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Creating “Innovator’s DNA” in Health Care Education

Armstrong, Elizabeth G. PhD; Barsion, Sylvia J. PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318280cb7b

Serious deficits in health care education have been identified recently, yet proposed solutions call for faculty skill sets not typically developed in health professional schools or in continuing professional development (CPD) programs. The authors propose that addressing the oft-cited problems in health care education (e.g., it is not learner-centered and does not take advantage of insights gained from the learning sciences) requires faculty to develop “innovator’s skills” including the ability to facilitate organizational change. Given increased social responsibilities and decreased financial resources, it is imperative that more health care educators and health care delivery system leaders not only become innovators themselves but also develop systems that support the next generation of innovators. Dyer et al conducted a comprehensive study of successful innovators and found five behavioral and cognitive “discovery” skill sets that constitute the “innovator’s DNA”: associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting. This article uses the prism of innovator’s DNA to examine a CPD program for health care educators, the Harvard Macy Institute (HMI), whose overarching purpose is to develop innovation skills in participants so that they can build their own educational models customized for implementing changes in their home institutions. A retrospective review of HMI alumni from 1995 to 2010 suggests that innovator skills can be taught and applied. The conceptual framework of the innovator’s DNA provides a useful model for other CPD program leaders seeking to enable health care educators to develop the capacity for successfully examining problems and then customizing and implementing organizational change to solve them.

Dr. Armstrong is clinical professor of pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, and director, Harvard Macy Institute, Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Barsion is president, SJB Evaluation and Research Consulting LLC, New York, New York.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Armstrong, Harvard Macy Institute, 100 Cambridge St., Suite 2002, Boston, MA 02114; e-mail:

© 2013 by the Association of American Medical Colleges