My baccalaureate Microbiology class began this semester as it always does, with a brief overview of the history of this discipline. I spoke of the Dutch dry-goods merchant, Antony Van Leeuwenhoek, regarded as the Father of Microbiology since in 1674 it was he who first saw and described the. world of microbes. He, like other shrewd merchants of the day, ground his own lenses. True, he had greater curiosity than most, and combined his lenses to make microscopes of unparalleled quality – but the more practical purpose for this skill was inspecting cloth for purchase. Through his lenses he could clearly see the number of threads and their quality, and thus judge the value of the product.
I began thinking about this as a metaphor within the Basic Science Education Forum (BSEF) and our AAMC Group on Educational Affairs (GEA) Special Interest Group (SIG). Through lenses of our own making we are continuously inspecting the threads which construct the fabric of our organization. This issue of the Basic Science Educator is a prime example of how this fabric is being woven into something of great value to many.
The tasks with which we are most involved address the needs of both basic science education and educators in North American medical schools. Our many projects (several of which are discussed through articles within this issue) constitute the horizontal threads of our organization. Through this semi-annual publication, regional and national SIG meetings, MICRONET telecommunications networking, etc., we strive to guide basic science educators to become even more effective at conveying their discipline to first and second year medical students, and indeed to students and residents throughout the continuum of medical education. We are besieged by issues concerning information overload, integration of the clinical and basic sciences, the technological management of information, and enhancing methods of adult learning. Although these are issues of international concern, the major efforts of both BSEF and SIG continue to be focused on North America. Frequently it seems these tasks are beyond the realm of our training and expertise as basic scientists, and thus the threads we spin sometimes will be coarse. Perhaps that is why those who attempt to shape the preclinical sciences as a foundation for medicine in the 21st Century must often do so at personal sacrifice to their own careers.
We are pleased to have the support of Dr. Jordan Cohen, President of the AAMC, who points out in his article The Basic Scientist and the Generalist, Natural Partners for Educational Reform that basic scientists have an important role to fulfill in the changing needs of medical education.
But to weave a cloth, the vertical threads must also exist. These threads are the activities of our growing international component of the Basic Science Education Forum. In this issue, we are particularly pleased to offer translations into English of two contributions written for the Basic Science Educator by BSEF colleagues in Russia. In another article, I share with you my personal experiences from this fall when I traveled to Russia to consult with BSEF members and exchange information about our respective educational systems. During my visit to the State Medical Institute in Izhevsk and the Pavlov Medical University in St. Petersburg, I was warmly received by many faculty who were anxious to participate with us in the BSEF’s mission of global cooperation. I would especially acknowledge the graciousness of my hosts Yurii Victorivitch Gorbunov at Izhevsk, and Vladimir Lazarevich Bykov at St. Petersburg. Both went to great lengths to ensure not only that I met key individuals in their respective schools, but also provided me with opportunities to experience their country in a manner few Americans have done. Through the generosity of Ms. Addeane Caelleigh (Academic Medicine) and Ms. Bonnie Lawlor (Current Contents), I was able to present one-year gift subscriptions to these medical facilities, as well as copies of the AAMC ACMI-TRI Report describing the status of medical education in North America. Each was formally presented as a gesture of good will from every member of the Basic Science Education Forum, and with the sincere desire to establish collaborative exchange of information for the enlightenment of us all.
With this issue we celebrate our increasing relationships with basic science faculty throughout the world. Twenty-one nations are now involved with the BSEF and its goal of exchanging information (see page 8). With such expansion comes the threads of even greater ambition. On page 6 there is a brief outline of preliminary plans for the BSEF to sponsor an unprecedented intercultural event: an East-West Conference on Educational Strategies for the Preclinical Sciences. Hosted by our Russian membership, the goal is for all nationalities in attendance to become aware of current and innovative methods in use for teaching the fundamental sciences of medicine, and despite language barriers, to strengthen the bond of multicultural collegiality of faculty together in a common cause.
It takes no special lens to see that together we are weaving a great tapestry; and through an unprecedented and growing network of colleagues this tapestry becomes richer and stronger with every new member who joins. We invite everyone with an interest in basic science education to become a part of this unique and important cause.
1de Kruif, P Leeuwenhoek: First of the MicrobeHunters. In: Microbe Hunters, Harcourt, Brace & Co.,New York. pp3-24. 1926
2Friedman, C.P. Of Warps and Woofs: The Tapestry of Medical Education. Academic Med. 68: s50-s54. 1993.