Shekhar making his mark on education in Health Sciences


Anantha Shekhar has been Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine for just over a year, and he’s making his presence felt.

Last week, he announced the creation of a new Office of Emerging Technologies in Health Sciences Education, which will advance interprofessional learning between all six schools of the Health Sciences — an idea he championed at his previous job at Indiana University.

This week, a community forum outlined possible curriculum changes at the School of Medicine that were inspired, said Jason Rosenstock, from the Office of Medical School Education, by Shekhar’s desire for Pitt to have “the best medical school in the country.”

Emerging Technologies

A new Office of Emerging Technologies in Health Sciences Education will advance interprofessional learning through embracing new technologies from across and beyond the University.

“Pitt is unique in having six highly ranked schools of the Health Sciences, as well as experts in immersive technology and education innovation,” Shekhar said in a news release. “It’s time we had an official office to help guide the strategic integration of multiple diverse digital technology learning initiatives across Pitt Health Sciences.”

At Indiana University, Shekhar formed the Center for Interprofessional Education in the health sciences to make sure that curriculum in medicine, nursing, public health, dental medicine and more were “intertwined, so that there were periods when medical students and nursing students and dental school students were all working in teams on certain courses,” he said after arriving at Pitt in 2020. “You learn to respect other providers’ schools, as well as work with their students as early as your first and second year in medical school and in nursing school.”

The new office will be led by Chris O’Donnell, associate vice chancellor for emerging technologies in health sciences education, who most recently served as the chief operating officer for Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office. O’Donnell, a professor of medicine who joined Pitt in 2004 from Johns Hopkins Medical School, will lead a team that includes Kate Brownlee, Martha Jurczak and Katie Nauman.

Goals for the office include making the future of Pitt Health Sciences education more integrated, accessible and equitable. “It’s about collaborating and networking, finding what’s out there, connecting what’s going on across silos, making things happen between upper and lower campus, generating new business opportunities and scaling technologies and programs that are successful,” O’Donnell said in the news release.

“Technology is changing at a crazy rate. We don’t know where we’ll be a year from now,” he said O’Donnell. “With the focus on interprofessional education between Pitt’s six schools of the Health Sciences, we really feel that we have a lot to offer. This is going to extend to others outside our campus.”

Major projects anticipated in the near future include reviewing a competitive landscape analysis of peer institutions in immersive technology created by Dmitriy Babichenko, clinical associate professor in the School of Computing and Information; pursuing external grants and business development opportunities; integrating diversity, equity and inclusion with technology in interprofessional health science educational opportunities; establishing an oversight committee; and more.

On the horizon are meetings with the deans of the schools of the Health Sciences to talk about distance education initiatives and supporting curriculum development. The Laboratory for Educational Technology in the School of Medicine will be a key partner.

“I believe we’re more poised for this collaboration than we’ve ever been,” said Sandra E. Brandon, strategic research liaison for Pitt IT. “We have all this work going on in silos. The more we can join our efforts and talents, the more we’ll be able to get done.”

Med school curriculum

The curriculum reform town hall on June 29 was the third held by the task force looking what people think “would make a good curriculum at a medical school, what we want to see in our future physicians, and how we can help prepare them for medical practice of the future,” Rosenstock said. The first two forums, held this spring, were for faculty and students.

The task force of about 40 stakeholders was formed in the fall of 2019 to conduct an extensive review of Pitt’s curriculum and that at other schools nationwide. After deciding an update was needed, the group has moved onto planning phase, in which it is seeking input from the Pitt medical community.

Currently, the med school has a modified traditional curriculum where students are mostly in the classrooms in the first two years taking a heavy load of basic science with a mix of doctoring clinical skills and research experiences. In the third and fourth years, they are doing clinical rotations where they build their clinical skills in medicine, surgery, pediatrics and a variety of other disciplines.

The priorities for the new Three Rivers Curriculum, as it’s been named, include more active learning, earlier clinical experiences, frequent formative learner assessment, improved relevance and integration across different disciplines, and enhanced social medicine and interprofessional education, said Mike Elnicki, co-chair of the task force.

“Obviously, social medicine is a big driver right now for a number of reasons,” Elnicki said. “And, you know, we have all these great schools within the Health Sciences, and you can stand on the steps of the medical school and hit most of them with a baseball, and we never interact.”

The timeline calls for the new curriculum to be in place for fall 2023. For more details on the curriculum reform process and to submit comments, go to the Office of Medical Education website.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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