Dr. Ruth-Marie Fincher was about to board a tourist bus in Boston in July when her phone rang and she saw it was her old boss, Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, now the president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Kirch, a former dean of the Medical College of Georgia, told Fincher that one of the joys of his job was calling the annual Abraham Flexner Award winner, one of the group’s top honors. Fincher, not quite catching on, said, “Oh. Well. Who?”
It was Fincher, a professor and vice dean of academic affairs emerita of MCG at Georgia Health Sciences University. She had to keep the secret for more than three months before it was announced this week that she is being honored for more than three decades of service to medical education.
“This is often called the Nobel Prize for medical education,” MCG Dean Peter Buckley said. “There really is no award greater than this.”
Fincher, a frequently honored medical educator and mentor to junior faculty members at MCG, made her mark by helping found groups to improve clinical education. One in particular, she said, is the Clerkship Directors in Internal Medicine.
In the late 1980s, Fincher was a newly appointed clerkship director for the critical clinical education that medical students receive and wanted to learn from some more seasoned directors, so she tried to find a national list of the other directors.
“I discovered there was no list,” Fincher said. “Nobody could tell me who the medicine clerkship directors around the country were.”
She helped organize a meeting at one of the internal medicine national meetings and wrote to the head of every department of medicine in the country asking for its clerkship director’s information.
The group is now a place where directors “could learn from each other, could do research related to clerkship education, where they could share teaching strategies and materials they had developed and learn from each other’s experiences,” Fincher said.
The group has worked with the National Board of Medical Examiners to make sure its tests match up with the directors’ vision.
“It’s been just enormously rewarding to watch a whole new generation of people come along, assume the leadership roles in the group, and they’re carrying it to much greater heights than I ever even dreamed it would become,” Fincher said.
She is the first woman and the first Georgian to receive the Flexner award, which adds to the honor, Buckley said.
“It’s a monumental moment for our medical school and really for our state,” he said. “She spent so much of her career at our institution that in a way her success is intertwined with our success and her excellence reflects well on the educational excellence of our medical school.”