Grants fund educational innovation

The Educational Discovery Institute awarded its first collection of grants to a group of researchers with diverse projects. The $10,000 grants are designed to assist researchers who look for better ways to educate health science students.

“These educational projects investigate research questions that can result in making better teachers, better practitioners and ultimately improve patient outcomes,” said Dr. Lara Stepleman, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Health Behavior and Co-Director of the GHSU Educational Discovery Institute.

Drs. Shilpa Brown, D. Stephen Goggans, Kathryn McLeod, D. Douglas Miller and Leila Stallworth received Education Discovery Institute grants. Their projects run the gamut from a two-country study of how the structure of health care systems influence students’ career paths to how a digital educational game affects knowledge retention.

“I think one of the things we were most happy with in the first group was that we had representation of awardees from both the Augusta and the Athens campuses,” said Dr. Christie Palladino, Educational Researcher with the Educational Discovery Institute.

“Awardees represent the full array from fairly beginning health sciences researchers to very seasoned health science researchers. So the award can be appropriate for any interested researcher with an educational question,” Stepleman said.

Goggans, at the GHSU/UGA Medical Partnership, brought to the grant process a request to merge medicine and theater. First- and second-year medical students must practice patient interaction, but training with real patients does not
always allow enough flexibility to work on the specific skills students need. So, like many medical schools, the program uses “standardized patients,” volunteers who act as patients in a role-playing situation. But Goggans wondered if the interaction could be improved, so he partnered with the UGA Department of Theater and Film Studies to help volunteers with
their acting.

“It turns out that there’s not a lot of research out there about the best ways to train standardized patients,” he said. “Basically every medical school in the country has a program like this and they train them in many different ways. So we decided to study that to assess differences as a result of the theater training of our group. What the EDI grant allows us to do is to do actual scholarship on the program.”

There is so little scholarship on the topic that they have to create their own evaluation instruments. But Goggans says this part of the medical school learning curve is crucial.

“Communicating with patients is such a central part of what doctors do. I actually think this aspect of their training can have really important consequences for the rest of their practice,” he said.

Stepleman said Goggans’ project is an example of how educational innovation occurs. “The people who do this every day are the ones who are bringing the ideas to the table,” she said.

McLeod is one of those practitioners. As an Associate Professor in pediatrics, she watches residents interact with patients. And having just finished an Educational Discovery  Institute fellowship, she applied for an EDI grant to further her
project to train residents to support new moms in breastfeeding.

“In my fellowship, I had been studying education interventions in the development of a new breastfeeding curriculum and how that affects behaviors and attitudes of pediatric residents towards breastfeeding,” McLeod said. The biggest problem with using standardized patients are the last-minute scheduling conflicts that occur for both busy residents and patients.”

She applied for an EDI grant to support the creation of three teaching and one test video that would be more accessible to a larger group because the learner could schedule educational times at his convenience.

“We’ll see if the video is as effective as the standardized patient exercise,” McLeod said.

National grants for education research are highly competitive, even for smaller grants, according to Stepleman and Palladino. They cited as an example one $2,000 grant that had 65 applications.

“So EDI grants also give education researchers an opportunity to build their research portfolio so that when they do apply for the larger national grants, they’ll have a better shot,” Stepleman said.

The awards are given twice a year, and were previously only open to faculty in the Medical College of Georgia, but have been expanded to include all of the colleges at GHSU. So EDI expects a greater range of project applications submitted by the March 25 deadline.

“We’re really looking forward to the collaborations as we get more people involved from different colleges,” Palladino said.

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