Academy of Educators launches inaugural Program Director Bootcamp

Current sessions underway for 2022-2023 cohort

A new program sponsored by the Academy of Educators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is working to build the skill set of program directors across the School of Medicine. Developed and directed by the Department of Medicine’s vice chair of education and director of the Academy of Educators, Abby Spencer, MD, professor of medicine, and co-directed by  Dominique Cosco, MD, associate professor of medicine and Internal Medicine Residency Program director, the Program Director Bootcamp is a longitudinal certificate course open to all new and long-standing residency and fellowship program directors at the School of Medicine. The Bootcamp also welcomes existing associate program directors and aspiring program directors and associate program directors looking to enhance their skills, build community with medical education leaders, create innovations, and focus on career and professional development.

Bootcamp attendees share best practices for delivering feedback to residents and fellows.  

Program Director Bootcamp inaugural cohort

The inaugural cohort includes 45 faculty members across the School of Medicine, all in program director and associate program director positions in their respective departments. Comprised of a total of ten, half-day sessions, the Bootcamp kicked off in June with Spencer’s welcome and program director pearls of wisdom followed by “The Yearly Cycle—What’s Submitted Annually and Why”.  With an agenda including a multi-disciplinary team of faculty and administrators, this session covered the timing of key program director activities throughout the year. Speakers included several current program directors and program administrators across departments at the School of Medicine sharing their personal experiences and case studies, leading exercises, and answering questions from the cohort. Read more about the Bootcamp’s first session here.

“Delivering Effective Feedback” was a topic for the August 24th session presented by (left to right) Judith Lieu, MD, Otolaryngology director of resident education, Tammy Sonn, MD, Ob/Gyn vice chair of education and Abby Spencer, MD, DOM vice chair of education and director, Academy of Educators.

Bootcamp sessions are continuing on Wednesday afternoons throughout 2022-2023, covering topics such as curriculum development, mentorship and coaching, and recruitment best practices. The course includes a session where participants may choose “electives” such as creating a new program, simulation as a teaching and assessment tool, or the development of novel tracks within a training program. Nearly all of the sessions feature speakers from the Department of Medicine and also involve networking with representatives from School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital human resources, finance, and legal departments.

Saiama Waqar, MBBS, MSCI, associate professor of medicine, serves as the current program director for the Hematology and Medical Oncology Fellowship Program and is participating in the Bootcamp as both an attendee and a presenter. Upon starting in her current program director role, Waqar took advantage of formal training includingthe “Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) Introductory Course for New Program Directors”. She tapped opportunities with the School of Medicine’s Graduate Medical Education team to better understand institutional policies and participated in the Academy of Educators Remediation Workshop this past summer. Waqar has also served on the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Oncology Training Program Committee for the past three years, participating in planning committees for ASCO program director retreats and sessions during the ASCO annual meeting.

This program truly goes way beyond just the basic job requirements, and will undoubtedly help further improve the learning climate of our institution as well as enhance the performance of our institutional training programs collectively.

Saiama Waqar, MBBS, MSCI

Despite this substantial preparation, Waqar recognizes that the Bootcamp offers something extra that her previous training experiences did not. “The Academy of Educators Program Director Bootcamp is a well-designed, inclusive, and practical training course covering a broad range of topics necessary for effectively running a residency or fellowship training program, and taking it to the next level,” considers Waqar. ”However, this program truly goes way beyond just the basic job requirements, and will undoubtedly help further improve the learning climate of our institution as well as enhance the performance of our institutional training programs collectively.”

But perhaps most importantly, Waqar reinforces that, “The Bootcamp provides training program directors, such as myself, with the opportunity to learn from the collective wisdom of the group through small group discussions and sharing of best practices. I have already learned new skills which I hope will enhance my effectiveness as a training program director.”

The critical need for program director training

“Statistics show that program director burnout and turnover is on the rise nationally,” comments Spencer. “Program directors are facing growing challenges from institutional financial pressures to rapidly changing accreditation requirements. And most have limited prior training to take on these challenges. Our objective with the Bootcamp is to better equip them to take on the demands of leadership, thrive in their roles, network, and lead successful, innovative, inclusive, and ACGME-compliant programs. We also hope to build a support network and community among our program director to enhance both skill and longevity in the role.”

Program Director Bootcamp director Abby Spencer, MD (left) and co-director Dominique Cosco, MD (right)

The concept for the Bootcamp began when Spencer, a former program director and associate program director for 15 years combined, was recruited to WashU by Eva Aagaard, MD, senior associate dean for education and the Carol B. and Jerome T. Loeb Professor of Medical Education, to lead the Academy of Educators. Spencer had developed and directed new program director precourses for the Association for Program Directors in Internal Medicine (APDIM), and given the rise in PD turnover and burnout, together Aagaard and Spencer envisioned building a bootcamp to support and enhance skill development of those in, and aspiring to, the program director role. At the time, Spencer was participating in the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program during her transition to WashU and elected to make developing and implementing the Program Director Bootcamp her ELAM Institutional Action Project for the fellowship. She enlisted partnership from Tia Drake, executive director and designated institutional officer, graduate medical education,  Dominique Cosco, MD, associate professor of medicine and program director of the Internal Medicine residency program, Mary Klingensmith, MD, Academy of Educators founding director and emeritus professor of surgery, and Eva Aagaard, MD, to bring her vision forward. Spencer presented a poster and oral abstract at the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Leaders Forum earlier this year outlining the need for ongoing program director professional development and mentoring at a local, institutional level. There she received helpful feedback and ideas from other ELAM participants and their deans to strengthen her vision for the Bootcamp. Dean and Executive Vice Chancellor of Medical Affairs at Washington University School of Medicine David Perlmutter, MD attended this presentation and provided his support to develop and implement the idea. With the overwhelmingly positive response from ELAM and the School of Medicine, Spencer and Cosco began curriculum development to launch the Program Director Bootcamp.

“While national societies offer numerous opportunities for program director training”, reflects Cosco, Bootcamp co-director, “there truly is a need for a more localized, ongoing, and personalized approach to professional development. This Bootcamp allows us to do just that. Participants get a robust program director curriculum while also benefitting from the convenience, cost-effectiveness, and networking opportunities of training within their own institution.”

Interested in the Program Director Bootcamp?

A description of the Bootcamp and course sessions can be found on the Academy of Educators website here. The program is currently full for 2022-2023. Academy of Educators will be accepting applicants for next year’s program in spring, 2023. Questions? Contact