The pace of change is accelerating at a faster rate than many
educators and administrators had expected. We are seeing the
constant introduction of new software and new technologies that support
instant access to information and massive amounts of data, and these
applications are proliferating in the market with increasing rapidity.
Leaders of academic health centers are adapting and making changes,
but the question remains: are they keeping up? For the past 20 years,
students have enjoyed a different level of technological prowess than our
faculty, demonstrating strong proficiencies in new technologies such as
social media. The challenge is to ascertain which of these myriad new
options can have real and lasting benefits to the profession. Email is a
perfect example—in 2000, people were just beginning to use email.
The use of that technology exploded over the next decade, but now
has been supplanted by other technologies, such as texting or social
media. Younger generations expect these applications to extend to the
educational and clinical sphere, and our educators have been slow to
learn how to respond, so building this responsiveness is a major faculty
The need to evolve is permanent. In large organizations, there’s a
tendency (and it’s quite understandable) to be wary of the bleeding edge
because, historically, new technologies have taken years or decades to
become commonly adopted. That timeframe has been accelerated, and
emerging technologies are now widely adopted in months.
Successful professional practice begins with skills competency that is
supported by an appropriately curated knowledge base. Professional
practice prospers when it also includes competence in communication
and teamwork and a willingness to incorporate new technologies that
meet the quality standards required by science and by regulation. That,
in a nutshell, is the overriding challenge that these emerging technologies
pose to existing curricula—how can they educate initially competent
professionals capable of maintaining their competence in a rapidly
changing practice environment, and do so in a manner that is flexible,
that fulfills universities’ transcendent potential, and that is much more
cost-effective and competency-based.
Among our leaders, we must cultivate a cadre of educators who address
this challenge as their primary function, rather than something they
do separate and apart from their administrative, clinical, and research
duties. This is especially true when education is as expensive as it is today,
and when students are shouldering increasing amounts of debt. We can’t
see the future as clearly as we would like, and we won’t be mistake free,
but we must be open to the idea that we must change continually.
There is something in human nature that loves a habit—it’s comfortable
to do the same thing tomorrow that we did today. Habit is becoming an
increasingly harmful attitude in an era of rapid technological change.
C. Donald Combs, PhD
Vice President and Dean,
School of Health Professions