Learners in Lyon
By Steve Sandstrom | Photos by Madison Bandler and Jack Moore:
In spring 2022, two SIU medical students were given an early teaching opportunity that was hard to resist. Debra Klamen, MD, MHPE, senior associate dean for education and curriculum, invited third-year medical student Jack Moore and fourth-year Madison Bandler to accompany a handful of SIU faculty to a medical education conference in Lyon, France. There they would present research and learn among thousands of other educators, residents and students from around the world.
The learners’ whirlwind week at the annual conference of the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) would turn out to be an exciting experience, rich in educational ideas and professional motivation.
Moore is from Tremont, a town of 2,000 an hour north of Springfield. He earned a BS in molecular biochemistry at the University of Illinois and took a gap year before medical school to run a chemistry laboratory. Bandler hails from Decatur and attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where she majored in biology, triple-minored in philosophy, Spanish and bioethics, and sparked an interest in humanities and teaching. After college, she too took a gap year, working as a medical scribe and doing experiential learning research in Phoenix.
Both had shown their passion for education during the second year at medical school. Dr. Klamen took note and began enlisting their help in projects that collected and measured student data. With an international conference on the horizon, she proposed that the students’ participation at Lyon in 2022 could enrich both the presenters and the presentations.
AMEE is a worldwide organization with members in more than 90 countries across five continents. It promotes international excellence in education in the health care professions across the continuum of undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education. It is comprised of individuals and organizations from diverse backgrounds that span the health professions educator sector. They get together through networking, conferences, publications and online activities with the aim of bettering education in their field and learning from colleagues around the globe.
One of AMEE’s main goals is identifying improvements in traditional approaches and supporting innovation in curriculum planning, teaching and learning, assessment and education management. The group presented SIU School of Medicine with its inaugural ASPIRE Stellar Award in 2020 in recognition of our commitment to excellence in a range of educational areas. During the previous decade, the medical school received five of AMEE’s ASPIRE to Excellence awards for various facets of its educational program: student assessment, student engagement, social accountability, medical simulation, and curriculum delivery and innovation. SIU is one of only two medical schools in the world to hold as many as five ASPIRE Awards; the other is Leeds in the U.K.
The summer conferences have served as a connector and information hub for its health professions education specialists and professionals, as well as those with an interest in driving the development of the sector forward. However, due to the pandemic, AMEE’s 2020 and 2021 annual conferences were virtual. In August 2022, the conference was again a live event. Expectations and moods were elevated. “It’d been three years since the last one, and we were back in Europe, in France, in person,” said Dr. Klamen. “It was joyous. I think I spent more time hugging people than sitting in presentations.”
Both students had traveled internationally before, though Moore had never been to Europe. He decided to spend an extra day in Paris by himself before continuing to Lyon. It gave him time to acclimate, visit the Louvre and see the Eiffel Tower. Following his short flight to Lyon the next day, Moore “took the most expensive cab ride of my life” from the airport into the city. Fortunately, the dollar was very strong in Europe.
Things didn’t begin well for Bandler’s travels. A 3-hour flight delay out of Springfield caused her to miss a connecting flight at O’Hare. As she waited for the evening flight to Munich, a customer service agent sympathized and gave her lounge access for the day so she could work on administrative tasks. She landed in Lyon a day late. In a lucky break, she discovered another guest at the terminal was going to the AMEE conference, and the two split a $100 Uber ride.
The five-day conference attracted 2,400 health professions educators, 300 students and approximately 400 attendees from the United States. Dr. Klamen’s projects for AMEE involved student perspectives, so Moore and Bandler contributed personal experiences to the presentations. The SIU group hosted an interactive 90-minute workshop on the methodologies used for teaching and assessing clinical reasoning. Bandler provided context on how SIU School of Medicine’s use of a diagnostic justification questionnaire in the standardized patient exam has proven both insightful and effective.
Moore gave a presentation on SIU’s curriculum, its transition to pass-fail and the ending of shelf exams for the third-year rotations. The positive results from these alterations were again shared from the student’s angle. “The room was 95 percent educators,” he says. “I think the audience at these can be skeptical when it’s an educator telling another educator ‘this is what you need to do.’ It may all look good on paper, but what does it really mean? I could explain how the data may seem similar numerically, but the outcomes are much richer for us students.”
The cachet of being a representative from SIU School of Medicine carries some distinction at AMEE gatherings. Other guests sometimes acknowledged the ‘stellar’ status of the institution. The students found the extra attention flattering, yet slightly odd. “Here in the United States we don’t get as much recognition for how innovative we are in medical education,” Bandler says. “But in this international environment in Lyon, around some of the most famous medical educators in the world, it’s a different story.”
“Dr. Klamen was introducing us to people, to help us network, and she’s like a celebrity — everyone knows her. She has come up with all these provocative ideas that at first may be controversial but over time they’ve caught on.”
"We had to go all the way to France to realize how unique SIU is,” Bandler says.
Moore agrees. “Talking to residents at the conference and hearing their stories, I don’t think I understood how competitive other schools were in things like research or grading.
They’re constantly struggling to set themselves apart. It’s not something we have to think about at SIU."
While the school’s size may make it less prominent on the national radar, it excels when using other measurements.
“I’ve got 75 classmates. Knowing everyone keeps us close,” he says. “Even if we don’t hang out together, we can have conversations. Everyone is a resource for you; they’re willing to stop and take 5 minutes to share what they know. At the U of I there were 10,000 freshmen in my class, the complete opposite of the tight community atmosphere I was familiar with in Tremont – and what we have here,” he says.
Bandler also sees distinct selling points across academic categories. She told residency interviewers that SIU’s programmatic assessment format helped to keep her motivated.
“I wasn’t studying to get the best grade. I was studying to better understand the information. I see my peers not as competition, but as collaborators, a part of a team, which is a highly desirable trait in a resident.”
The crowds at the conference and in scenic Lyon (pop. 1,750,000) didn’t intimidate the learners either. When afternoons were free, they took to walking through the city and hopping on the occasional municipal bus. They toured cathedrals, museums, neighborhoods, an ancient Roman amphitheater near the city center and did some shopping.
And there was eating. Lyon is famous for cuisine, with the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in France. However, the SIU group’s efforts to book dinner reservations were complicated by the conference’s timing. August is the national vacation month in France, so many of the desired destinations were closed.
Still, they were able to find plenty of culinary treasures at meals out, and in. The chocolate croissants and espresso at the hotel’s complimentary breakfast buffet received rave reviews.
Asked about wine, both students deferred to other famous French fare as their favorites.
“I ate so much cheese while I was there, it was silly,” Bandler says.
Moore brought home four loaves of French bread in his luggage. “They traveled remarkably well. I still have one left in my freezer,” he says.