Before medical school, I worked as a crisis counselor at a domestic violence shelter in rural Michigan. I saw the lasting effects of trauma and its manifestations on health, and quickly realized my passion within medicine: trauma-informed care (TIC).
TIC is a framework of medical practice that promotes autonomy, safety, empowerment and healing, and that recognizes individuals are more likely than not to have experienced at least one traumatic event during their lifetime (to be exact, research shows 89% of U.S. adults have been exposed to trauma). TIC is essential for clinicians because trauma has been documented to have deleterious impacts on health; these events can lead to difficulty accessing medical care, remaining engaged in treatment plans, and feeling psychological safety when receiving care.
Despite this, education on TIC in medical schools across the U.S. is largely absent, and upon starting my M1 year at UMMS, I quickly realized that our first-year clinical skills course did not include any instruction on TIC. However, a special characteristic about UMMS is how receptive the faculty and staff are to curricular improvement, especially regarding strengthening social justice and humanism as key pillars. The clinical skills course leadership immediately responded positively to my advocacy for inclusion of TIC in the curriculum, and asked me to use my prior work and research experience on trauma and TIC to design, implement and evaluate an evidence-based TIC workshop to be completed by all M1s in the fall of 2021. Excited to dive into this medical education project, I enrolled in the Scholarship of Learning and Teaching (SoLT) Path of Excellence program, which allowed me to engage in structured medical education training on a regular basis during my M1 year.
The culture of mentorship at UMMS is second to none, and I had the pleasure of working on my project with the close mentorship of Dr. Lauren Owens, a faculty member in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In forming this team, known as Michigan Trauma-Informed Care Education (M-TIME), I also partnered with my incredible classmates Luca Borah, Stephanie Terrell and Elizabeth Erkkinen, each of whom has work experience in trauma-informed care as well. The foundation of our project involved working with LaTeesa James, a health sciences informationist at UMMS’s Taubman Health Sciences Library, to conduct a formal scoping review of the empirical literature on TIC curricula in the health professions. Sifting through more than 1800 articles, we identified the 51 articles meeting review inclusion criteria and quickly got to work synthesizing the strengths of these programs for use in the UMMS TIC workshop.
To support myself financially during the summer between M1 and M2 as I completed this project, I applied for and was awarded the $1,000 M1 Summer Impact Accelerator grant through the medical school. I also knew that part of my project would be designing a retrospective pre-post survey instrument to capture comprehensive data about the workshop’s efficacy and collect narrative feedback from the M1 students about areas for improvement. To maximize survey response rate, I was awarded a $2,000 Capstone for Impact grant through the medical school; this enabled me to provide a $10 gift card to a beloved local coffee shop, Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea, to every single M1 student who completed the survey after the TIC workshop. In implementing a participant survey, I also wrote and submitted an application to the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), the first of many IRB applications to come in my career.
The TIC workshop took place in October 2021 and was a huge success! The workshop components included: (1) a didactics portion emphasizing the link between trauma and health outcomes, best practices for trauma screening within patient encounters, and physician vicarious trauma; (2) a case-based session to practice TIC skills in small groups; and (3) a structured debrief. For statistical analysis of my survey instrument data, I partnered with a statistician at RISE (Research, Innovation, Education, Scholarship), a hub for medical education innovation at Michigan Medicine. I am so happy to share that 129 out of 170 M1 students completed the survey (75.9% response rate) and that our analysis illustrated statistically significant (p < 0.001) increases in students’ knowledge of TIC, intention to integrate TIC into their future clinical practice, and confidence in TIC skills. Moreover, narrative survey responses showed an overwhelming desire for increased curricular time devoted to TIC in the future.
Now that the workshop has concluded, I have shifted my attention toward disseminating the results of this project and am beginning to conceptualize improvements to the TIC curriculum for next year’s entering class. With mentorship from Dr. Owens, I have written several first-author publications about this work, and have greatly enjoyed connecting with trainees and physicians around the country who also study TIC in medical education.
The success of designing, implementing and evaluating an evidence-based curricular intervention for 170 first-year medical students relied upon the unique constellation of resources and support available to UMMS students, including: (1) the SoLT Path of Excellence and steady stream of individualized advice from enthusiastic Path advisors Drs. John Burkhardt, Dan Cronin, and Caren Stalburg; (2) LaTeesa James, a health sciences informationist at the Taubman Health Sciences Library; (3) the $1,000 provided by the M1 Summer Impact Accelerator and $2,000 provided by the Capstone for Impact grant; (4) the statisticians at RISE; (5) the mentorship by faculty member Dr. Owens; (6) the assistance of my classmates Luca Borah, Stephanie Terrell, and Elizabeth Erkkinen; and (7) the enthusiasm of the first-year clinical skills course staff for curricular innovation and improvement.
All of this is to say that at the University of Michigan Medical School, if you can dream it, you can do it. The faculty and staff here at UMMS enthusiastically champion student projects — my TIC curricular intervention is a true testament to that.
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Courtney Burns is from Madison, CT and is a second-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. She enjoys watching crime shows, playing with her cat and enjoying Ann Arbor’s many parks!