were able to attend, was that we began to see ourselves as active contributors in transforming medical education. What we lack in pedagogical knowledge, we make up for with our lived experience, empathy, and passion for an improved, more inclusive future in medicine. We realized that medical students have a voice that is highly sought out in MedEd, and that the most successful institutions are the ones who are receptive to feedback. The principle of reception has already been applied to WLDP, as one of its founding values is co-creation among members.
Secondly, but just as importantly, we have realized that medicine needs the creativity and courage to think about leadership differently: we need a transformation. This might mean reframing the definition of strength beyond stamina (e.g., how many hours one can stay awake to perform a job). It might also mean teaching medical students how to be vulnerable, and how to embrace and learn from failure. Transformed leadership considers the acts of reflection, narrative, and vulnerability as tools to fostering genuine connections within our community.
This is where programs like WLDP can step in to train the next generation of physician leaders. I, too, sit transformed as I think about what it means to exercise leadership to truly make a difference in patients’ lives.
About the Author
Audrey Tran is a first-year medical student interested in advocating for health policy, using music and writing as tools in patient communication, and helping others celebrate their unique contributions to the healthcare field.
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