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Empowerment Evaluation: A Collaborative Approach to Evaluating and Transforming a Medical School Curriculum

Fetterman, David M. PhD; Deitz, Jennifer MA; Gesundheit, Neil MD, MPH

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181d74269
Evaluating Curricula

Medical schools continually evolve their curricula to keep students abreast of advances in basic, translational, and clinical sciences. To provide feedback to educators, critical evaluation of the effectiveness of these curricular changes is necessary. This article describes a method of curriculum evaluation, called “empowerment evaluation,” that is new to medical education. It mirrors the increasingly collaborative culture of medical education and offers tools to enhance the faculty's teaching experience and students' learning environments. Empowerment evaluation provides a method for gathering, analyzing, and sharing data about a program and its outcomes and encourages faculty, students, and support personnel to actively participate in system changes. It assumes that the more closely stakeholders are involved in reflecting on evaluation findings, the more likely they are to take ownership of the results and to guide curricular decision making and reform. The steps of empowerment evaluation include collecting evaluation data, designating a “critical friend” to communicate areas of potential improvement, establishing a culture of evidence, encouraging a cycle of reflection and action, cultivating a community of learners, and developing reflective educational practitioners. This article illustrates how stakeholders used the principles of empowerment evaluation to facilitate yearly cycles of improvement at the Stanford University School of Medicine, which implemented a major curriculum reform in 2003–2004. The use of empowerment evaluation concepts and tools fostered greater institutional self-reflection, led to an evidence-based model of decision making, and expanded opportunities for students, faculty, and support staff to work collaboratively to improve and refine the medical school's curriculum.

Dr. Fetterman, at the time of the curriculum change, was director of evaluation, Office of Medical Education, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, and is professor of education, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and president, Fetterman & Associates, Menlo Park, California.

Ms. Deitz is interim director, Evaluation Division, Office of Medical Education, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.

Dr. Gesundheit is associate dean for student advising, Office of Student Affairs, and associate professor, Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Fetterman, 566 Hopkins Street, Menlo Park, CA 94025; telephone: (650) 269-5689; fax: (845) 698-5261; e-mail:

© 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges