QEP proposal will embed humanities courses within health sciences curriculum
By Bruce Coleman
Throughout his career, Dr. Ralph Didlake has been recognized as a standard-bearer for ethics and professionalism in the practice of medicine.
He nurtured those concepts throughout his 14 years on faculty in the Department of Surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and a decade spent in private practice in Mississippi. They were what drove him to obtain an advanced degree in bioethics and health policy from Loyola University in Chicago and to help create the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at UMMC.
And they were at the forefront of his Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) proposal to the Division of Institutional Research to establish a campus-wide ethics and professionalism training program at the Medical Center.
"When I sat down and looked at campus-wide needs assessment to improve the educational environment, these human-rights issues kept popping up," Didlake said. "Ethics and professionalism, empathy, staff collegiality. The larger that list grew, the more it resonated with the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities.
"We decided to develop a QEP proposal that could directly address these human elements by putting ethics, professionalism and the humanities into every training program at the Medical Center."
The proposal, "Ethics, Professionalism and Humanities across the UMMC Curriculum," bested more than 370 suggestions from Medical Center faculty, staff and students on how the institution could improve its health-care education, according to Mitzi Norris, director of accreditation.
"I have been very pleased with the decision-making process used to select the Quality Enhancement Plan for our campus," Norris said. "We have had extensive student, faculty and staff involvement since we began the selection a year ago.
"Our ultimate choice, 'Ethics, Professionalism and Humanities,' is an exceptional one because it touches on the human elements of health-care workers in every area of the institution."
Indeed, Dr. Rob Rockhold, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs, called Didlake's proposal "the right idea, at the right time, in the right place."
"Dr. Didlake's interventions could help propel this Medical Center into a select few institutions that become models for renewal of the promise upon which our health-care system is based; that is, delivery of the best care by the most culturally appropriate, most professional and most humane practitioners."
Didlake's biggest challenge in developing the proposal - a mandated part of the Medical Center's accreditation process by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) - was in developing a model that would successfully execute his plan, especially in an era of "tight curriculum and overburdened faculty."
His solution? Fundamentally alter the way ethics and professionalism are introduced into the standard health-care curriculum.
"Traditionally, ethics courses have been taught by people coming from outside (of the individual disciplines)," Didlake said. "Our intent is to weave them into the fabric of the Medical Center so they are seamless with the rest of the curriculum in all of the schools."
This "ethics-across-the-curriculum" approach, first developed by the American Philosophical Association, is nothing new: Several universities across the country have embedded ethics instruction into their regular curriculum. But Didlake said it has never been implemented successfully at a health sciences campus.
"The academic medical campus is a unique environment, so the approach needs to be unique," he said.
Therefore, Didlake's proposal suggests implementing the ethics program in three fundamental ways: embedding it into the regular curriculum for all schools, offering ethics courses electronically through an e-learning curriculum and providing ethics instruction using the institution's state-of-the-art simulation centers.
Didlake's proposal will establish an office or resource within the CBMH that will work with every program on campus to identify ways these three elements could be introduced to students.
"We want to link our ethics expertise with their instructors," he said. "We want to be in every learning environment on campus, from the cardiothoracic fellowship program to the dental hygiene program."
Recognizing how ambitious his QEP proposal was, Didlake consulted colleagues on the "practical and political issues" of adding a new curriculum to the schools.
"We're going to take their advice and make every effort for the QEP to be a resource that adds value to their existing programs rather than just be some hoop through which the faculty must jump," he said.
Didlake is writing the formal proposal document that will be part of SACS accreditation and will chair the institution's QEP Committee that will develop the final proposal that ultimately will be given to SACS for its approval and implementation. The proposal will be authorized, deployed and evaluated over the next five years.
Didlake said he feels "gratified" that his QEP proposal will be implemented.
"I've got great affection for this institution," Didlake said. "I came here in 1975 as a student, and it's been a huge part of my life ever since. The opportunity to take the experience and the education I've had on this big circular journey out to the community and back and to make it be a tangible part of this university is just overwhelming."
The Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities
With a gift from the Bower Foundation, the University of Mississippi Medical Center established the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities in 2008 to recognize the importance of ethics, professionalism and an understanding of the social context in which health care is delivered.
The center strengthens UMMC's education, service and research missions by a renewed emphasis on ethical integrity, moral reasoning and a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between modern medicine and society.