Margaret L. Wilkinson: A Tenacious leader devising new ways to envision medical education

The Most Extraordinary Women Shattering the Glass Ceiling in Education

Carrying a passion for education, Margaret L. Wilkinson, Associate Dean of Preclinical Education, Tampa Bay Regional Campus of Nova Southeastern University, Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, is a dedicated leader who completed her doctorate and served KPCOM at various roles. This helped in nourishing her curiosity, discovering novel ideas as well as sharing her love of learning.

She states, “Medical education is a dynamic arena requiring flexibility and openness to adaptation as new discoveries in science, clinical medicine and research emerge and as the universe around us erupts with immense challenges that demand innovative solutions.”

Knocking down all roadblocks relentlessly

For Margaret, challenges compel humans to rethink their accepted realities and to look for better solutions to achieve one’s goals or imparting a needed service.

Throwing light on her personal struggles, she says, “When I first joined the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1996, I was expected to develop postgraduate residency training programs and support our soon to graduate medical students as they worked to get accepted into their residency training programs. I was in a new medical school and challenged myself to learn how to navigate the world of graduate medical education, which was foreign to me and was to require guiding the accreditation process of multiple new residency programs. I met the challenges, but not alone. Along with hard work and long hours, it was realizing and accepting the help and wisdom of others that made it possible.”

Journey from beginning

Considering life as an adventure, she followed John F. Kennedy and believed in his words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” and joined the Peace Corps, after which she was appointed to serve in a teacher training college in West Africa. While teaching adult women, many of whom were married, had children, and left home to attend a boarding school to become elementary school teachers, she learned a precious lesson to never take education for granted.

When Margaret finished her PCV service, she traveled through Europe and studied the German language in between. Later, she came back to her Michigan home to complete her master’s degree, after which her work inclined towards the education field. She started as a medical educator with the TB Association [now known as the American Lung Association] and then became the associate director of a Planned Parenthood agency in Ohio.

She then states, “I visited Kent State University College of Education to ask about a master’s degree in instructional design and ended up enrolling in a doctoral degree program in curriculum and instruction. From there, I served as the director of academic affairs at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. After this, she left her job there to join KPCOM.”

Having the privilege to join NSU/ KPCOM in the initial days helped her to participate in rapid growth initiatives and working with different teams overrun with zeal to establish a modern innovative medical education program. Owing to this, many times, she got different opportunities to take on diverse roles and responsibilities.

Even though she started her journey in graduate medical education, it further tunneled more toward undergraduate medical education, giving emphasis on training medical students studying in the first two years of medical school.

Further, she adds, “Along the way, I participated with others in the development of a consortium that linked our college, hospitals, ambulatory clinical sites and practicing physicians into a network of training programs, helped develop a new master’s in medical education and served as chair or a member on many university and college committees.”

Transformation in the Medical Realm

Over the years, Medical education has undergone a huge metamorphosis. From adapting newer teaching methods and eradicating information memorization to shifting the focus of the education process on student learning and competency mastery, now independent life-long learning, professional identity development, earlier clinical exposure, and service-learning are some benchmarks being added to the upcoming medical education curriculum.

She explains, “There is an expanding presence of the behavioral sciences and the humanities, of public health, and preventive medicine. How to address these new demands must be the focus for upcoming years. As the core of medical education changes, the role of technology is emerging as the critical force we must master to support the evolution of training for the next generation of physicians.”

Since student learning is the targeted outcome, KPCOM has found e-learning as a great route to bring this change. Witnessing the role of technology in education, the curriculum and faculty development are also now focusing on assisting students and faculty to be adept at using the right technologies effectively.

Surviving through the Pandemic 

Education reforms in the past moved at a snail’s pace with much discussion and little forward movement. However, the COVID-19 pandemic acted as a breakthrough pushing educators to adapt and implement new and advanced ways to design and deliver the curriculum. Not just this, they were bound to create a training program that met accreditation standards. Therefore, there were many big and small changes made to keep the flow of providing education going.

Margaret shares everyone was committed to meeting the challenges, “ the order of courses was changed, didactic sessions were delivered electronically with students joining from their homes and professors lecturing, leading small group sessions, or responding to student questions electronically. Students in the clinical years were provided virtual training modules and experiences. Telemedicine opportunities were expanded. These experiences demonstrated how many possibilities that were not previously considered could become mainstream.”

With this transformation, it is difficult to return back to the same teaching methodologies as before. Instead, now they will prioritize making the most of these experiences and the lessons learned as they will keep innovating, integrating, and invigorating the curriculum ahead.

Striving for a Better Future

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely said, “Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.” She is happy to have fulfilled most of her dreams and define her own definition of success. In her words, “Success is setting meaningful goals and having the heart and spirit necessary to pursue them until you have achieved them.”

She is self-motivated by the enthusiastic team of outstanding, talented, and creative educators that contribute to the training of future physicians. Even though the last two years presented numerous challenges, she is proud of the unified and determined response to tackle it and strives hard to open wide doors for future revolutions in education. She is more than happy to serve in the upcoming educational reforms as well!