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A Student Dashboard to Guide Improvement

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student meeting with mentor
Associate Dean Karen Hauer in conversation with a student.
Photo: Mark Wooding

By Elizabeth Chur

Future doctors need to learn a dizzying array of skills during medical school – everything from how to do a physical exam to the latest advances in molecular biology and quality improvement. Yet it can be hard for medical students to know where they need to improve, since they receive test scores and teacher evaluations in bits and pieces.

A new tool developed by the UCSF School of Medicine called the iROCKET Student Dashboard pulls together many sources of feedback to provide a real-time, one-stop summary of each student’s strengths and growth opportunities.

"We are interested in promoting lifelong learning skills and providing assessment information to students so that they can do evidence-based, data-driven self-assessment," said Karen Hauer, MD, PhD, Associate Dean for Competency Assessment and Professional Standards.

Like a car dashboard, which shows drivers their speed, number of miles driven, and whether the gas tank is almost empty, the student dashboard presents a snapshot of performance, which is updated daily. Students can see how they are doing in each area compared to the class average and can drill down for more detailed information. For example, they might see they excel in most areas of medical knowledge – indicated by green bars – but need to strengthen their knowledge of the nervous system, pathology, and radiology, represented by yellow bars. The dashboard includes links to online resources and tutorials to help students improve in specific areas.

"We are moving toward a model of assessment for learning, rather than assessment of learning," said Hauer, who recently earned her doctorate in medical education from a joint program sponsored by UCSF and the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Her dissertation focused on the concept of trust, and how supervisors as well as educational programs effectively assess learners and determine when they trust learners to practice medicine more independently. "It’s infinitely better to help students identify early the areas where they are at risk, rather than having them fail and remediate."

Beginning this fall as part of the new School of Medicine Bridges Curriculum, each student will have a faculty coach who teaches foundational clinical skills and systems improvement, and works intensively with him or her through all four years of medical school. "Students and faculty feel like advising is richer when they have shared information," said Hauer. "Lifelong learning requires good evidence and coaching, and we’re getting all the pieces in place."

The iROCKET Student Dashboard is still in its initial phase; next steps include expanding it from two to seven core competencies, training coaches how to use the dashboard, and enabling students to contribute narrative reflections on their performance, which coaches can read and comment on.

Hauer partnered with Bonnie Hellevig, Sandy Ng, MSN, RN-BC, and other colleagues at the School of Medicine and UCSF Health to model the iROCKET Student Dashboard on physician dashboards recently created by UCSF Health. The physician dashboards help clinicians track their care of patients and compare their performance to expected benchmarks and peer performance. The iROCKET Student Dashboard is the most frequently used dashboard at UCSF.

Part of creating the student dashboard included defining key performance indicators, as well as identifying milestones along the way. "We know what we want students to look like at the end of medical school, but it’s helpful for them to know what they should be like by the end of the first or second phase of the curriculum – and what to do if they need to make adjustments," said Hauer. "Helping people figure out, ‘What should I be working on?’ is part of cultivating a growth mindset, and how you’re going to get better."

This article originally appeared in Frontiers of Medicine as part of a feature on the Digital Health Revolution.