Irby to Receive International Prize in Medical Education Research

September 08, 2010

David Irby

David Irby, PhD, vice dean for Education at the UCSF School of Medicine, will be awarded the 2010 Karolinska Institutet Prize for Research in Medical Education.

The purpose of the prize is to recognize and stimulate high-quality research in the field and to promote long-term improvements of educational practices in medical training.

A professor of medicine at UCSF, Irby directs undergraduate, graduate and continuing medical education programs of the School of Medicine and leads the Office of Medical Education. As a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, he co-directed a national study on the professional preparation of physicians.

Under Irby’s stewardship, medical education at UCSF has flourished and garnered national and international recognition, according to Sam Hawgood, MBBS, dean of the UCSF School of Medicine.

Irby is being recognized by the Karolinska Institutet for his contributions to the field along with Richard K. Reznick, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Irby and Reznick will receive the award, and share a prize amount of €50,000, at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, on November 3. They also will hold lectures at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm on November 2. Irby’s speech is titled “Rethinking Clinical Teaching from the Ground Up.”

“It’s such an honor to be recognized for this prize and to share it with my colleague and friend Professor Reznick,” Irby said. “I’m delighted and thrilled beyond measure. This prize affirms my personal mission of transforming medical education into an inspiring process and brings great honor to my colleagues at UCSF and the University of Washington.”

The three cornerstones of Irby’s work have been to advance understanding of clinical teaching, share best practices through faculty development and publications, and continuously improve medical curricula. He is being recognized in particular for his finding that medical expertise is necessary, yet insufficient, in order to become a great teacher in medicine.

“Professors Irby and Reznick have both paved the way to innovative application of quantitative and qualitative methods which led to novel insight within medical education research,” said Professor Sari Ponzer, dean of Education at Karolinska Institutet. “Their work has facilitated the development of assessment and evaluation tools that have been of paramount importance in guiding the redesign of clinical instruction and clinical curricula not only in their country of origin, but also internationally. Professors Irby and Reznick have inspired colleagues and researchers worldwide and have greatly influenced clinical practice.”

Celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, the Karolinska Institutet is one of the world’s leading medical universities. Since 1901, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has selected the Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine.

Irby on Teaching and Learning


Irby’s research on clinical education demonstrates that efficient and inspiring teaching is about knowing how to teach, understanding the learners and adapting instruction to meet the learner’s needs. Enthusiasm, clarity and professionalism are other important factors, he found.

Irby’s research has spurred faculty development programs to support effective clinical teaching and learning, including practical teaching tips. His investigations have sought to identify best teaching practices, explain how and why they work, and thereby improve the quality of medical education. His research in both inpatient and ambulatory settings has provided faculties with necessary instruments for assessing clinical teaching.

Irby’s work, in conjunction with others, helped move the field of medical education research from the predominant use of behavioral learning theories and quantitative research methods towards greater use of cognitive and social learning theories coupled with qualitative research methods.

Irby has used the results of his research to create clinical teaching assessment instruments, design faculty development workshops and guide curricular reform. At UCSF, he has transformed the curriculum, established an Office of Medical Education and a Teaching Scholars Program, helped launch the Haile T. Debas Academy of Medical Educators, and stimulated educational innovation and research.

This year, Irby and his UCSF colleagues, professors Molly Cooke, MD, professor of clinical medicine and holds the William G. Irwin Endowed Chair, and Bridget O’Brien, assistant professor in the Office of Medical Education, published the results of their five-year study of medical education in the United States, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: “Educating Physicians: A Call for Reform of Medical School and Residency.”

They authors write that a new vision is needed to drive medical education to the next level of excellence.

“The huge increases in medical knowledge, technology and specialization in recent decades have interacted with a now near-chaotic system of health care delivery, magnifying the challenges facing medical education,” the authors write. “There is a need to motivate continuous learning and improvement across the whole arc of medical training. Those who teach medical students and residents must choose whether to continue in the direction established over a hundred years ago or take a fundamentally different course, guided by contemporary innovation and new understanding about how people learn.” Read more about the report on the Carnegie Foundation website.

Irby earned a doctorate degree in education from the University of Washington, a Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, and a postdoctoral fellowship in academic administration from Harvard University.

Related Links:


Karolinska Institutet 

Karolinska Institutet, Press Release, September 7, 2010

Irby to Step Down as Vice Dean for Medical Education
UCSF Today, August 17, 2010