#thefutureofmeded: faculty development

By Teresa Chan (@TChanMD) and Felix Ankel (@felixankel)

You are a new associate dean for faculty development hired to guide a recently merged medical school and health system into the future. During your environmental scan and 1:1 meet and greets, you make the following observations.

  1. The development culture center of gravity for faculty is on a departmental level rather than on an institutional one and is fragmented and uneven. Some departments have robust internal development pipelines that are well established but are idiosyncratic and without explicit outcomes measures. Other departments have non-existing developmental programs and rely on 1:1 mentoring or external programs through academic or specialty societies.
  2. There is little institutional infrastructure or interdepartmental development collaboration. The “roads and bridges” for faculty development do not exist. There is little “systemness” to a coordinated planning, communication, IT, and finance infrastructure to support faculty development.
  3. Most development efforts focus on helping faculty create product needed for promotion and tenure portfolios.  Little is focused on creating meaning, community, personal and professional wellbeing. This product-dominant logic (as opposed to a service-dominant logic ) results in a transactional academic culture that is exclusive, homogeneous and filled with micro and macroaggressions fueled by power asymmetry.

You use a foresight model and identify several hard trends. How do you prepare your team for the future? How do you adapt to hard trends?


Just as in all things within health professions education it can be helpful to have a conceptual framework. When thinking about the future, a framework to use has been developed by the association of professional futurists (APF ). This group focuses on advancing the art and science of futurism and strategic foresight. They have defined the competencies of a futurist as the following:

Within this blog post, we will engage in a scan of 5 trends that display signals for the future of faculty development. 

Trend 1: Digital Transformation of #FacDev

Within faculty development, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light some key vulnerabilities in health professions education. Whereas the pandemic unmasked health systems challenges (e.g. health inequity, systemic racism), it also unmasked health professions education system vulnerabilities. One key trend that has been unmasked is that many faculty were unprepared to migrate to virtual or online practices. We took for granted that students and trainees would always be able to experience in-person patient care, lectures, labs, or simulations. Now, both online learning and virtual patient care are a reality of our world.

There are three terms that describe the degree to which the digital world intersects with your field: Digitizing, Digitalization, and Digital Transformation.1,2 Digitizing faculty development into blog posts, recorded videos, and podcasts is currently underway. Digitalizing faculty development will require the harnessing of online media to create connections and networks to facilitate the experiences we desire to help us change our practices. The true digital transformation of faculty development will come when we can use alternative forms of data (learner/community needs, academic outputs, performance data, teaching evaluations, registration/attendance rates, downloads/listens/pageviews) to assess our programming and develop new ideas for how to evolve our organizations over time.

Trend 2: Digital Collaboration Skills Will Be Required for Future Faculty.

This pandemic experience will transform the academic environment in new ways. Whereas, it has been thought to be a difficult task – universities and higher education institutions are now leaning into remote work.3 Largely an untapped potential, remote work is an exciting proposition for those who have been engaging in more traditional processes for communicating and teaming. We must upskill our faculty and staff to engage in ways that were not usually considered. Remote work, after the pandemic, will become more commonplace. Collaborative writing platforms will increasingly replace the need for emailing around documents. Importantly, we are more connected than ever before – the convenience of technology has allowed us to be hyper-connected in the current pandemic world. Both now and going forward, digital collaboration skills (running a great digital meeting, ensuring voices are heard, navigating a concurrent discussion and chat) will be valued – and faculty who currently understand these mechanisms will be called upon to teach others to better navigate a digital world.

Trend 3: Faculty members will need to be invested upon… more heavily

Agility to adapt to change. Tech savviness. Growth mindset. Even before the pandemic these were key changes that were being called upon by our trainees for faculty members to change our knowledge (working with artificial intelligence), skills (working within a network), and attitudes (growth mindset), More importantly, these are characteristics that our patients need from us as practitioners. As clinician educators, the expectation has often been that we will seek and fund our own continuing development.

The lifeblood of our academic systems are faculty. Students and trainees may come and go, but the faculty are a renewable source of energy and power that fuel academic organizations. We must ensure that we invest in developing our people. Capital investment from hospitals and universities to develop new knowledge, skills, and attitudes in our faculty members will be keys for success in health professions education.

Trend 4: Successful #FacDev programs will focus on organizational growth

Mindset is not just something that individuals have: organizations can have them too. Healthcare and educational enterprises are often conservative for various reasons – some of which have to do with stakes (e.g. lives are in our hands) and some have to do with traditions (e.g. both academia and healthcare have hierarchical traditions from the apprenticeship tradition of health professions education). However, there is a downside to being “slow and steady” in today’s rapidly changing world. Hierarchy and caution may limit adapting or learning.

