Episode 12: RUSM and Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL)


Academic support is a major focus at Ross University School of Medicine. In this episode, we talk about the Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL) and all the activities they offer, such as pre-matriculation courses, workshops, one-on-one coaching, mind/body/medicine, peer tutoring and the cognitive skills program.

Episode 12: RUSM and Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL) Transcript

Milena Garcia: Welcome back. Thank you for joining us again. So this week we're going to be talking about the academy for teaching and learning. My guest today is Dr. Courisse Knight. She is the Director for the ATL. Thank you for joining us. Why don't we take a moment to have you introduce yourself to our listeners?

Courisse Knight: Thank you. So, as you said, my name is Dr. Courisse Knight. I am a lifelong learner and I've been in medical education for many, many years. I really enjoy helping medical students turn their passion to something that's going to change lives.

Milena Garcia: And what is it about Student Development and medical education that really excites you?

Courisse Knight: I think that  what excites me is I've always wanted to be able to change people's lives one bite at a time. But what I find exciting about Medical Education generally is when you look at higher education, it's the one aspect of higher ed where you know for sure that when you go into it's going to affect so many, so many lives. I think students are probably some of the most passionate people that you'll ever meet in medical schools, probably one of the most difficult journeys. But I think what is exciting is just the opportunity to be able to be a partner in that journey, to demystify the process so that students can feel like they can try for  the rest of their lives, and to help with their development along the way. And I think that's why we created the ATL.

The Academy for Teaching and Learning

Milena Garcia: Tell us what is the ATL, what does it stand for?

Courisse Knight: It stands for the Academy for teaching and learning. It has three components. It includes faculty development and research and scholarship. It also includes student success programs and we work very, very closely with all departments across the academic learning environment to make sure that we are accomplishing our main goal, which is academic success and we try to approach academic success from a very personalized standpoint, you know. Ross is definitely not the kind of school that's going to admit a student and not be committed to making sure that students are able to progress in ways that are meaningful for them. And I really appreciate being part of that process. And I think every aspect, every person sort of takes that approach, that academic success is a primary aspect of what we're trying to accomplish, and we believe that learning is something that is very individualized and we try to incorporate an evidence based approach to how we help students with their own development.

Milena Garcia: What is your approach to helping the students succeed.

Courisse Knight: So our approach to helping students succeed is, I guess, multiple, for example. As I mentioned earlier, we do focus on the individual. We have students who are coming from all different backgrounds. People just come out of undergrad. We've had students who have had other careers and make the decision now to come to medical school. Their goals and frustrations are very, very different, the challenges that they face will be unique. So our approach has to be individualized, it can't be a cookie cutter, we can't assume that students who come into our learning environment are going to be successful. Without any sort of intervention. And I don't think we would want it that way anyway because part of being a physician is being able to be flexible and adaptable and to be able to engage and this reflective practice to be able to understand how to take feedback about the experiences that you're going through and really use it for your own development and so in that process, we're hoping that our students will be self directed and more to be self directed you need to be able to incorporate all sorts of information about yourself and you know recalibrate so that you can continue along your journey. And we help students transition make the transition from maybe the working world into a medical program or even if they've been a student their whole lives, being a medical student is quite different, you know, there's actually science aspects of it that cannot be ignored, and there's the strategy aspect of it, that definitely needs to be to be learned. And then there's like really critical aspect of being able to balance the two with a bit of resilience as well. And we also know that you know I mentioned that you know there is a true science behind medicine. And, you know, a lot of students come into the learning environment, thinking that, you know, they know how to learn. For many of our students, they learn relatively quickly, that there is a way to learn and that you can't approach one topic the same as the other. And so we incorporate a number of interventions on a personal level and also in a group level, formally and informally, to make sure that students are aware of the thinking skills that they're going to need to coach each milestone in this journey.

Milena Garcia:  And being admissions, I often see this exactly, this what you're mentioning, the transition between undergrad or grad school to medical school. The students sometimes think that they can study the same way and it's not the same. So I'm glad to hear that we offer this kind of support to our students to help with the transition and how to study for medical school and how to be successful in medical school. Can you talk a little bit more about how you reach out to the students, what kind of interactions the ATL has with the students?

