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The Impact of a National Faculty Development Program Embedded Within an Academic Professional Organization

Baldwin, Constance D. PhD; Gusic, Maryellen E. MD; Chandran, Latha MD, MPH

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001496
Articles

A sizeable literature describes the effectiveness of institution-based faculty development programs in nurturing faculty educators as scholars, but national programs are less common and seldom evaluated. To fill this role, the Educational Scholars Program (ESP) was created within the Academic Pediatric Association (APA) in 2006. It is a national, three-year, cohort-based certification program focused on fostering educational scholarship. This article describes the development and outcomes of an innovative program embedded within the framework of a national professional organization, and offers a model for potential adaptation by similar organizations to enhance their support of educators.

After 10 years, 171 scholars have enrolled in the ESP, and 50 faculty have participated. Scholars are assigned a faculty advisor and participate in three full-day sessions at a national meeting; online, interactive learning modules; and a mentored, scholarly project. The program receives support from the APA in four organizational frames: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. The self-perceived scholarly proficiency of the scholars in Cohort 1 increased significantly over time, and their productivity and collaborations increased during and after the program. Scholars wrote enthusiastically about their experience in yearly and postprogram evaluations. In interviews, eight past APA presidents explained that the ESP strengthened the APA’s mission, created new leaders, and provided a new model for other APA programs. Outcomes of the ESP suggest that a longitudinal faculty development program embedded within a national professional organization can create a social enterprise not only within the organization but also within the broader national community of educator–scholars.

C.D. Baldwin is professor of pediatrics, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York, and director, Educational Scholars Program, Academic Pediatric Association, McLean, Virginia.

M.E. Gusic was executive associate dean for educational affairs, Dolores and John Read Professor of Medical Education, and professor of pediatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, at the time this work was completed.

L. Chandran is professor of pediatrics and vice dean for undergraduate medical education, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, Stony Brook, New York.

Funding/Support: The Academic Pediatric Association provided financial support for the Educational Scholars Program from 2006 to 2009, when Cohort 1 was enrolled.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: This study received institutional review board approval from the Penn State College of Medicine and the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Correspondence should be addressed to Constance D. Baldwin, Department of Pediatrics, University of Rochester Medical Center, PO Box 777, 601 Elmwood Ave., Rochester, NY 14642; telephone: (585) 275-8425; e-mail: constance_baldwin@urmc.rochester.edu.

Academic health centers seek to enhance the vitality and promotion outcomes of faculty educators by offering professional development programs.1–7 After conducting a systematic review, Steinert and colleagues3 recommended that such programs be interactive, with learner-centered curricula, multiple teaching strategies, and content adapted to participants’ needs. The literature also highlights the importance of including experiential learning, a longitudinal structure, mentoring, and a community of educators in professional development efforts.2–7 In the past decade, the importance of fostering professional socialization in faculty development programs has received increasing attention. Morzinski and Fisher8 reported that institutional faculty development programs fostered collegial relationships with peers and mentors, promoting the career development of participants.

Recent articles have emphasized the importance of the social context in which a faculty development program is conducted.4,5,7 O’Sullivan and Irby9 proposed a novel model for the study of faculty development programs that emphasizes the community of practice that a program creates in the context of the larger community within which it operates. In institution-based programs, participants meet peers with similar academic interests, learn about institutional resources,10 and create a community of like-minded individuals4,10–12 to engage in shared problem solving and social support.2,5,11,13,14 In national programs, a geographically diverse group of participants takes part in networking and collaboration activities. Few studies have explored the unique potential of national faculty development programs to enrich the professional development of educators by creating a broad community of practice representing diverse perspectives, experiences, and academic cultures. Two international faculty development programs have reported that the creation of a global community of educators4,15 has allowed participants to form distributed social and professional collaborative networks.15

Recent reviews of the literature have called for better studies of the effects of the organizational context on faculty development programs and the reciprocal effects of these programs on both individuals and the organizations themselves.5,7,16 Steinert and colleagues5 reported that institution-based programs provided opportunities for faculty to influence the culture of an organization. Such programs have been shown to transform institutional culture through innovation3,7,9,17,18; participants serve as an expert pool from which an institution can draw for ongoing improvement of its educational programs.6,18,19

