By Caroline Guay
The field of medical education would not be anywhere near where it is today if it weren’t for the outstanding vision, leadership and dedication of Dr. Linda Snell, this year’s winner of the McGill University Lifetime Achievement Award for Leadership in Education. Dr. Snell accepted her Award during this morning’s Convocation ceremonies.
“Over the span of nearly four decades and McGill University, Dr. Snell has had a tremendous impact on teaching, education leadership and education research at all levels of medical training,” said David Eidelman, Dean of Medicine and Vice-Principal (Health Affairs), in introducing Dr. Snell. “McGill has not been the sole beneficiary of Dr. Snell’s contribution to advancing health professions education. Her passion and exemplary leadership has reverberated across the country and beyond.”
A medical doctor in the Department of General Internal Medicine at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), Dr. Snell is internationally recognized for advancing the field of medical education through all aspects of health professional development – from designing curricula and evaluating programs to researching learning conditions and developing competency frameworks. A prolific researcher with close to 100 peer-reviewed publications and nine book chapters, she is also a core member of McGill’s Centre for Medical Education.
“Dr. Snell’s career illustrates a lifetime of commitment to leadership in education, sustained productivity in research and scholarship in health professional education, unwavering support of learners and teachers alike, and a passion for innovation and integration of new knowledge into educational practices,” said Dean Eidelman
The McGill Reporter recently reached Dr. Snell at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, where she was leading a multi-day leadership course for residency program directors, discussing quality in education. When asked how she developed her initial interest in medical education, she explains that it occurred in parallel with her own experience of becoming a doctor, and as a result of some of the issues and challenges that she experienced as a student and resident – for example, needing more role model clinicians.
Good doctors, notes Dr. Snell, have certain intrinsic skills – such as the ability to communicate effectively, to advocate for their patients, to incorporate research in their practice, and to teach residents and other health professionals – and she firmly believes that these skills can be taught (and learned). This fundamental belief led her to pursue a Masters in Medical Education and helped set the stage for her high-impact career in the field of medical education.
By Dr. Snell’s account, the field has changed substantially over the past 20 years. One such change is the increasing professionalization of medical education; “clinician-educators” and “medical educators” are now recognized as having a specific area of expertise. Scholarship in the field has also developed and expanded; there is a great deal more research available to inform decisions around ideal learning conditions, effective teaching and student motivation.
While these are positive developments, Dr. Snell recognizes that medical educators still have a way to go before they are granted the same level of recognition as researchers, especially when it comes to academic advancement. She is confident that this is gradually changing, however, and as the field continues to gain traction, recognition should too.
Her own philosophy of education is refreshingly straightforward, and can be summed up in four words: “the learner comes first.” She is more concerned about setting up an environment conducive to learning than she is about the mere delivery of content. She describes her teaching style as more informal and interactive, rather than formal and didactic. The focus, in her view, should be more about learning than about teaching. “I want to welcome the learners into our community of doctors and hope they will enjoy the practice of medicine as much as I do.”
Despite having dedicated over 37 years of her career to research and practice in medical education, she shows no sign of resting on her laurels. When asked what she still wanted to achieve in her career, her response is clear: “I want the [medical education initiatives] I’m involved in to be the best – so that they can be models for others, in Canada and around the world,” says Dr. Snell.