Building the Team for Academic Success

Michael Reddy

Michael S. Reddy, DMD, DMSc

Dean Michael Reddy's monthly column:

“It takes teamwork to make the dream work.” This saying is attributed to inspirational speaker and pastor John C. Maxwell. I think he’s on to something.

Education is, of course, a key part of the University of California’s mission, and relies wholly on each campus’ teams of faculty, staff and learners. Moreover, team training should be an essential element of our learners’ preparation for real-world practice.

To maintain educational programs of the highest quality, we must invest in activities that optimize the performance of individual faculty members, regardless whether they see themselves primarily as scientists, clinicians, educators, or all of the above. Given the complexity of the challenges being faced by modern academic health centers, this commitment has never been as strategically important as it is today. There is increasing pressure on research and clinical productivity metrics; without concerted effort on our part, this could strangle the pipeline for our future faculty.

UCSF has and continues to develop approaches for supporting its scholars and for developing new leaders. An example: During the last decade, the number and size of the research and clinical programs conducted by academic health centers has increased at a remarkable rate. To support this growth, department chairs have had to address a number of significant challenges. Foremost among them was how faculty should be organized so that they could effectively pursue the institution's research and patient-care missions. The university recognized that coordinating contributions from faculty members drawn from multiple disciplines was increasingly required not only for the conduct of biomedical research, but also for delivery of complex patient-care services. Both require integrated teams of specialists. The solution: multidisciplinary centers and institutes dedicated to specific research and patient-care programs. This solution notably requires faculty who may have trained in specific disciplines to develop new skills in order to work in a team. In turn, they will teach those skills to the next generation.

To facilitate this, we must provide formal opportunities for all members of the faculty, including volunteer faculty, to improve their teaching skills. Most schools now include large numbers of volunteers as part of their teaching teams, serving as clinical preceptors for students assigned to community-based, clinical learning experiences. Because volunteer faculty tend to be dispersed some distance from the main campus location, providing faculty development opportunities for them is a particular challenge. However, it is essential that all team members are equipped to excel.

We can’t limit teamwork to the classroom or laboratory. Interdisciplinary teamwork is an important model for delivering health care to patients, particularly for a public institution. Dentists no longer solely address oral health needs; we are on the front line of diagnosing and integrating treatment for diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Multidisciplinary teamwork has become the norm.

Patient care benefits from the team approach in other ways. Researchers have found that working together reduces the number of medical errors, thus improving patient safety. Teamwork also mitigates issues that can lead to burnout. And because teamwork is centered on solid communication, patients and their families sometimes feel more at ease and report feeling more satisfied with their health care.

It’s for these reasons teamwork and team training are now seen as an essential part of preclinical education. Learning how to communicate effectively and work together takes time and effort; building it into our curricula will prepare students to more fully understand patient needs — especially in areas where social and health issues abound. I wholeheartedly believe we must commit to teaching teamwork and team learning as a fundamental skill for future success.

For most of us, discovering and sharing knowledge — aimed at tackling the health issues of our society — with our students, staff, faculty and alumni is our dream. Teamwork increasingly is how we make that dream work.

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