Elda Stafuzza Gonçalves Pires,

'I can really perceive the impact of a formal degree in education'

Carnaval, samba, soccer, Rio de Janeiro. These are the words most people remember when talking about Brazil. But the Brazilian woman that arrived in Maastricht on May 2017 was quite different. I live in São Paulo with my husband and two kids, I do not know how to dance, and do not play soccer (or even enjoy it).

After 15 years working at pediatric emergency departments, I started a new career as a medical educator, helping in the design of the curriculum and implementation of a new Medical School, with a student-centered curriculum. I had no formal background in education, but my new daily work required it. So, I accepted the offer of doing the Master of Health Professions Education (MHPE) in Maastricht. Everything was new to me. I had never studied abroad or joined a course with people from so many countries. The cultural diversity of the students was the first thing that struck me. Working in groups in Maastricht (during the campus-based Unit 1) was challenging and helped me understand how culture impacts the way we live, perceive and view others. It also gave me the opportunity to exchange experiences, learn from others and get a better understanding of medical education in other countries. 

Back in Brazil, I started the distance part of the program, while working as the Vice-Dean of Academic Affairs. During my first year of MHPE, in 2017, we were in the second year of the implementation of a new 6-year medical course. Therefore, everything I learned about learning, curriculum, assessment, and evaluation could be implemented right away. I could perceive the real importance of every topic, the practical implication of them. The challenges I found in my daily work were the drivers that motivated me to keep on studying and learning more each day. For example, we could improve our course evaluation and improve the disciplines. In addition, we implemented a faculty development program, as most of the teachers came from traditional schools. It was perfect timing, as I could apply all the knowledge at work.

For the second year of the MHPE program, I chose the research track and most of it was about research. Again, I learned a lot. It was a difficult year, with only four months for the master thesis. But I could perceive the alignment behind the second-year Units, as all the knowledge I acquired in these Units could be transferred to the thesis process. The last two years were not easy. It is hard to finish the MHPE in 2 years while helping in the implementation of a new medical course and raising two kids. But it was really worth it!

Before starting the MHPE, I could imagine how much I would learn, but I did not imagine it would be like this! After these two years, I can really perceive the impact of a formal degree in education when you have to implement a new curriculum or change it. Decisions are easier to be taken when based on evidence. Having a clear view of all aspects involved in curriculum design really helps you to see the big picture. In the end, you can design and implement a curriculum where students achieve meaningful learning. In this process, it is really helpful to have a physician in the team that is also able to see the medical curriculum through an educationalist’s lens.

These two years were intense. Studying at night, on weekends, even during the holidays. My family vacations were only in Maastricht (I had no vacations!), for my campus-based Units and thesis presentation. But these years were delightful.

Elda Stafuzza Gonçalves Pires, School of Medicine of Faculdade Israelita Albert Einstein (FICSAE), São Paulo, Brazil.