Jacobs School Establishes Medical Education Academy

Jennifer Meka.

Jennifer A. Meka, PhD

Published March 13, 2019

The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has established the Medical Education and Educational Research Institute (MEERI), a comprehensive and innovative institute for advancing medical education at the University at Buffalo.

“Teaching the teachers to utilize these new approaches will allow us to better utilize all of the innovative educational features of our new building. ”
Senior associate dean for medical curriculum

From their first day on campus, Jacobs School students experience active learning classrooms, open “learning landscapes” and advanced simulation facilities — all aimed at providing them with a state-of-the-art medical education.

The creation of the MEERI is seen as going a step further. The institute will function as an academy for medical educators, supporting, advancing and recognizing Jacobs School faculty and instructional staff in teaching, learning, scholarship in education, mentoring and peer coaching.

Nationally Recognized in Medical Education

Jennifer A. Meka, PhD, a nationally recognized educator in medical education and scholarship, has been named MEERI’s inaugural director, assistant dean for medical education at the Jacobs School and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. She holds a secondary appointment in the Graduate School of Education.

Meka was previously assistant professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Humanities at the Penn State College of Medicine.

“The Jacobs School is most pleased to welcome Dr. Meka as MEERI’s inaugural director,” says Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School. “A nationally recognized educator and scholar in medical education, she brings to her new position outstanding skills in education, curriculum design and assessment, along with expertise that will be crucial to the redesign of the Jacobs School curriculum, advancing our undergraduate and graduate medical educational programs.”

Meka will also work with the Office of Student and Academic Affairs and the Office of Medical Curriculum to enhance services for students in the areas of academic support, learning strategies, mentorship and advising.

Institute Crucial Component of Strategic Plan

MEERI is a critical piece of the Jacobs School’s Medical Education Strategic Plan, developed over the past three years by a committee of medical school faculty, students and administrators, as well as medical education consultants.

The goals of the institute are to foster the skills of medical educators and to promote scholarship in medical education, career advancement and recognition, as well as peer support.

The committee has been working on enhancing the school’s medical curriculum in response to innovations led by the American Medical Association’s ChangeMedEd program and an enhanced emphasis on active learning from the Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME), the national accrediting body for medical schools.

Downplaying Role of Lectures in Teaching

The ChangeMedEd program has thus far been instituted at a select group of medical schools, including Penn State College of Medicine, Meka’s previous institution.

“Dr. Meka’s experience at a ChangeMedEd institution will be invaluable as we pursue curricular enhancements at the Jacobs School,” Cain says.

Those enhancements are part of the vision of the Jacobs School’s strategic plan, according to Alan J. Lesse, MD, senior associate dean for medical curriculum.

“MEERI will help develop and inspire exceptional physicians and scientists through transformative education, and foster an environment at the Jacobs School that creates and supports outstanding educators,” says Lesse, associate professor and vice chair for education in the Department of Medicine.

Teaching students through methods other than lecturing is one of the most significant changes being implemented in medical schools, he says.

The LCME has suggested that traditional lectures comprise no more than 40 percent of a medical school’s curriculum — to be replaced by instruction methods where students play a more active role.

Increased Emphasis on Team-Based Learning

“The medical students of today are very different from the students of 20 or 30 years ago,” Lesse says.

He notes that today’s students are comfortable learning in a multimedia environment. They are used to working in groups on a single problem — a skill that will serve them well since health care is an increasingly team-based, interprofessional environment.

“For that reason, there’s an increased emphasis on team-based learning, so-called flipped classrooms where students apply what they learned from pre-class activities during class and case- or problem-based learning, and faculty have to be trained in applying all these new approaches,” Lesse says.

It’s also no accident, he notes, that the institution of the new curriculum has accelerated since the Jacobs School moved into its new building a little more than a year ago.

“Teaching the teachers to utilize these new approaches will allow us to better utilize all of the innovative educational features of our new building as well,” Lesse adds.

Redesigned Curricular Format Planned in 2022

While improvements to the curriculum occur continuously as part of the school’s ongoing efforts for quality improvement, the Jacobs School is planning for a redesigned curricular format starting in 2022.

“The curricular redesign will emphasize topics now seen as critical to the education of physicians,” Lesse says, “including health disparities, population health, the social determinants of health and health care finances. These topics will receive additional emphasis and be threaded through the entire system.”

Meka Earned Doctorate in Education From UB

Meka earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s of science in teacher education from Canisius College. She received her doctorate from UB’s Graduate School of Education.

At Penn State College of Medicine — in addition to her academic appointments — she was the inaugural director of the Woodward Center for Excellence in Health Sciences Education and the director of Cognitive Skills Programs.