In Praise of Praise

Platform for students to express concerns becomes space for sharing accolades.

by Janet Essman Franz

Praise is a potent and restorative tool. It uplifts confidence, improves self-awareness, and motivates people to keep up the good work. Praise can also be its own reward: Expressing admiration and gratitude brings positivity and increases feelings of happiness.   

Embracing constructive feedback can also be a powerful motivator. One of education’s core principles is that, to engender change, one should emphasize both potential for growth and acclaim.

The Larner College of Medicine’s Office of Medical Education (OME) encourages medical students to report both incidents of witnessed or experienced unprofessional behaviors or mistreatment, and examples of exemplary professionalism. The data collected allow for addressing problems, elevating positive behaviors, and improving the learning and work environments.Students can submit their comments anonymously either through end of course or clerkship evaluations, or in real time using a QR code on the back of their student badges.

Since OME began tracking this data, students not only have a confidential and anonymous way to share their concerns, but increasingly have taken the opportunity to acknowledge faculty, residents, staff, nurses, and fellow students who embody the tenets of professionalism described in the LCOM Statement of Professionalism. These include qualities such as kindness, compassion, and respect.

“Students are submitting, on average, more praise - eight-to-one- accolades to concerns,” says Nathalie Feldman, M.D., C.M., associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services and Director of the Learning Environment. “This initiative began as an effort to uncover the “hidden curriculum” to gain a better understanding of how students perceive and are impacted by behaviors they witness or experience within the medical education learning environment. Understanding that the human brain is often governed by a negativity bias,  we made a conscious effort to have students look for the positives. We added a few questions to every course evaluation asking students to identify exemplars of professionalism." Now students are voluntarily, and enthusiastically, expressing appreciation for individuals who go the extra mile to make good things happen.

Feldman’s team shares the accolades with each recipient in an email message informing that they have received a professionalism accolade and thanking them for their contributions to fostering a positive learning environment at the Larner College of Medicine. A copy of the email goes to the recipient’s supervisor and relevant course directors. “It’s done quietly, with no fanfare, but it’s well-received,” Feldman said. “The recipients are often very touched by this acknowledgement.”

During the past year, Larner medical students submitted more than 1400 accolades, highlighting the kindness, cultural humility and respect that guides the Larner community’s daily interactions.

Here are some examples:

"Professionalism guides our passion for lifelong learning and improvement."

— from the Larner College of Medicine Professionalism Statement.

Jordan Franco poses in front of a screen showing blood work test results

“Dr. David Steinmetz (clinical instructor, resident in internal medicine at UVM Medical Center) is an exemplary role model and mentor ... a supportive teacher, made students feel part of the team, and always found times to sit down and teach students.”

“Marlon, a security guard at the Buck Pavilion Lobby check-in desk (on the UVM Connecticut Campus), always greets me warmly in the morning and wishes us well at the end of the day. It was one of the highlights of my day to chat with him on my way in and out of the hospital.”

“I was a shadowee of Courtney Gregoire (registered nurse at UVM Medical Center) for a nurse shadowing requirement. She is a kind, friendly, and resourceful healthcare worker. She is dedicated to her responsibilities as a nurse … She taught me the importance of patient advocacy and collaborative teamwork amongst physicians and allied health professionals.”.”

“Dr. Lauren MacAfee (associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences), stood out as one of the most professional physicians I have worked with in medical school … supportive and thoughtful in her teaching, incredibly respectful and compassionate in patient interactions … I feel fortunate to have had the chance to work with her.”

Women giving praise
Man giving praise

“I was lucky to have been matched up with (medical student) Mia Exume ’24 for the pediatrics rotation. Mia brings an attitude of positivity, curiosity and enthusiasm ... She cares about the patients she works with as well as her classmates.”

“Sara Tourville (obstetrics/gynecology clerkship coordinator) was an incredible resource and support person. From the get-go, she was kind and approachable, demonstrating a genuine interesting in helping students. She communicated clearly and personably in a fashion that I will strive to emulate in my professional career.”

Read more about reporting accolades and praise at the Larner College of Medicine.