An interesting article was published in Medical Education which you don’t see too often in journals. It’s a first-person reflective account of Dr. Ronald Harden’s long and internationally well-regarded career in medical education. No p-value. No sample size calculation. His experiences and lessons learned provide great insight. Here’s his advice to current and future educators.

1. People are important.

  • Be a great clinician-educator role model for learners.

2. Innovation in medical education is complex.

  • Beware of confounding factors and bias.

3. Nudges are important.

  • Because medical education is a social discipline, be subtle in how you make changes. Small changes or recommendations play better than large, sweeping changes and top-down mandates.

4. Students are important as players.

  • Today’s students are different from students 10 years ago. Today’s students are “digital natives.” Personalized curricula will be important because every student has different needs.
  • “It is important to have as the aim directed self-learning rather than self-directed learning.” That means educators should provide some structural framework in how students conduct independent learning.

5. Offer practical solutions to problems.

6. There is always something to learn outside one’s practice.

  • Attend an education conference outside of your specialty. To make real progress in medical education, there needs to be better cross-collaboration.

7. Publish.

  • “If I had to live my life again I would place greater priority on documenting what I did and publishing it.”

8. Learn from history.

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel.

9. Obtain independent funding.

  • Although it is very challenging to obtain external funding, it forces one to be clear and concise about why one’s study is important and how it should be conducted.

10. Have fun!


Harden RM. Looking back to the future: a message for a new generation of medical educators. Medical Education. 2011;45(8), 777-84 PMID: 21752074.

Michelle Lin, MD
ALiEM Founder and CEO
Professor and Digital Innovation Lab Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Michelle Lin, MD


Professor of Emerg Med at UCSF-Zuckerberg SF General. ALiEM Founder @aliemteam #PostitPearls at Bio:
Michelle Lin, MD