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Medical school Vice Dean appointed to the National Board of Medical Examiners

Vice Dean of Academic and Faculty Affairs for Stony Brook Medicine Dr. Latha Chandran, above, has been elected to serve on the National Board of Medical Examiners Executive Board. PHOTO COURTESY OF NBME COMMUNICATIONS

The National Board of Medical Examiners has chosen Stony Brook Medicine’s Vice Dean of Academic and Faculty Affairs Latha Chandran, M.D., to serve on the organization’s executive board.

“There are only 12 people on the board, so that came as a total surprise for me when I got a call from the new CEO and President to serve on the board,” Chandran said.

The National Board of Medical Examiners, or NBME, creates and administers the four rounds of testing medical students must complete to become physicians. Chandran’s four-year appointment to the NBME’s highest board comes after 15 years of volunteer work for the organization.

With NBME, she worked on the Standard Setting Panel and the Item Writing Panel, which creates the questions used on exams. She later joined the Finance and Audit Committee.

“Dr. Chandran brings a breadth and depth of skills and experiences to the Executive Board as a national leader in medical education,” Dr. Lewis R. First, a member of the NBME Nominating Committee, said. “Her work as vice dean for Undergraduate Education at Stony Brook, her national leadership roles she has had in pediatric faculty development, combined with 15 years of service on multiple test and administrative committees at the National Board of Medical Examiners will make her a strong contributor to the strategic direction and planning that the Executive Board must do to further the mission of our organization.”

On the executive board, Chandran and her colleagues will have administrative and judicial responsibilities within the organization. They control the organization’s budget, assess policy and develop new products and programs.

“I think Latha is an ideal person for this because she understands medical curriculum up one side and down the other,” Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine, said. “She understands how students learn, and she, of course, is very quantitative in medicine.”

Chandran started her medical career as a pediatrician and has worked at Stony Brook for over 25 years. Some 15 years ago, she joined the dean’s office and worked her way from vice dean for undergraduate medical education to her current position.

“I was board certified in adolescent medicine, so I had a reputation of being a good listener perhaps,” Chandran said. “So that’s how the job came to me. From there, one thing led to another, and now I am the Vice Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs.”

Along with her recent NBME appointment, Chandran was chosen as the inaugural Miriam and David Donoho Distinguished Teaching Professor in February.

The endowed professorship is funded by Miki and David Donoho, Ph.D.s, who also support the Academy of Clinical and Educational Scholars at the School of Medicine, which Chandran is the founding director of.

“I asked Latha to head that institute, and their job is to figure out better ways to teach our students,” Kaushansky said.

Through that search, they developed a new curriculum for the medical school, which Chandran spearheaded.

“I was involved in changing our entire medical school curriculum,” she said. “It was really exciting because it got a lot of people together to creatively think about how we can teach better.”

What they came up with is called the LEARN curriculum. The program, which was launched three years ago, favors active learning as opposed to traditional passive learning.

“One example that I use a lot is that we could teach our students what’s called Acid-Base Physiology, which is how the body regulates its PH levels, really well,” Kaushansky said. “They learn it, and they take the test on it and then probably it would drift away. Now however, if you teach Acid-Base Physiology after a student has seen and taken care of a patient with way out of control diabetes – we call it diabetic ketoacidosis. If you’ve taken care of that patient, suddenly Acid-Base Physiology has a whole new relevance, and my hypothesis is it sticks with them a lot longer.”

In addition to revamping the school’s curriculum, Chandran led the preparations for re-accreditation in 2011. This year, she was also named a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, the highest level of professorship in the SUNY system.

Along with the prestige that comes with being named to the board, Chandran’s position also offers many practical benefits. Through Chandran’s involvement, she can better understand what the NBME is looking for and how to adequately prepare students for testing. She also has the platform to highlight areas of medical education that she sees are in need of attention, including mental health among students.

“Our students get so stressed about the step one exam because that really determines the residency programs, which is the next level of training for them,” she said. “They all look at that number, so they get so stressed about that number. There’s a lot written about stress and anxiety and depression among students and faculty, so at the last NBME meeting I said I would like us to develop a national conversation.”

Chandran’s appointment to the board came earlier this month, and the group has not met yet for their first meeting. But she is optimistic that the position will help her to bring about change.

“I think it’s a very fitting honor for the kind of career she has hammered out,” Kaushansky said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Latha Chandran, M.D., and Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D., as having Ph.D.’s.

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