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Refining Medical Education at Denver Health to Best Serve Students and Patients

Abraham Nussbaum, MD, believes the best days at Denver Health Medical Center are yet to come. As the newly appointed chief education officer, Dr. Nussbaum is focusing on helping the institution refocus its mission and maximize its relationship with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the hospital’s primary education partner.

The relationship is critical to both organizations, as Denver Health is the second largest provider of graduate medical education in Colorado. With nearly 2,000 trainees in 40 disciplines, Dr. Nussbaum is charged with organizing Denver Health’s educational arm to address the many kinds of learners and educators that play a role.

“The future of health care is interprofessional, so the board and staff have design ed this office to function in this capacity,” he said. “Traditional education models silo education, so people have very little experience working on interprofessional teams after they finish their training.”

Dr. Nussbaum also serves as the medical director of inpatient psychiatry. He’s interested in the opportunity Denver Health has in defining what it means to care for disadvantaged populations.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” he said, explaining how the last 100 years in medical education have occurred in hospitals that traditionally serve the poor. “I’ve been on the faculty since 2009, and it’s a great thing to be part of this group of faculty who is dedicated to the same mission of caring for the disadvantaged. The changes we’re seeing at Denver Health give us an opportunity to refocus on this mission.”

A Focus on Person-Centered Care

Dr. Nussbaum is interested in helping students understand what it means to provide person-centered care. He knows that the scripted questions he was taught to ask in school are necessary, yet he would like to see students connecting with patients on a deeper level.

“One of the things that I try to impart to students is a fundamental curiosity about their patients and humility about how complex they are,” he said. “As a psychiatrist, I can honestly say that people are surprising, and they make choices that surprise you. I’d like our students to remain open to those surprises.”

The questions he uses to compliment the physician-patient interaction are simple. He cites an example that has gained traction among parents: Rather than compliment a little girl on her appearance, ask her what she’s reading. Dr. Nussbaum says using a similar approach during a physician-patient encounter can be telling.

“The right questions underscore an assumption that the person you’re sitting with is interesting,” he said. “When you pay attention to how they answer and what they say, often you can get to the heart of the matter, faster. Your questions show your concern is for the person in front of you.”

Challenges Ahead

Because health care is evolving, Dr. Nussbaum knows that part of Denver Health’s challenge is to figure out how to work sustainably.

“A lot of what we’re designed to do has limited or low reimbursement—and this doesn’t pay the bills. But it does feed the soul. That’s our strength. Denver Health and its people are committed to this mission, and we’re going to do whatever we can to responsibly steward what we’ve been granted.”

Dr. Nussbaum believes the right change is possible. “With Connie Price, Tom Mackenzie, Simon Hambridge and Bill Burman as our leadership team, I’m confident our best days are ahead of us.”​