For most faculty development programs described in the literature, the organization that hosts the program is the home institution of the participants. Little has been written about the contextual effects of national programs, particularly those that are part of national professional organizations. In such organizations, faculty development is typically conducted at national meetings with brief educational sessions and no overarching, longitudinal curriculum or cohort design. There are some exceptions, however. The Medical Education Research Certificate (MERC) program organized by the Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors recently reported on its five-year outcomes.20 This longitudinal program uses a workshop-based curriculum offered by the Association of American Medical Colleges21 and supplemented by mentored, group-based scholarly projects. The Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine also have established longitudinal faculty development programs for educators,22,23 but they have not reported on their structures or outcomes, making these models difficult to evaluate or emulate.

In this article, we explore the premise that a longitudinal faculty development program that is part of a national professional organization has the potential to bring together groups of like-minded faculty to develop a national community of practice, thus offering participants benefits that go well beyond knowledge and skill acquisition. In an effort to expand the faculty development community model proposed by O’Sullivan and Irby9 to embrace the national community of educators, we reflect on the initial experience of the Educational Scholars Program (ESP), created by the Academic Pediatric Association (APA) in 2006. The ESP is a national, three-year, cohort-based certification program focused on fostering educational scholarship.

In response to recent calls to assess the community context in which such programs are situated,9,15,17 we reflected on the reciprocal opportunities and benefits offered by the ESP to the APA, its parent organization. In this article, we describe indicators of positive program outcomes in three categories: (1) scholars’ self-perceived growth that they attribute to program participation, (2) scholars’ career successes in the areas of academic productivity and networking/collaboration, and (3) substantive contributions of the ESP to the APA. As recommended by Kanter,24 we aimed to provide a thoughtful analysis of the ESP model and our experience to help other national faculty development programs thrive in similar settings.

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Development of the ESP

Purpose and overview

We initiated the ESP to address the widely recognized problem that faculty educators struggle to achieve promotion and advancement in academic medicine.25–27 The ESP serves academic pediatricians who wish to build their skills in educational scholarship, which can include both program/curriculum evaluation and educational research. The mission of the ESP is to teach scholars how to develop, implement, evaluate, and disseminate educational interventions using a creative, planned, and rigorous process. The ESP also aims to provide these scholars with a venue for national networking and collaboration around their scholarly activities.

Over three years, scholars in the ESP attend three full-day sessions (ESP Days) that are held at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting; participate in online, interactive learning modules; create an educator portfolio; and complete a mentored, scholarly project. To graduate with a Certificate of Excellence in Educational Scholarship, scholars must provide evidence of a successfully peer-reviewed national presentation or publication related to their scholarly project.

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Initiation and participants

The ESP was built on the foundation of the APA National Faculty Development Scholars Program.28 Led by the ESP’s founding director (C.D.B.), many members of this earlier program met over two years to brainstorm about faculty development needs and strategies, and they developed initial curriculum plans and learning objectives. This group later provided a recruitment pool for ESP faculty.

The APA board approved the ESP in 2005, and the first cohort of 30 scholars was enrolled in 2006. Cohort 2 began the next year with 10 scholars. Thereafter, cohorts of 20 to 25 were recruited in two of every three years, to maintain a consistent group size of 40 to 50 scholars, who are supported by 50 faculty. After 10 years, the ESP has enrolled 171 scholars; 77 have graduated so far. Graduation rates for Cohorts 1 to 5 have averaged 79%, and the dropout rate across cohorts is 8%.

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Infrastructure support from the APA

The ESP has received support from the APA in all four organizational frames described by Bolman and Deal29: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. Fincher and colleagues30 recommended using these frames to analyze how well an organization supports educational scholarship. APA support in the structural frame has been substantial—the PAS annual meeting, which is cosponsored by the APA, serves as the venue for all face-to-face ESP activities, including educational sessions, mentoring, and social/ceremonial events. The meeting also provides a platform for scholars to give peer-reviewed presentations. In the human resource frame, the ESP has received administrative and technical support from the APA for program management, and a reliable recruitment pool. In the political frame, the APA has provided sustained financial and board-level support, as well as new leadership opportunities for ESP graduates. In addition, the ESP has been designated as a core program of the APA, and thus has an ongoing presence in APA communications and strategic planning. In the symbolic frame, the APA has offered a visible platform for the ESP by hosting graduation ceremonies and giving prominence to the program on its Web site.

