Stemmler Fund 25th Anniversary Interview Series

Posted October 25, 2020

The Stemmler Fund is integral to NBME Contributions which celebrate and support the medical education community. On the 25th of every month, you can learn about a different Stemmler recipient's journey and how this research opportunity shaped and influenced their career in medical education. 

David A. Asch, MD, MBA

David A. Asch, MD, MBA, received an NBME Stemmler Fund grant in 2006 to research assessing the quality of clinical training programs through measuring the clinical outcomes of patients cared for by the graduates of those programs. His innovative project successfully evaluated training programs through this methodology and connected the assessment of medical professionals to what patients most value: the success and quality of the care that they receive from their doctors.

Recently, NBME caught up with Dr. Asch to discuss his career, his research and the medical education community in celebration of the Stemmler Fund’s 25th Anniversary.

How did receiving a Stemmler Grant influence your career?

The Stemmler Grant was used in an incredibly leveraged way to get a piece of work done related to the measurement of medical education. It turned out to be more influential than we ever would have imagined, and it ended up creating a subtheme in my own research career that never would have existed. And so, for me, it was transformative.

Could you provide an overview of your research project that was funded by Stemmler?

I came to the project with a set of ideas developed with my colleague, Sean Nicholson, PhD, about how we would assess medical education. It was based on the question, “How would you know that a training program was any good?” The answer we came up with is that we could judge a program as “good” depending on whether it produced doctors who produced good outcomes for the patients. We took the measurement of medical education quality right to the patient. That turned out to be a novel concept and one that people could understand. Then, we demonstrated that it could be done. I think that single concept and its execution ended up resonating with the world of medical educators.

Reflecting on the original purpose of the Stemmler Fund that was established 25 years ago, why is the assessment of medical professionals still important today?

In some respects, that’s a very easy question to answer. What would the world be like if we didn’t have assessment? Why would we even want to go to the doctor if we didn’t have some kind of assessment of educational process? That’s the simplest answer I can provide; we would hate not to have it.

How do you think the Stemmler Fund adds value to the medical education community?

When you create a funding program, you’re giving validation to an area. You’re saying this is something that’s worthy of investment, worthy of attention, and worthy of people’s effort. That gives people motivation and inspiration to believe that a field is worth their time.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think the Stemmler Fund serves the field of medical education incredibly well. First, it honors a man—an unassuming, quiet and yet visionary leader—who made important contributions to American medical education. And second, it offers support for those new investigators who can advance medical education further. I’m glad that the Fund still exists, and that it’s helping new generations of people make contributions to a field that we never want to go away.

Maxine A. Papadakis, MD

Maxine A. Papadakis, MD, Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, at the University of California, San Francisco received an NBME Stemmler Fund grant in June 2002 to research professional behaviors of individuals in medical school and throughout their careers. Her groundbreaking project concluded that a person’s unprofessional behavior in medical school was associated with subsequent disciplinary action by a state medical board.

Recently, NBME caught up with Dr. Papadakis to discuss her career and the future of medical education in celebration of the Stemmler Fund’s 25th Anniversary.

How did receiving a Stemmler Grant influence your career?

The Stemmler Grant completely changed my career. It allowed me to look at the field of professionalism through a unique research lens. Because of the Grant, I have been able to remain in the field of professionalism research. It has been enormously satisfying to be in the field as it expanded from a smaller discipline to a larger one. 

The purpose of the Stemmler Fund is to foster innovation in the assessment of medical education. Why is the assessment of medical professionals important?

It is a framework for students as they come across different scenarios of professional judgment and action. There is no way that someone can be trained about all the specifics that they will encounter in future situations. But medical providers have to be trained to recognize, to analyze and to have a foundational underpinning for what they will face.

How do you think Stemmler adds value to the medical education community?

Initially, the Stemmler Fund was almost the only funding source for the study of professionalism. It remains a critical source that funds core innovations in professionalism. Inventive, out-of-the box research supports the discipline of professionalism as a core competence and enables researchers to take risks in opening new areas of investigation. Especially in these times, we need to celebrate the extraordinary selflessness of our health care providers and learn from their professionalism.

What advice do you have for an individual submitting a proposal for a Stemmler Grant?

As with any grant proposal, it is important to carve out something specific, measurable and doable. It is also important to stay realistic about what can be done, and to stay relevant to the struggles of learners and patients today.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am grateful to Stemmler and to NBME for housing the program. Twenty-five years ago, when we started to study professionalism, there wasn’t much happening in the field. Now, professionalism is truly a core competence for learners, and the study of outcomes related to professionalism is front and center. The Stemmler Fund has been instrumental in making that happen.


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