Patricia Latham Named Inaugural Frank N. Miller, M.D., Teaching Professor

Dr. Latham lectured on the evolution of medical education and the physician-educator following the installation.

Patricia Latham
Patricia Latham, a professor of pathology and medicine at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences is installed as the Frank N. Miller, M.D., Distinguished Teaching Professor.
September 28, 2015

By C. J. Trent-Gurbuz

“[Dr. Miller] truly loved to teach,” recalled Patricia Latham, M.D., Ed.D. ’15, professor of pathology and medicine at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “When I would walk down the hallway in the evening, there would be Frank Miller, with about 15 or 20 students huddled around him. What were they talking about? It wasn’t pathology. It happened to be Shakespeare.”

Dr. Latham paused after sharing the anecdote. The silver medal signaling her status as the inaugural Frank N. Miller, M.D., Distinguished Teaching Professor shined against her black sweater. “He had such a breadth of scholarly activity and a passion for learning about everything, but this was one of the things that he truly was interested in and cared about.”

Dr. Miller, B.S. ’43, M.D. ’48, a “Colonial through and through,” as Provost Steven Lerman described him during the formal installation ceremony Saturday, was a fixture at GW. The man with a passion for Shakespeare served the university for more than 40 years as a teacher, dean of students and curricular affairs and chair of the Department of Pathology. He made it his mission to increase female enrollment in the medical school, and he counted numerous awards among his accomplishments.

“He was the first faculty member to receive the Golden Apple Award, the school’s award for excellence in teaching,” Dr. Lerman said. “He was a beloved educator.”

Dr. Miller’s legacy continues now with the distinguished teaching professorship. “I’m humbled to receive this honor because I recognize that at GW, there are many excellent physician-educators who would be deserving of this award,” Dr. Latham said. “I’m honored.”

Dr. Miller, she added, was the epitome of a “physician-educator.”

“I can’t think of someone who would more model that for us than Frank Miller,” she said. “He is a role model for the longevity that he’s had at GW, and the influence he’s had on a number of different students.”

SMHS Dean Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, vice president for health affairs and Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administration Medicine, said it “is such an honor to have [Dr. Latham] in this endowed professorship.”

“It’s the legacy of Dr. Miller, the talent and skill of Dr. Latham and the pathology faculty that’s been an important part of the history of this medical school for decades,” Dr. Akman said.

Dr. Miller played an integral role in the evolution of medical education, Dr. Latham said. In the early 20th century, medical education was streamlined and the template that ensued — prequalified students, an emphasis on biomedical research, an education of two years of basic science followed by two years of clinical practice — remained relatively unchanged for 100 years.

At the turn of the century, however, the Association of American Medical Colleges began reshaping the standards. In 2007, the organization announced a new approach to education, adjusting admission criteria and core competencies and incorporating social sciences, economics and humanities in the curriculum.

“So you can see Dr. Miller was ahead of his time with his Shakespeare and the integration of clinical medicine,” Dr. Latham said.

The “sea changes,” she added, continued with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s report, “Educating Physicians: A Call for Reform of Medical Education Residency,” which emphasized professionalism, humanism and altruism among its four main goals.

“GW certainly wants to be on board the ship that’s going to sea,” Dr. Latham said. “However, as we set sail and move out into those sea changes, we want to be prepared.”

That preparation—the “life preserver”—is the physician-educator, she said. “The physician-educator needs to recognize and respond to changes in medical education that are needed. That’s going to involve curricular development, it’s going to involve resource development, it needs to involve the implementation of best practices as we’ve come to know them from the literature,” she said.

The key, she explained, involves educational theories, particularly those espoused by the Master Teacher Leadership Development Program. Dr. Latham is a graduate of the program.

Pathology at GW, for example, has embraced an evolving curriculum, Dr. Latham said. Students learn from visual slides, not microscopes, and small group exercises are case-based. All teaching material has been digitized, and students receive iPads containing course information. “It’s a wonderful boon to education,” Dr. Latham said of the new technology.

The changing practice of education in pathology spurred Dr. Latham to pursue her own research, the impact of computer-assisted instruction. With the Class of 2015 as the subjects, Dr. Latham analyzed the effect of enhanced interactivity and directed learning. While the results, based on multiple-choice exam performances, did not have a direct impact, students reported higher satisfaction and higher perceived learning. “The work is not done,” Dr. Latham said.

In the meantime, Dr. Latham continues to explore developments in medical education and technology, and her efforts have served to make pathology one of students’ highest-rated subjects.

Enhancing academics is a key pillar of Making History: The Campaign for GW. Endowed professorships and scholarships—often established through donations from individuals or organizations—create opportunities for faculty and students in perpetuity. The oldest endowed professorship at the George Washington University, the Congressional Professorship, was created in 1832 by an act of the United States Congress.