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Key Elements of the ESP

Personnel and organization

ESP scholars are selected using a competitive, criterion-based process. All scholars enter the program with mentors from their home institutions, and we assign them national faculty advisors to guide their career development and projects. To promote networking and academic support, we organize scholars and advisors into groups that meet yearly on ESP Day and periodically by telephone.

ESP faculty are recruited from the membership of the APA. They are selected based on their prior APA activities and their experience with educational scholarship and mentoring. Each faculty advisor is assigned two scholars at a time, and 30% sign up for additional scholars in later cohorts. They receive no monetary compensation.

The ESP director (C.D.B.) reports to the APA board and chairs the ESP Executive Committee, which develops policies and procedures, oversees the program, and resolves administrative issues. A Curriculum Committee manages ESP instruction, while a Research and Evaluation Committee oversees program evaluation and research.

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Curriculum and evaluation

In Chart 1, we show how the didactic/interactive sessions held at the PAS annual meeting address four themes that repeat in a three-year cycle. Six intersession modules (two/year) support scholars’ project development and guide their creation of an educator portfolio. These modules also encourage peer mentoring. A Moodle-based course management portal (www.academicpeds.org/moodle/) facilitates online content delivery, communications, and monitoring of scholars’ progress. Scholars’ evaluations include yearly self-assessments as well as program evaluations administered yearly at graduation and again three years later. Faculty also evaluate the program yearly.

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Finance and sustainability

In its first year, the program was funded directly by the APA. An external grant supported the second cohort. In 2009, we added an enrollment fee to cover program management costs. Costs to the scholars include tuition and attendance at the PAS annual meeting for three years (costs usually covered by their home institutions). Scholars’ departments formally guarantee protection of 10% of their time for program participation.

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Assessing the Quality of the ESP

Value of the ESP to scholars

To provide a snapshot of scholar outcomes, we focused on our first cohort, for whom we had nine years of data from before, during, and after their enrollment. These scholars were from all regions of the United States. About three-quarters were female and white, came from academic health centers, were nontenured assistant professors, and were generalist pediatricians. Sixty-two percent held educational leadership positions in their departments. These characteristics resemble those of later cohorts. We reviewed the growth in scholars’ self-assessed educational knowledge and skills, as well as their academic productivity and collaborations. Outcomes data were available for 24 of the 30 Cohort 1 scholars (80% of enrollees, 92% of graduates; others were lost to follow-up.) This study received institutional review board approval from the Penn State College of Medicine and the Indiana University School of Medicine.

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Scholars’ self-assessment of knowledge and skills.

Cohort 1 scholars completed four yearly self-assessments in which they rated their educational and scholarly knowledge and skills. Figure 1 shows that their self-perceived proficiency in four domains (scholarly approach, professional interactions, educational scholarship, and other educational knowledge/skills) increased significantly over time. Although scholars reported the least proficiency in the educational scholarship domain, those who rated themselves at the “proficient or expert” level increased from 4% at enrollment to 38% at graduation.

Figure 1

Figure 1

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Scholars’ productivity and collaborations.

We obtained scholars’ curricula vitae at three years post graduation and analyzed data for a nine-year period (2004–2012). Our analysis instrument, adapted from published curricula vitae review tools,17,31 included standard productivity measures. We compared data from the pre-ESP period versus data from the during- and post-ESP periods. Table 1 shows scholars’ productivity and collaborations before, during, and after the ESP. We found significant increases in the numbers of peer-reviewed publications, national presentations, and national leadership/membership positions (P = .001), as well as in the number of academic promotions (P = .031). Searching the PAS databases,32 we also found significant increases over time in the number of collaborative presentations with other ESP members (P < .001). Although we encouraged networking among scholars, collaborative work was not required.

Table 1

Table 1

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Scholars’ written comments about their ESP experience.

