“We aim to be the premiere medical education laboratory in psychiatry in the country,” said Associate Professor Katharine (Kaz) Nelson, MD, about the recent launch of the department’s Psychiatric Education Research Lab (PERLab).

Even before being formally created, the lab’s investigators had already made a significant impact on medical education research in psychiatry. Nelson is working with Lora Wischer, MD; Jonathan Homans, MD; and Jenna Trianna, MD, who have been awarded several medical education grants over the past several years. “One of our key successes has been the collaborative work describing and teaching the Minnesota Arc,” Nelson said. The Minnesota Arc is a teachable communication framework, which includes best practices and techniques for communicating with people experiencing distress, according to Nelson. She and her colleagues have taught about the Minnesota Arc internationally.

Online training for board certification evaluators
The team also received a grant from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to develop an online training module for psychiatrists who assess residents for their Clinical Skills Evaluations. “It’s like a final exam during which they observe a resident with a patient and use a rating scale to see if the resident should be board certified based on their skill level,” explained Nelson. Prior to the launch of the module, which will happen in November 2020, psychiatrist-raters would have had to travel to take the training or invest time and resources to conduct the training in-person at each program. “It will be used by every training program in the country,” said Nelson. “We are also working with our Neurology Department colleagues to develop something similar for them.”

Last year, the department welcomed its first physician-scientist track resident, Tolu Odebunmi, MBBS, which provided the impetus to coalesce the many concurrent medical education research projects and grants into a comprehensive laboratory. “Tolu’s research is in the domain of cognition and learning, which aligns with the mission of the PERLab investigators,” said Nelson.

Thus, PERLab was born.

Better coordination, collaboration
Because of the ongoing medical education research the team was already doing, there were many students working on projects that could now be associated with PERLab. “It will allow us to coordinate and collaborate better,” said Nelson. “The lab will also bring more visibility, both internally and externally, to the range of our work and will help formalize our communications.”

An important element in all this work is equity and inclusion. “It’s our primary lens when it comes to lab recruitment and how we design our projects,” said Nelson. “We work to advance equity and justice and hope that we can use the enhanced communication and collaboration from PERLab as a vehicle to move this work forward.”

Medical education research hasn’t always been recognized as “real” research. In the past few years, however, scholarly work in education has been recognized as a path to promotion within the Medical School. “We’re seeing the fruit of that systemic change as this type of work is promoted and rewarded,” said Nelson.