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Online Family Medicine Clerkship Newsletters: Building Community and Providing Faculty Development

Sarah E. Stumbar, MD, MPH; Irmanie Eliacin, MD

During family medicine clerkships, community-based preceptors often provide the majority of clinical teaching. However, these preceptors are generally located outside of the university setting and have a myriad of competing professional and personal priorities including patient care, managing a medical practice, and student education. This often leaves little time for professional engagement with the medical school community or for organized faculty development activities. Figuring out how to continuously engage community-based faculty (who are often volunteers) is a common challenge faced by family medicine clerkships throughout the country. To address these needs, we started an online, quarterly Family Medicine Clerkship Newsletter.

Within the family medicine clerkship, our newsletter serves several purposes. First, each newsletter updates our preceptor community about any changes in clerkship structure or assignments. In our first issue, we included introductions to our core clerkship faculty and staff. One may also consider including updates about the medical school community such as a photograph from the White Coat Ceremony or information about how many students matched into family medicine residencies. Second, we provide faculty development in the form of tips or articles in a “Precepting Focus” column. Faculty development topics include giving meaningful feedback, integrating students into a clinical practice, and writing strong letters of recommendation for students applying to residency. Additionally, each newsletter includes quotes from students that highlight positive experiences at community preceptors’ offices, which helps express appreciation for these volunteer preceptors’ teaching efforts. Finally, each newsletter includes a “Narrative Medicine Corner.” This popular section highlights a narrative medicine essay written by a current third-year medical student reflecting on a valuable patient care experience. Including student narratives in the newsletter provides preceptors insight on how patient interactions have impacted our students, and it also builds student enthusiasm for this reflective exercise by acknowledging their unique clinical experiences and writing skills.

Starting a family medicine clerkship newsletter may seem daunting but with careful organization, the newsletter can become a manageable project. Below are general tips to consider when developing a newsletter that are adaptable to the setting and needs of one’s clerkship.

  1. Choose a software program to create the electronic newsletter. Contact departmental or institutional information technology (IT) support staff if unfamiliar with available software and resources.
  2. Determine the goals and frequency of publication. After identifying the goals, identify content for the newsletter that helps achieve the goals. Content ideas may include: updates about the clerkship or university community, assignments/projects completed by students, teaching and precepting tips, student feedback highlighting contributions of community-based preceptors, and information and links to free university-based CME.
  3. Keep sections of your newsletter consistent from issue to issue; this gives readers a sense of what general topics to expect and also helps narrow the focus when gathering material for the newsletter.
  4. Create a “Clerkship Newsletter” folder on your computer to collect, organize, and store information of potential interest; this can help save valuable time when creating future issues of the newsletter.

In conclusion, an online family medicine clerkship newsletter is a relatively easy way to help engage community-based preceptors with the medical school. The simplicity and convenience of an electronic publication allows for reader flexibility within a busy practice environment. The content variety offers something for all including an opportunity for faculty development.

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