Many scholars in Cohort 1 wrote enthusiastically about the program in their evaluations. Negative comments addressed the time burden and intensity of some activities. Several scholars commented on the value of being introduced to the national community of pediatric educators: “Program activities have absolutely helped me … to establish a like-minded community that is helping me to advance as a medical educator.” These early graduates are now encouraging their junior colleagues to apply to the program and are becoming ESP mentors, faculty advisors, and leaders themselves.

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Value of the ESP to the APA

Interviews of past APA presidents.

To assess the broader effects of the ESP on the APA as an organization, in 2012, we interviewed all eight of the APA presidents who had held office since the ESP was approved in 2005. They participated in 30-minute audiotaped telephone interviews that included five open-ended questions about whether and how the ESP had contributed to the APA, to scholars, and to the broader community of educators. Audiotapes were transcribed, deidentified, and independently analyzed for content by two authors (C.D.B., L.C.) and a research assistant. After consensus was achieved, five themes were identified and then member checked with three past presidents. Presidents’ comments about the ESP were typically very positive. Some expressed concerns about the program’s sustainability, given its high demand on volunteer faculty and dependence on enrollment fees. (See Table 2 for the themes, subthemes, and sample quotations.)

Table 2

Table 2

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ESP graduates in APA leadership positions.

Of all 77 ESP graduates, 4 held leadership positions within the APA before participation in the program, 9 did so during their enrollment, and 17 did so after graduation. In 2014–2015, 31% (4/13) of APA board members were ESP faculty or scholars/alumni. Scholars also have become APA journal editors, special interest group chairs, and leaders of new programs.33,34

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Implications of Early Outcomes of the ESP

The ESP is one of the few longitudinal, cohort-based faculty development programs embedded within a national professional organization to share its outcomes. In this article, we have provided evidence suggesting that the development of the ESP within the APA has produced bidirectional benefits. The APA has given the ESP comprehensive support in the structural, human resource, political, and symbolic frames. Most critically, the APA provided financial support until the program became self-sustaining. In addition, the ESP has been strengthened by the APA’s rich culture of commitment to education—it has drawn on the organization’s large pool of faculty educators to create a sizeable group of faculty and a growing cadre of scholars and graduates.

In turn, the APA has received tangible benefits from the ESP. According to recent presidents, the organization has enhanced its reputation, added new members, and benefited from the enriched careers of its educators. These presidents are hardly unbiased, given their ongoing support for the ESP, but they are also in the best position to comment on the program’s broad effects on the organization. ESP scholars have created networks within the APA for collaborative research and dissemination, made many presentations at the organization’s national meeting, and filled APA leadership positions. We believe that the close association between the ESP and APA facilitated these outcomes; they may not have occurred in an independent faculty development program.

Our data on scholars’ satisfaction, self-assessed skills, and productivity are limited by our focus on the initial ESP cohort; however, another study that included data from Cohorts 1 to 4 has confirmed these productivity outcomes.35 Our current analysis is also limited because we did not include a comparison group, and thus we cannot control for selection bias or separate the effects on scholars of natural maturation versus program participation. Cross-cohort studies with a formal comparison group are in progress.

Currently, the APA is using the ESP’s faculty development model to develop new programs aligned with its other key missions. For example, the APA Research Scholars Program was created in 2012, the APA Quality and Safety Improvement Scholars Program began in 2016, and a program for health policy scholars is planned. A program on educational leadership created in 2012 by the Association of Pediatric Program Directors33 was patterned on the ESP, as was a program focused on teaching skills for pediatric hospitalists, launched by the American Academy of Pediatrics in collaboration with the APA.34 Leaders of these programs, a number of them ESP faculty and graduates, were informed by the ESP in designing their programs.36 Finally, outside the pediatric discipline, a program explicitly modeled on the ESP was created for psychiatric educators in 2012.37

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Theoretical Framework for Organizational and National Impact

