Preparing for Faculty of the Future

School of Medicine Brainstorms Ideas on How Best to Train, Organize, Support Faculty During Annual Retreat

Catherine Lucey, MD, vice dean for education, and Marco Conti, MD, professor and director of the Center for Reproductive Sciences, present an idea at the UCSF School of Medicine retreat on Jan. 11.

Cultivating the faculty of the future was the focus of the UCSF School of Medicine’s recent daylong annual retreat.

Participants at the Jan. 11 event brainstormed on how best to train, organize and support future faculty who must continue to juggle teaching, research and clinical duties in an ever-changing environment.

In kicking off the retreat, School of Medicine Dean Sam Hawgood, MBBS, vice chancellor for medical affairs, asked, “What must we preserve, and what must we change?”

After a brainstorming session, small groups came together to work up rough proposals on selected ideas on what could change.

UCSF’s culture is often described as collaborative. Participants not only generated ideas for how to better collaborate, but also embodied a real-time demonstration of the concept. Basic scientists, clinicians, educators and administrators teamed up, exchanging ideas and building “prototypes” to illustrate their concepts – or in some cases acting out the ideas in plays with props and costumes provided for the occasion.

Ideas ranged widely. One group described a process whereby cross-disciplinary teams of eight scientists would assemble based on a shared goal, and meet periodically to develop a research project that they ultimately would present to potential research sponsors.

Another group presented a sketch advocating that teaching be more explicitly valued and generously compensated.

There was also a proposal for a cross-disciplinary science “cooking class” open to the public – short courses on non-traditional topics that encourage hands-on exploration.

From left, Ralph Gonzales, MD, MSPH; Mark Anderson, MD, PhD; Mike Rosenblum, MD,

From left, Ralph Gonzales, MD, MSPH; Mark Anderson, MD, PhD; Mike Rosenblum, MD, PhD; and Michelle Hermiston, MD, PhD, meet during the School of Medicine retreat to develop their small-group proposal.

One common theme among many of the ideas was the need to create opportunities for faculty from different locations and professional backgrounds to work together and exchange ideas.

In the afternoon, participants assembled into five larger groups to discuss the institutional mission, partnering outside of UCSF, balancing teams and individuals, enabling innovation and apprenticeship and mentoring models.

“Partnerships are key to our future,” Hawgood said. “There is no one-size-fits-all for partnerships. We need to be very open to multiple forms and multiple tactics.” However, he added, “We need to be very careful about brand identity. We need to make sure that partnerships align with our values and our mission.”

Moving forward with the newly brainstormed ideas may take awhile, although end-of-the-day polling indicated that a majority of participants wanted to see implementation within a year or two.

Changes require that UCSF adapt quickly. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act will drive academic medical centers to partner with other health services providers. Evolving online and interactive learning strategies and tools like mobile devices demand new approaches to teach tech-savvy students. As federal research funds grow scarcer, research universities must increasingly enlist support from other sponsors and ongoing collaboration with industry.

Finding Inspiration Off Campus

IDEO, a Bay Area-based design firm facilitated the retreat, first asking participants to self-organize, and then identify, contact and visit with leaders from locally based organizations they found to be inspirational. The aim was to get ideas about how other organizations addressed challenges identified by School of Medicine leaders.

“In order to do something new, you can’t be looking at the same thing over and over again,” Stacey Chang, director of IDEO’s Health & Wellness practice, said in explaining the rationale for the homework assignment. “Often one of the challenges is convincing an organization that they have to go out and gather inspiration.”

Twenty-nine assignments were turned in, completed by 125 faculty members. Each team then distilled their work into a two-minute presentation and delivered them over dinner the night before the retreat. The next morning, individuals volunteered examples of nuggets that they had found most valuable among the two-minute presentations.

This year’s retreat itself, using IDEA’s “design-thinking approach,” was a departure from past practices and processes.

“The retreat felt like a critical juncture in UCSF's future,” said Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry.

Theresa O'Brien, PhD, associate dean, coordinated with IDEO to prepare the retre

Theresa O'Brien, PhD, associate dean in the School of Medicine, coordinated with IDEO to prepare the retreat.

“Some were skeptical about using the IDEO approach, but I think most left the retreat as converts, even viewing their creative process as one that could be used in other group contexts in our various working groups at UCSF,” Epel said.

Robert Blelloch, MD, PhD, associate professor of urology said, “Overall, I think that the active rather than passive approach to problem-solving taken this year marked an improvement over the one other School of Medicine leadership retreat I attended. I liked that there were both senior and more junior faculty participating.”

First-time retreat attendee Vikaas Sohal, MD, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, previously had spent 12 years at Stanford University. “I was struck by the fact that UCSF actually has several unique features that seem to relate to deeply held values and aspirations that members of the community view as integral to its success,” he said.

“I actually just adapted the IDEO brainstorming process and used it in one of my lab meetings to try to identify new questions that captured people’s interests, and then to design specific new experiments and approaches based on these questions,” Sohal added. “It was fun; it got people engaged in a way that led them to interact and share ideas, and it led to a few specific new experiments that we are going to try.”

Hawgood noted the enthusiasm for innovation, including ideas to encourage risk-taking, the formation of dynamic teams and the creation of incubator space. In fact polled participants overwhelmingly ranked encouraging innovation as the most important.

“Once we have a short list of possible projects, we will reach out to participants and tap their energies to participate in designing concrete initiatives,” Hawgood said.

Photos by Elisabeth Fall/