Gearing up and upskilling our faculty during the time of pandemic has been of great importance – and we must remember this going forward. If we change into organizations that continuously improve, change, and adapt, then we will be nimbler during times of massive changes or shifts within society. Rather than waiting for society to force change, those organizations that are able to proactively leverage faculty development into a foundation for organizational learning will thrive.  

Systematizing change in our education systems, rewarding improvements, and incentivizing/investing in the development of experts and change agents will be essential for growth. We must overcome institutional inertia by creating cultures that are change savvy. Faculty development will be the portal to teach our faculty to shift their attitudes towards a growth-orientation, to be evidence-based in their educational practices, and upskill them enough so they can be confident and daring (enough) to innovate, create, and solve problems within our institutions. Books such as Work Rules! (Lazlo Bock), Learn or Die (Edward Hess), or An Everyone Culture (Kegan & Lahey) may be of interest in thinking about how to shift your organization into one that learns.

And don’t forget… Organizational growth may also mean hiring voices and people who aren’t like you, don’t have your perspective, but can bring fascinating insights into your world.

Trend 5: Faculty development will happen through networks

Learning has always occurred via networks within academia and healthcare.  With the advent of social media, we been so connected that we can almost instantly learn from each other.

Within each institution, traditionally learning occurs vertically, and rarely across the silos within institutions. Faculty development is a learning zone where individuals from various backgrounds (PhD researcher, residency educator, nursing educator) might meaningfully intersect and interact. Creating avenues to engage in a shared dialogue and experiences can be key to future collaboration.

Meaningfully creating networks and communities of practice in digital platforms can be a revelation for many. Hashtags can be used on Twitter to connect communities (e.g. #MedTwitter, #HCLDR, #FOAMed, and of course, #MedEd).4,5 Blogs can be used to host open discussions about difficult scenarios.6,7 Closed social media platforms like Slack or MS teams can be used to engage in longitudinal programming and curriculum delivery for faculty.

Local faculty development workshops can now be opened up to the world’s stage – bringing in unprecedented connectivity and new opportunities for networking that could rarely be experienced except within large international conferences. The increased use of digital means to deliver, archive, and share #FacDev will mean that we can disrupt and transform the traditional model of faculty development.

Tips for supporting the faculty development programs of the future:

  1. Identify hard trends.  Use futuring to identify baseline states and start exploring alternative states
  2. Identify your digital rheostat. Where are you on the Digitizing, Digitalization, and Digital Transformation continuum?  Where do you want to be?
  3. Align #facdev programs to organizational growth.  #facdev programs aligned to organizational goals tend to be the most successful
  4. Harness the power of networks. Development is a social phenomenon and related to the density and diversity of connections. Think both inside and outside your local organization when cultivating networks.
  5. Build roads and bridges.  #facdev programs with infrastructures that focus on #systemness have the most potential.  Pay particular attention to finance, IT, communication, and planning as infrastructures (to support #facdev) rather than suprastructures (to confine #facdev)


  1. Digitalization and Digitization – Culture Digitally. Accessed October 29, 2020. http://culturedigitally.org/2014/09/digitalization-and-digitization/
  2. Vial G. Understanding digital transformation: A review and a research agenda. J Strateg Inf Syst. 2019;28(2):118-144. doi:10.1016/j.jsis.2019.01.003
  3. He S, Lai D, Mott S, et al. Remote e-Work and Distance Learning for Academic Medicine: Best Practices and Opportunities for the Future. J Grad Med Educ. 2020;12(3):256-263. doi:10.4300/JGME-D-20-00242.1
  4. Choo EK, Ranney ML, Chan TM, et al. Twitter as a tool for communication and knowledge exchange in academic medicine: A guide for skeptics and novices. Med Teach. 2015;37(5):411–6. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2014.993371
  5. Yarris LM, Chan TM, Gottlieb M, Juve AM. Finding Your People in the Digital Age: Virtual Communities of Practice to Promote Education Scholarship. J Grad Med Educ. 2019;11(1):1–5. doi:10.4300/JGME-D-18-01093.1
  6. Chan TM, Thoma B, Lin M. Creating, Curating, and Sharing Online Faculty Development Resources. Acad Med. 2015;90(6):1. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000000692
  7. Chan TM, Gottlieb M, Sherbino J, et al. The ALiEM faculty incubator: A novel online approach to faculty development in education scholarship. Acad Med. 2018;93(10):1497–1502. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000002309

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