Takeaways from AAMC: Eyeing Progress Amid the Pandemic

The annual AAMC conference – held this year, virtually, over three days in mid-November – is a chance for the academic medicine community to convene, converse and consider the state of things in their field. Two overarching themes to the meeting this year were: the response to and responsibility for caring for populations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; and addressing social and racial injustice in their many manifestations.

As always, WittKieffer was well represented at AAMC. Three members of our Academic Medicine and Health Sciences team who attended – senior partner Karen Otto, senior partner Jeff Schroetlin, and principal Deborah (Dee) Wing, M.D., M.B.A. – share their insights on key themes and what’s next for medical schools and academic medical centers:

Key Conference Themes:

  • A maturing focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. There were numerous sessions devoted to promoting DE&I. According to Karen Otto, organizations’ approaches are more sophisticated than in the past—emphasizing, for instance, medical schools’ responsibility to adapt their curricula, admissions policies, and hiring practices to address the built-in inequities that still permeate medical schools and society.
  • Care for communities. AAMC and the broader academic medicine community are adopting Community Collaborations as a fourth element added to their traditional tripartite mission of education, research and healthcare provision. There was a distinct focus throughout the meeting on exploring ways to foster community health and well-being, observed Dr. Wing.
  • Care for caregivers. Another recurring theme heard in AAMC sessions and dialogues related to the mental health of the healthcare worker population. There is growing acceptance that, as the pandemic persists, it is care providers who will suffer most.
  • A shift toward transparency. Jeff Schroetlin was heartened by the theme of transparency as it relates to creating an equitable, safe and responsive work environment for women and underrepresented minorities. Presenters from the Mayo Clinic, in particular, shared details of that organization’s efforts to be transparent with staff and patients about efforts to address harassment complaints made within the organization.
  • Addressing social determinants. Many sessions touched upon the need for academic medical centers to play a key role in addressing social determinants of health in their communities. There was consensus that healthcare providers are key conveners within the community, and health systems are taking steps to better train staff to screen for patients’ needs which can be addressed outside the clinic setting.

Hope for the Future

As we head into 2021, what are the key trends and messages that will shape academic medicine?

Schroetlin: “For me, the takeaway was around a greater awareness of transparency in leadership. This could relate to issues of diversity, harassment, and being visible in the community. Transparency is becoming a key quality that leaders must embrace to ensure progress on these issues is part of organizational culture.”

Wing: “The adjective ‘unprecedented’ kept coming up. There’s never been a time where the whole globe has experienced a health impact like now. Therefore, the charge I heard for academic medicine is one of embracing the challenges that the pandemic has brought on—that we all have a personal responsibility to do things differently in helping others. There are glimmers of optimism that have come out of this; the pandemic has meant that every sentient being has had in one way or another an existential crisis and has had to consider their role in overcoming the challenges brought on by it.”

Otto: “There was a clear awareness of the need to invest in public health and health workers; addressing the pandemic is not just a physician solution but one of all health-related professions. While it was touched on this year, next year there will be an emphasis on the need to address the mental health of caregivers and providers—a lasting impact of the pandemic will be this issue, and will be felt acutely in the number of retirements we may see.”

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