Founding Dean Dr. Mark Schuster on what makes the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine stand out

Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD, said he had a lot to be thankful for last year, including being named the founding dean of Pasadena, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine in October.

While he's held several faculty teaching positions in the past, at the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, Dr. Schuster will be responsible for developing the school's educational curriculum and incorporating aspects of the Kaiser Permanente philosophy to provide students with a holistic medical education. Prior to his appointment at the school, Dr. Schuster served as the William Berenberg professor of pediatrics at Boston-based Harvard Medical School and chief of general pediatrics and vice chair for health policy in the department of medicine at Boston Children's Hospital.

Dr. Schuster spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about his career path leading to the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, the type of education students can expect and what being named the school’s founding dean means to him.

Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Can you describe your career path and how you ended up as founding dean of the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine?

Dr. Mark Schuster: After graduating from medical school, I worked in various settings where I saw patients, taught, worked in the community and conducted research ranging from quality of care to the socio-economic factors that influence people's health.

Kaiser Permanente reached out to me and in conversations with them, I discovered their mission to be extremely attractive. Officials emphasized the idea of creating a school focused on teaching students about promoting health, not just treating disease. They emphasized prevention, data analytics, population health and a commitment to underserved communities, among other health factors. They also stressed the importance of supporting the students, faculty and staff in maintaining their own wellness. Their mission was very forward-looking: crafting a curriculum that draws on previous areas of excellence, as well as advances in technology and evolving pedagogical approaches in education.  

Q: What does the position of founding dean mean to you?

MS: I see the job as an absolute gift, an amazing opportunity to join with others in creating a new medical school that applies the best of what we know about medical education to train incredible physicians. I feel exceptionally lucky to be in this position.

Q: The Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, like the Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, is one of few medical schools tied to a health system rather than a university. How do you think that impacts the school's academics, reputation, etc.?

MS: During the past several decades, there's been a shift away from physicians practicing on their own to a more team-based approach, and Kaiser Permanente's been at the forefront of developing and advancing that integrated-care model. While this may be Kaiser Permanente's first medical school, the health system has substantial experience in education, already serving many medical students from other schools as well as their own residents.

Kaiser Permanente has a large clinical enterprise where students can learn and gain extensive experience with integrated clinical care, and we will provide that experience early in their careers. Students will be in an environment that encourages innovation and seeks to inform them about how important communication and information flow are to providing patients with exceptional care. Our medical students are going to go off into the world as doctors across the country and beyond. Our goal is to prepare them to understand and value integrated care, but also be able to practice in all types of settings.

Q: What, in your experience, makes a medical school successful?

MS: There are many ways to be successful and measure success. At the School of Medicine, our goal is to provide students with the education strategies to become lifelong learners. Knowledge is changing too rapidly; we want to teach students how to access and assess information and continue to learn new techniques and procedures as the information becomes available.

Ultimately, we also want to prepare students to be leaders in their communities. If they're in situations where local policies may influence the health of their patients, we want our graduates to work with lawmakers and local health department officials to address those problems. If we turn out outstanding physicians who go out and provide outstanding care to patients in communities across the country, while helping to make those communities more conducive to healthful living, then we will have done our job.

Q: What can Kaiser Permanente offer potential medical students that they may not necessarily have access to at a traditional medical school?

MS: Some of the things we want to try or incorporate into our curriculum exist or have been tried at other medical schools. One of the benefits we have, however, is the ability to create our program from the ground up and incorporate the very best of what's out there — the best and most innovative solutions and practices. We're not part of an existing university system with long-standing traditions that can be difficult to stray from; we can sit down and consider what we believe to be the best approach to medical education and how we want to get there.

Leaders at other schools are incredibly innovative and eager to try new approaches, but don't always have the resources or approval or context for turning those ideas into reality. We don't have the same kinds of limitations — we can consider the full range of new ideas and approaches and focus on what will serve our students best.

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