September 27, 2018

Helen Morgan, MD: Finishing strong

Specialized hands-on, real-world training gives medical students confidence to start residency

Helen Morgan, MD (above center) is an Ann Arbor native and a double alumnus of the University of Michigan Medical School, receiving both her medical and Obstetrics and Gynecology residency training here. Now she is a faculty member in OB/GYN and director of Residency Prep Courses (RPC) for M4 students. Here, she answers 12 questions about her role in shaping future providers and why she loves our city so much.

What do you like about working at Michigan Medicine?

It really is a very special place. Whenever I have looked at other institutions, you realize how unique our medical students are and how our medical school system and residency programs really support our learners in a very positive way. Our Michigan students are so bright and so talented, and then we have a system that really encourages them to thrive.

I have a little bit of a unique perspective because I worked with first-year undergrad students at Michigan for three years. I was director of a program for students interested in the health sciences. I think when you work in a program like that you realize what a significant journey it is for a student to get here and how they really are the best and the brightest. It's very impressive.

How do you see your role as director of Residency Prep Courses?

It's a very rewarding role. RPCs take place in the spring right before students graduate. They find out where they match for residency during the course. It is such a pure time when all of the students want to become the best doctor possible. They know that June is right around the corner, they are going to be new interns, and it is so gratifying to see how incredibly motivated they are.

Why are RPCs important to the medical school curriculum?

Because there is so much flexibility and because there are so many other impactful projects that students can work on at Michigan, some students might not have a lot of clinical experiences during M4 year, so we want to make sure that this is an opportunity to get in shape for before they start intern year.

What I really like about what we're doing is that we are thinking about what makes sense for all 170 students and making all four years meaningful. What's really exciting about the RPCs is that we are evolving to the point where all students will take them by 2020. We have a great team of faculty and staff who are working on our residency prep courses. Lauren Heidemann is Co-Directing the RPCs with me, and she directs the Internal Medicine course with Eric Walford and Mark Kolbe. We also have David Hughes, Oliver Varban and Cliff Craig(surgery), Jocelyn Schiller and Brittany Allen (pediatrics), Beth Jones and Carissa Orizondo (primary care), Will Peterson and Joe House (emergency medicine) and Sam Kempner and Anita Malone (OBGYN) so we have a really talented team working on this together.

I really like the structure we have right now so that students have opportunities to take a break in the midst of how rigorous things are before diving into residency. You are able to form such lasting relationships with the students during this time when they're feeling nervous and vulnerable. They're worried about this big jump into becoming a new physician. It's so memorable to have these really honest conversations with the students about what they're worried about and then also to be able to honestly celebrate them for how good they are and how prepared they are.

Do RPCs have assessments?

Assessments are the most important part of the RPCs because just participating in a course is something that's helpful, but it might not have the most meaningful long-term impact. The magic of our residency prep courses is helping students figure out what they need to work on before starting residency and during residency.

We have extensive assessments throughout all of the different RPCs. Some of them are multiple choice exams, some of them are procedural suture skills, and we have quite a few simulation assessments that are a little bit more real world in the Sim Center. We also have simulated pages where two RNs give pages to the students. Our students really haven't answered pages before, so the nurses go through the scenario, assess them on the scenario and call the student back to give them feedback on what they did well and what they need to work on or what they should have thought of when they were taking the call. At the end of the courses, faculty send letters to each student’s residency program director.

Do you think RPCs are effective in preparing students for residency?

We just did a survey of the residents at Michigan and we asked them how prepared they felt for residency--these residents have trained at all different medical schools--and what prepared them the best for residency. We asked them about Sub-I's, different electives, etc., and the residency prep courses received the highest ranking.

How would you describe your students?

They set very high standards for themselves. They are very idealistic. They want to be change agents. They are perfectionists. The students are so kind to each other. I think we have a really nice culture where they don't feel competitive with each other so they take care of each other, they take care of their patients. They are very invested in the curriculum. They have high standards for everybody, including themselves.

What is your advice for well-being during residency?

Well-being should be one of the highest priorities for all of our learners when they are about to start residency. Everybody has a different definition for what well-being is for them individually and if you can define what that will be for you, whether that will be spending time with your loved ones, or finding time for yoga, or finding time for your support network of friends -- just defining what it is so you know you can prioritize that in the midst of a very, very busy work schedule. And then you can advocate for it too. I think it's so easy when you are working so hard to not know what you want to advocate for yourself.

What do you see as your overall mission when it comes to shaping future physician leaders?

Our students are so bright and so idealistic, and I view my purpose and mission is to cultivate that so that they can really make their patients better and themselves better through the process. Their training is hard. It's a hard, long training. I feel so lucky that I have been able to be here for it and just helping our students to thrive during their training.

What do you like about working with med students?

Our OB/GYN department has been really good about reaching out to students from the first year of medical school. Almost every year I have a OB/GYN interest group dinner at our house, and it's usually about 50-60 medical students who come over.

What do you like to do outside of the medical school?

I have two daughters, and my husband is also a physician in my department. It is so fun to spend our weekends going to their activities. They are both involved in a lot of sports. It's so fun to go from a soccer game to a field hockey game to tennis matches. We also love having meals together -- family definitely is my big priority in addition to my professional life. Staying active and making time for exercise is very important to me too, personally.

What do you like about living in Ann Arbor?

I love Ann Arbor. I love how it's changed too. It's such a pretty city. I live within walking distance to the Arb and Gallup Park. When I go for a run, it amazes me that this is my backyard. It's such a diverse, progressive community that I love being a part of. I'm involved in our Planned Parenthood, and we had a fundraiser yesterday. It's so nice to see people from all walks of life who are there to support advocacy. There were people from the hospital, there were people from the community, parents of people I went to school with, siblings of my classmates -- so nice to see everybody who is interested in advocacy.

What is your advice to prospective medical students?

There are so many good medical schools around the country. You are going to get a good education at any of these different medical schools, but just thinking about where they as an individual could thrive, where will they be able to find organizations and groups that they connect with, and what sort of support structures within the medical school are there that will promote them to become the best possible physician. And, how nice are the people? You can kind of get a sense of that when you're getting a feel for the school either while you are there or through your interactions with them.