BCM Family
for Faculty, Staff and Trainees
Volume 7, Issue 8
August 2010

Seminar helps fellows build leadership skills in pediatric oncology

Dr. Ernest Frugé
Dr. Ernest Frugé

Pediatric oncology fellows at Baylor College of Medicine get the top-notch training you would expect at one of the country's leading children's cancer centers. But one aspect of their training is something that's unique – a seminar focused on leadership skills.

The Reflective Practice Leadership Seminar was launched in 1995 for pediatric oncology fellows, but it can be adapted for use in other departments at BCM, said Dr. Ernest Frugé, associate professor of pediatrics and family and community medicine at BCM, who helped develop the program.

Complex skills

Leadership is a complex set of skills that has been historically difficult to learn, and to teach. The seminar employs a model similar to that used in other aspects of clinical training and basic science education. Called reflective practice, the model applies a disciplined analysis of complicated situations that result in strategic, effective action.

The interactive, case-based initiative is mandatory for first-year pediatric oncology fellows and elective for upper-level fellows.

Dr. David Poplack
Dr. David Poplack

Seminars have been adapted for use in other specialties, including adult medicine. The methods have also proven useful for physicians at different levels of professional development, such as continuing education for practicing physicians, said Frugé, who is also director of psychosocial programs at the Texas Children's Cancer Center.

It is also being used at other institutions including M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Iowa.

For more information about the seminar visit www.reflectivepracticeleadership.org.

The seminar was developed by Dr. David Poplack, professor of pediatrics at BCM and director of the Texas Children's Cancer Center, Frugé and Dr. Marc Horowitz.

"We believe there is more to being a good doctor than knowing the right medicine for a particular disease," said Horowitz, professor of pediatrics at BCM, who practices at the Texas Children's Cancer Center. "It's also about being able to interact and communicate effectively with patients and their families and with colleagues."

Oncology fellows are taught to make a cancer diagnosis using the information they have, and then generate a treatment plan. They can do the same thing within the leadership realm, said Frugé.

Dr. Marc Horowitz
Dr. Marc Horowitz

The seminars begin with a description of a challenging situation – such as a conflict that can arise between physicians in different specialties on how to treat a patient. That is followed by a systematic analysis, the formation of a hypothesis of why the situation is occurring and development of a plan to deal with it.

Faculty guide the leadership seminars, facilitating discussion among participants and encouraging fellows to develop their reasoning skills in this domain as they have in the biological realm.

The seminar helps physicians develop the ability to understand the psycho-social effects of illness and treatment, which in turn enhances their ability to assist the child and the whole family during diagnosis and treatment. They also learn how caring for pediatric cancer patients affects medical professionals and how to work effectively with their colleagues. These are all important leadership qualities, Horowitz said.

A paper on the seminar was published in the May issue of the Journal of Pediatric Hematology Oncology. It was funded in part by a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation.