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Transforming Medicine through Education, Leadership and Mentorship

Brian Kwan named president-elect of the Clerkship Directors in Internal Medicine

05-24-brian-kwan.jpgThe familiar saying about giving a man a fish, feeds him for one day, but if you teach a man to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime reminds us of the critical role that educators play in the future. For Brian Kwan, M.D., co-director of the Internal Medicine Clerkship and clinical professor of medicine at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, teaching provides that long-term potentially life-changing opportunity to really make a difference.

“This is why I love medical education,” said Kwan, who is also an academic hospitalist, a physician who works in an acute care setting while also focusing on education and research, at the Jennifer Moreno VA Medical Center in San Diego. “When we go to medical school, we first think about our relationship with the patient, which is natural. You touch one patient at a time. But what happens when you teach a medical student or resident? You continue affecting your patients, but the learners also begin to impact their patients. And when the learners teach other future students and residents, it becomes a force multiplier. That's the whole concept of education, right? In sharing and teaching, we inspire and give people purpose and have a tremendous impact on society.”

That ripple effect of teaching, sharing and mentoring is what led Kwan to join the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine (AAIM). This national organization strives to promote advancement and professional development of its members who are preparing the next generation of internal medicine physicians and leaders through education, research, engagement and collaboration. Kwan is the organization’s president-elect of the Clerkship Directors in Internal Medicine and will serve as a board member of AAIM for the next three years.

Kwan describes AAIM as an umbrella organization that brings together educators in internal medicine including administrators, department chairs, fellowship directors and clerkship directors. They all work together to help align AAIM’s vision with practical execution in the medical education community.

One example that Kwan shared centers on challenges with student assessments. Each medical school uses its own language to describe each individual student’s skills and training in the required competencies. AAIM is looking to create more universal or standardized tools to help medical schools communicate better with residency programs in describing the student’s current skills and competencies.  

 “We've done research in terms of looking at how medical students transition to becoming residents,” said Kwan. “What I love about the organization is that it partners with other professional organizations (such as the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and the American Association of Medical Colleges) to create policy and influence how things are done and making changes in real time that will impact medical students across the country.”

At UC San Diego, Kwan’s role as co-director of the Internal Medicine Clerkship allows him to connect with every third-year medical student through a required course called MED 401, the Internal Medicine Core Clerkship.

The internal medicine clerkship course is one of seven core clerkships that all medical students complete during their clinical training. Clerkships provide students the opportunity to experience a vast array of specialties to help them make an informed career decision by the time they get into their fourth year of medical school when they will have to commit to a career path in a specific specialty.

What is a Clerkship?

A clerkship is the transitionary period where medical education begins to shift from didactic classroom learning to practicing evidence-based medicine under the close supervision of the entire health team to include residents and attending physicians.

“The internal medicine clerkship provides patient care experiences in a safe environment,” said Kwan. “There's a lot of supervision. There are residents, attending physicians and other people on the health professions team who are double checking their work. Clerkships are a way for students to really explore and to learn how to present patients, collect data and interact with the health record. It's a formative experience.”

One of the highlights of the clerkship experience is that it gives students a glimpse into what practicing medicine really looks and feels like. The students are pushed to sometimes to be uncomfortable, to look at conditions that they may not be familiar with and adjust to a rigorous schedule which can mimic what a career as an internist will really be like.

For Kwan, who has been with the clerkship program for more than 10 years and has served as the co-director since 2019, providing medical students with this type of experience is critical to the students’ future success, but also rewarding from an educator’s standpoint.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” said Kwan, who considered taking a break between undergraduate education and medical school to be a teacher. “It was a pretty difficult decision. But then I realized during training that education is a core part of the way we train future physicians, which allowed me to channel that passion into my current career focus. I really enjoy the personal connections. Not only am I a course director, but I work with a ton of learners, both students and residents, in the clinical space. It’s been a privilege to get to know many of them beyond clinical encounters and connecting with them in different ways.”

The connections made between Kwan and his students have been recognized over the years with not only excellence in teaching awards, but also the Internal Medicine Residency House Staff Teaching Award in 2018 and 2019.

“I've been really grateful to have a body of educators at UC San Diego who are interested in the same mission,” said Kwan. “I think that's what creates an amazing and tightknit community and pushes me to continue to innovate and advocate in my space. We truly have an incredible team who has built unique assessments and thoughtful policies and a lot of that comes from the mentorship we received. The previous clerkship director, Dr. Tim Dresselhaus, was a visionary in terms of guiding the course, and really helped provide the substrate for us to build on. I’m incredibly grateful for his sponsorship.”


Joyce Pritchett

Communications Specialist, UC San Diego School of Medicine