Courisse Knight: I would say that, you know, again, Ross is not one of the schools that's going to admit you and leave you alone and your academic journey and hope for the best. You know? We wanted to be strategic about it. We wanted to feel confident about every step that you're taking along this journey and sometimes you know when you're trying your best to sort of get lost and trying to figure out, am I doing enough? Am I good enough? After many exams, those exams that have happened during the term and the ATL does give students feedback about their performance and makes specific recommendations about how the student has performed to eventually help with that self-directed learning process so that you can make the necessary changes in a timely manner. We also have to make sure that we're committed to connecting with other departments. Because sometimes we have to approach the situation on an individual level, like what I described in terms of making sure that we give individualized feedback to students and guide them to resources that we think would be helpful. But we also need to make sure that we are keeping abreast of what challenges our students are having generally with maybe some of the course objectives or a particular topic or skill.

Courisse Knight: And we believe that it's our responsibility to make sure that we sort of provide an experience outside of the curriculum in order to make sure that students are able to address those. Those topic areas or objectives that cause and difficulty, you know, we almost like they're, they might be thinking challenges that we can help students sort of figure out, and at the end of the day, everything is cumulative. So you might have a challenge on one exam. And trust me, it's going to come back. Every module builds on the other one. You want to make sure that if there are gaps that we make sure that we fill them. And I think the other aspect of just, you know, what we do to help students and how we interact with them is to make sure that we put a key focus on that professional development and provide experiences that are probably outside of the curriculum that we know that our students are going to need as they make their way through this academic journey and towards being a physician and we want to make sure that we encourage students and research and scholarship. And you know, that's one of the critical ways that students are able to try and transfer they're passionate about why they started this journey. In the first place into something that's going to be meaningful and professionally beneficial but also I think being able to rediscover to dig a little bit deeper into something that you love and keeps that fire burning

Activities offered by the ATL

Milena Garcia: I'm making a lot of notes as I listen to you. I'm writing down feedback, self-directed learning, individualized learning, professional development. This is great. What kind of other activities does the ATL offer? Are the activities open to all students?

Courisse Knight: Yes, our activities are open to all students because, you know, we hope that we're presenting students with opportunities for them to find themselves in this journey also recognize that, you know, because we're playing in the evidence based approach to Student Development generally and we want to make sure that every student has the opportunity to engage in those experiences and that being said, part of our feedback often mandates that students engage in certain activities because we believe that that might be something to help them make the necessary shifts that they have to make at that particular time. Engagement with students actually happens before they even become a medical student, at least, for two or three matriculation programs. And a lot of our students. As I mentioned before, they are coming with very, very unique experiences and even if you are having a more traditional experience coming directly from undergrad, there's a sort of self awareness that one needs to develop in order to be able to get through all of the hoops that medical school will throw your way. And the pre matriculation course is a great way to help students understand or find them the way that they learn  you might have said, ‘Oh, I've taken notes before, I've managed my time before, I know how to answer, multiple choice questions, I know how to think critically, but the matriculation course really introduces you to the critical aspects and we believe that every medical student should be able to master, with the hope that when you start in your first term that these are things that you can continue to grow and develop and a very personalized way we offer workshops. Some of them are workshops designed to help students transition from one milestone to the next and by milestones, I mean, from maybe one semester to the next. Sometimes It'd be from medical science to the clinical sciences. Sometimes that transition might actually be in the term where there's a lot more in terms of how you need to think that's being asked of you. We also have one-on-one academic coaching every student when they come in, complete an academic contract and this academic contract is meant to be revisited after every exam, every academic experience and students really take time to really recalibrate setting goals, evaluate themselves. 

