Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH

AACOM: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

Usually in these columns, I like to highlight policy issues related to the education of osteopathic physicians (and health professionals in general), or comment on the changing health care and education landscape. This time, with the close of the academic year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on the initiatives being undertaken and substantial progress being made by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) in service to the nation’s health care needs and to osteopathic medical education.

Of course, the recent Annual Meeting (see related article below) is one example of AACOM’s growth and success. In collaboration with the Association of Osteopathic Directors and Medical Educators (AODME), the meeting focused on Interprofessional Education (IPE), and highlighted important IPE developments on a national level and within osteopathic medical education programs. (I addressed this in my column last month, as well as in an editorial in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association’s upcoming annual Medical Education Issue [1].)

A plenary session unveiled the work of the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC). In 2009, six national health professions education associations formed IPEC to promote and encourage constituent efforts that would advance substantive interprofessional learning experiences to help prepare future clinicians for team-based patient care. In addition to AACOM, IPEC includes the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, the American Dental Education Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Association of Schools of Public Health. IPEC convened an expert panel consisting of two appointees from each association to recommend a set of core competencies that will lay the foundation for interprofessional collaborative practice. (The panel’s final report will be released on May 10 during an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and will be available on the AACOM website here.)

This was just one highlight of the Annual Meeting. Numerous sessions were held on a variety of topics, with presentations having been selected through a rigorous peer-review process. This year, the number of session proposals sent to AACOM for consideration nearly doubled since last year alone. Likewise, we enjoyed record numbers of attendees, sponsors and exhibitors.

During the Annual Meeting, AACOM inducted a new class of Fellows to the National Academy of Osteopathic Medical Educators (NAOME). NAOME was established just two years ago, and is the first national academy representing educators in any of the health professions. Aimed at promoting educational scholarship and mentorship, NAOME has quickly become “home” to a variety of critical medical education projects. For more information about NAOME, see the related item below, or visit the AACOM website.

Last fall, AACOM launched TOPCE (Training Osteopathic Primary Care Educators). The aim of TOPCE is to provide formal education in teaching skills and student learning styles within the context of osteopathic medical education. To date, TOPCE programming has focused on the integration of osteopathic concepts into the assessment of learners and has occurred at the American Osteopathic Association OMED Meeting in October 2010, the American Academy of Osteopathy Convocation in February 2011, and the AACOM Annual Meeting in April 2011.  The sessions are by invitation only, with representatives from COMs and OPTIs given preference. 

I’d also like to highlight other developments within AACOM. Over the past year, the association has greatly increased its research analysis and reporting services, and new data are regularly generated and posted to the revamped Data and Trends section of AACOM’s web site. As an additional service, AACOM is now posting several Excel spreadsheets that can be downloaded and customized for use in a variety of settings. Visit the site frequently for updated information on osteopathic medical colleges, applicants, matriculants and graduates, and for special survey reports.

AACOM has also continued to increase its recruitment activities, and in combination with increasing class sizes and new school openings, these efforts have led to five years of record-setting numbers of applicants to osteopathic medical colleges (see related article below). Today, more than 20 percent of all new U.S. medical students are studying at osteopathic medical schools.

The Washington, DC area location of AACOM’s national offices makes it possible for the association to implement a strong advocacy program, and the last two years have been extremely busy ones on Capitol Hill. In recent months, AACOM has been particularly active in supporting fiscal year (FY) 2011 funding of Title VII of the Public Health Service Act health professions education and training programs, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and Indian Health Service (IHS) scholarship and loan repayment programs, comparative effectiveness research, and funding for the Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality (AHRQ) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). 

AACOM also strongly advocated for funding for certain elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), such as appropriations for Title VII programs; implementation of provisions for payments to teaching health centers (THCs) for the direct and indirect costs of graduate medical education and THC development grants; and a newly created FY 2011 Rural Physician Training Grant Program, which will create opportunities for primary care physicians to train in rural areas. And we continue to advocate for increased funding and flexibility for the expansion of graduate medical education programs to meet the nation’s need for an adequate physician workforce.   

AACOM also held its first series of webinars this year, working with the association’s Council of Student Financial Aid Administrators (CSFAA) to deliver three webinars aimed at helping attendees better understand and communicate to students the complexities surrounding student loans (see related item below).

In the months ahead, AACOM will continue to build on existing programs and launch several new initiatives. One item of note is a collaborative effort AACOM has been working on with the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). Osteopathic medicine and osteopathic medical education are at an important stage in their growth. And the concomitant rapidly changing health care and regulatory environment presents an opportunity to assess the profession’s development and preparedness for change. Nowhere is this assessment more important than in the area of graduate medical education. To begin to address these issues, AACOM and AOA have established a Blue Ribbon Commission that will meet several times over the next year to assess the current status of OGME in light of new developments and make recommendations to authoritative bodies for implementation. We will share more information on this evolving initiative in next month’s newsletter.

AACOM also is working to encourage greater participation in educational and institutional research by talented educator/researchers at its member colleges. Many readers know about the association’s mini-grant program, which provides grants for research in a variety of critical areas. Recently, the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations provided AACOM with a significant grant that will allow us to greatly expand this program, and we look forward to sharing the results of funded resulting projects.

And finally, to keep its constituents informed about all of AACOM’s activities of interest, the association plans to expand its social media presence over the next year. With a facebook page that already is enjoying large numbers of people who “like” us, we will be working to identify and implement a full range of social media initiatives that expand our reach with aspiring physicians, educators, and administrators.

I invite you to follow AACOM’s work in the months ahead, and to contact us with any suggestions regarding our strategic directions.

 [1] Shannon SC. Osteopathic medical education in 2011: adapting to changes in the healthcare system. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2011;111(4):203-204

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April / May 2011
Vol. 5, No. 4 / 5