O’Sullivan and Irby9 proposed a new model for reframing faculty development research that conceptualizes faculty development as a social enterprise rather than an activity of individuals. Their model describes interactions between the faculty development community (program members) and the workplace community (other institutional faculty). We propose that national faculty development programs also can engage effectively with a national community through networking and scholarly contributions, as has occurred with the Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors’ MERC program.20 Developing the ESP within the APA has provided an infrastructure and environment that allows such engagement to occur. In Figure 2, we have adapted the O’Sullivan and Irby model to show how our program has facilitated interactions within the ESP community and the APA and between the ESP community and the national community of educators, including not only other pediatric organizations but also the interdisciplinary community of educator–scholars.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The graphic representation of the O’Sullivan and Irby9 model depicts two concentric circles. The faculty development community (inner circle) interacts with the workplace community (outer circle), and the two are linked by four key components—participants, facilitators, program, and context (diamonds). In our adapted model (see Figure 2), the ESP community is the inner circle, and the four key components are ESP scholars, ESP faculty and mentors, ESP program, and context in the APA. Within the ESP community circle, we summarize how embedding the ESP in the APA has provided benefits for the program and how the program has enriched the APA and its members. The ESP community is encircled by the workplace community of individual scholars, which appears in gray because, although important, it is not the focus of this article. We added an outer circle, not in the O’Sullivan and Irby model, that represents the national community of educator–scholars.

In Figure 2, arrows show how the four key components of the ESP interact to influence the national community of educator–scholars. Beginning at the bottom right, ESP scholars have engaged with the national community through their leadership within the APA and other organizations and the dissemination of their scholarship. Moving counterclockwise, ESP scholars, faculty, and mentors have networked to collaborate on scholarly projects, program development, publications, and national presentations. At the upper left, ESP faculty scholarship has contributed substantially to the development of novel models and tools for educators that have been tested within the ESP and disseminated to numerous institutions through workshops and publications.27,38–43 Finally, at the bottom left, the ESP program has influenced the APA by enhancing the organization’s national prestige and enriched both the APA and the national community of educator–scholars by testing and disseminating an innovative faculty development model. Building on the O’Sullivan and Irby model, Figure 2 shows how the conceptual frame of the social enterprise of faculty development can be expanded from the work environment to a national community.

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Lessons Learned and Next Steps

Our experience demonstrates that, because of its broad context, a faculty development program embedded within a national professional organization has a unique impact and achieves Kirkpatrick’s highest level of program evaluation—namely, Results.44 ESP scholars have had opportunities to collaborate outside their home institutions, contributed to national scholarship, and taken on national leadership roles. Our analysis also has shown that a professional organization can benefit from the creation of a faculty development program because of the enhanced academic opportunities for its members, the strengthening of its mission, and the development of new leaders and new program models. The ESP model has been emulated within the APA and by other professional organizations that aim to create focused, longitudinal faculty development programs that allow members to benefit from productive interactions in a national academic arena.

For programs interested in emulating the ESP model, we offer the following lessons learned:

  1. Choose a program focus that will measurably advance the central mission of the organization.
  2. National networking is highly valued by participants. Make this an explicit, facilitated goal of your program.
  3. Make the most of the organization’s periodic conferences for face-to-face interactions between program participants and its communication and technology systems for long-distance activities.
  4. For human resources, draw on the organization’s pool of interest and talent. Develop, empower, and reward these volunteers to enhance the organization’s membership, talent diversity, and networks.
  5. Keep all organizational stakeholders informed about how the program’s successes are enhancing their efforts and opportunities.
  6. Work to broaden the network of engaged stakeholders within the organization (especially new leaders) and among affiliated organizations.
  7. Aim to make the program self-sustaining both in finance and in program management. Organizational financing and grants are valuable, but both are short-term resources. Committed people are an equally valuable asset.
  8. Continually revitalize the program with aspiring leaders from the pool of graduates. They will be the best advocates and most trustworthy program evaluators.

In the future, we plan to use our database of information on scholars’ self-assessments, career development, networks, and scholarly products to help the educational community in academic medicine better understand the needs and potential of early career educators. The goal of the ESP, in nurturing scholars and conducting scholarship, is to make the professional world of faculty educators a better place to work, advance, and gain recognition for creative and rigorous scholarly effort.

Acknowledgments: The authors thank the Academic Pediatric Association for supporting the Educational Scholars Program (ESP) as a core program and for providing continuing infrastructure support. Over 10 years, ESP scholars and faculty have been a constant source of enrichment and inspiration to the authors. They also gratefully acknowledge Dr. Wei-Hsin Lu and Ms. Jamie Romeiser at Stony Brook University School of Medicine for research support.

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