The other thing that we do in the academy for teaching and learning is that we recognize the importance of having a focus on communication skills development. Sometimes these communication skills might be things that we're seeing when you're interacting with our standardized patients. So maybe it might be something that you recognize when you're trying to read or understand information that is given to you. So if those are challenges that we see or faculty might see our students having difficulty with or maybe you might self report that you know, ‘I think I'm having a little bit of an issue on this one,’ in some aspects of communication. We want to make sure that we provide a resource so that you have an outlet to to develop yourself in those areas. We also provide support for ESL learners and many of our students come to Ross and they might have been speaking English their whole lives, but it's not their first language and they may encounter some challenges that maybe you might not have seen when you're in undergrad, but are now servicing as a medical student. 

So we want to make sure that now if English is your second language that we're providing the necessary support for you to be able to handle your academic challenges. And I'd say that we also work closely with Mind Body medicine and mind body medicine is something that, you know, a lot of medical schools are getting into. But I think for Ross, we recognize the importance of maintaining wellness, being resilient unless it goes through this journey. And we also want to make sure that you know that we we understand and appreciate the challenges our students face and we give them appropriate ways to be able to go through those challenges and accounting skills program is a great program is semester one and we use Bloom's Taxonomy and a number of evidence based strategies in order to help students learn how to learn for the different disciplines, for example. When a student is studying let's say biochemistry, that's thinking skills that you're going to need. It can be quite different when you're studying something that's in anatomy or other aspect of medicine. And so we built this skills program to sort of coincide with what students are learning so that as you transition from one topic to the next, especially in the fundamentals course that you're taking in semester one that you know what thinking skills are required. And so one way that that program runs is that you might be in a small group of let's say eight students, and the skills might be presented to you and then you're you work with your group and using a very active approach to incorporate that skill into the concept that you're learning and we hope that this then becomes something that you can replicate on your own or with your peer group. And speaking of peers, peer tutoring is a program that is offered. It's free to every student and a lot of our peer tutors think it's a really great way to give back. Students will use it to kind of keep their skills up as they prepare for step one.: But from the student user aspect, I would say that there's no better way to learn something than to learn from those who have walked the walk.

Milena Garcia: And again, the peer tutors also get paid right?

Courisse Knight: Yes, they do.

Milena Garcia: Yeah. Nice. Yeah.

Courisse Knight: And for both PREP programs, one students per semester three and up our interventions around preparation from your board exams and get progressively increased, especially in the final semester where you'll be taken several MBA exams and getting feedback on those exams, so we work with the faculty and work with students to make sure that we can provide support for students who need to brush up your skills in a particular area. We help with preparing and actually developing a plan for how you're going to force that milestone and everybody really is on that on a different pathway. And we want to make sure that students really understand that, you know, the step one exam is critically important.

And we want to make sure that every student is prepared and is able to achieve the score that they want or achieve the goal that they want.

Milena Garcia: This is a long list of activities that the ATL offers. Wow. You guys must be busy all the time. And in your experience, what do you see the students struggling with the most

Courisse Knight: Honestly, I don't see that our students have any greater difficulty than what the literature would say about what medical students struggle with the most and for me personally, I think that one of the challenges that I see is just the need to be resilient to be able to take feedback and know what to do with it and not let it something like a disable it destabilizing force and burnout definitely is something that all medical students suffer with from time to time. So I think generally, making the needed adjustments in the right time maintaining passion. And I think, and also probably help seeking, you know, because a lot of us come to this environment and hope that  it can just push through. And sometimes you can't do it alone. So we hope that we can build a community of learners where everybody can feel respected and supported along the journey.

Milena Garcia: Dr Knight I appreciate taking your time to share your insights with us. Do you have any last recommendations for our future Rossies?

Courisse Knight: I think that the number one thing that you have to remember is that you are the best tool that you bring into this experience And to make sure that you reach out early which are often it's the best way to discover your strengths and weaknesses and, above all, to maintain your enthusiasm for something that means so much for you. So I would say don't be a stranger and be committed to you on development.

Milena Garcia: Education is not the time for pride. I always tell the students that I work with, right, reach out, ask for assistance. We're here to make sure that you become the best professional that you can. Dr. Knight once again, thank you for joining us here, appreciate you taking your time to share all this information. The Academy for teaching and learning. It's a great resource on campus and available to all the students. Thank you.

Courisse Knight: Yes. Hope to see you guys soon.