The Medical College of Wisconsin announced Thursday that it has received $50 million from the Kern Family Foundation — the largest gift in the school’s history from a single donor.
With the money, the school will continue to focus on transforming the way future doctors are educated, an effort started in 2017 when the foundation donated nearly $38 million to the Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education, also known as the Kern Institute.
“Right now, Americans don’t have the physician staff best suited to our healthcare needs,” said Adina Kalet, director of the Kern Institute in an interview. “There are many, many, many reasons for this, but part of it is that we have an education system that is not quite up to date and geared to new challenges.”
The school will “invest heavily” in faculty development, with some faculties earning advanced degrees in character education or education in health professions, she said. A new postdoctoral fellows program is also underway that will provide scientists with a PhD with a new career path to become medical educators.
MCW designs a holistic admissions approach that assesses not only applicants’ academic skills, but also whether they have the character traits to thrive as a physician, such as thriving under pressure, working in teams and being resilient, Kalet said.
The new approach could help diversify who becomes doctors and better spot students who want to serve in rural and underserved parts of Wisconsin, she said. Exactly how the eligibility criteria will change to honor those character traits is unclear at this point.
“We want to make sure that we select people with the capacity to give a lot and to do all those other things (expected from doctors),” she said. “It’s not clear at this point what the best strategies are to do that and we’re working on that.”
The key to the revamp, she said, will be investing heavily in the university’s regional campuses in Wausau and Green Bay, where students can complete medical school in three years instead of four.
The $50 million gift is the most recent from the Kern family, who founded Generac Power Systems, a portable generator maker in Waukesha, and their foundation. It includes a matching opportunity for the school to raise $10 million from other donors over the next five years, potentially bringing the total to $60 million.
The Kern Institute collaborates and shares ideas about new approaches to medical education with a number of other schools through the so-called Kern National Network.
The other founding members of the network are the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
With the latest gift, MCW plans to expand its network membership. Cheryl Maurana, MCW’s vice president for strategic academic partnerships, leads the network and said between 50 and 60 medical schools have expressed an interest in joining.
“What we hope is that in a few years our students will experience a curriculum that uses advanced instructional designs, not established, old-fashioned designs, but the things that we know work to prepare practitioners for a rapidly evolving healthcare system,” said Kalet.
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