Johns Hopkins Launches Primary Care Leadership Track


Last year, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine launched its Primary Care Leadership Track. Progress Notes sat down with student leader Jenny Wen and faculty advisor Colleen Christmas to ask them the purpose of the program and how they got it off the ground.

PN: What exactly is Hopkins’ Primary Care Leadership Track? What is its mission?

Colleen ChristmasCC: The PCLT is an optional track in the curriculum for students at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who aspire to become leaders in a primary care field. The goal of the primary care leadership track at Hopkins is to train and empower a group of medical students to be compassionate and clinically skilled primary care physicians, innovators, team leaders, and advocates for their patients and communities.

PN: Why is leadership important in primary care?

CC: I think few in our country would argue that the current primary care models are extremely challenging for both providers and patients, and that there are large gaps of need. With the growing complexity of health needs in our country, we need leaders in primary care who are not only expert in primary care clinical skills, but who have the skills and drive to advocate for patients, communities, and the healthcare system to ensure a higher quality, more efficient and effective, and just delivery of primary care. Leaders are desperately needed, and we feel a commitment to meet that need at Hopkins.

PN: What was the motivation to launch this program?

CC: While many things about the medical school experience at Hopkins are amazing, a focus on primary care has not historically been one of them. Increasingly, however, students, many of whom were bolstered by participation in our Primary Care Progress chapter, have urged the leaders of the medical school to provide better resources to support those interested in pursuing primary care careers. At the same time, leaders within the medical school recognized the central importance of primary care in high-functioning healthcare systems and wanted to make Hopkins a leader in primary care training. This resulted in an ideal synergy of interests from which to create the Primary Care Leadership Track.

PN: What was the role of your PCP chapter in launching this program?

Jenny WenJW: Before PCLT was created, primary care interest lived in a small but strong informal network of students who worked through PCP and other school organizations such as the Primary Care Interest Group. These upperclassmen created a very important nidus for students interested in primary care to gather at the grassroots stage. They put on events, panels, and other information sessions and connected us to various opportunities at Hopkins and beyond. I’m very grateful to them for giving us the exposure we lacked -otherwise I never would have discovered primary care or applied to the PCLT.

PN: What did it take to get the track going?

CC: As we described, the PCLT was brought about by a collaborative partnership between students invested in primary care careers, supportive faculty both within the academic setting and within community settings, and powerful support from leaders of our curriculum, of the medical school education, and even of the health system. We took a deliberate approach to engaging stakeholders at key times in creation of the PCLT to ensure it would meet the needs of students and fit within the general philosophy of the medical school simultaneously. Our medical students were incredibly effective and industrious in the process, serving as the engine to the PCLT creation with the support and guidance of faculty.

PN: What’s your advice for other PCP chapters that would like to launch a program like this?

JW: Having a supportive faculty leader and champion – not merely an advisor – makes a world of difference! Colleen engages stakeholders and recruits mentors on many levels, and she has the long-term perspective of a faculty member and rich experience of leading and running medical education programs. We are extremely lucky to have her support, activism, and guidance. She and her colleagues recently published an article, “A student and faculty partnership to develop leaders in primary care at a research-oriented institution,” containing additional practical advice on launching a leadership development program.

Colleen Christmas, M.D., a faculty member in the divisions of geriatric medicine and general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins since 1999, has focused her career on medical education. She has been a member of Hopkins’ Primary Care Progress chapter since its inception. She is proud to direct the Primary Care Leadership Track.

Jenny Wen is a rising third-year medical student at Johns Hopkins. Before medical school, through the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, she undertook a year of independent travel and study of how female survivors of sexual violence navigate resources to find justice and healing. Primary care aligns with well with Jenny’s interests in social justice, community health, holistic well-being, and trauma-informed care.

Primary Care Progress

Founded in 2010, Primary Care Progress is a national organization committed to building stronger primary care teams. Working with current and future healthcare professionals from across disciplines and career stages – from students and faculty to providers and health systems leaders – we offer leadership development and support that emphasizes relational skills, individual resiliency, and advocacy. By providing the resources and community necessary to excel, we’re strengthening the teams at the heart of primary care, ultimately leading to sustainable models of care and better health for all.

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