Applications for this year’s Class of Medicine 1970 Educational Award for Teaching Excellence and Innovation are open until April 24, 2023. The award is offered by the Institute of Health Sciences Education and funded by the MDCM program’s graduating Class of Medicine 1970. It supports a faculty member who wishes to learn and/or further develop a skill that can be directly applied to the education of McGill medical students and residents.

As the deadline approaches, we catch up with Renata Sava, MDCM, a family doctor at St. Mary’s Hospital Center in Montreal, and one of last year’s recipients to hear how her win ended up having a big impact on her students.

Seeking and providing training in dermoscopy

Dr. Sava discovered her passion for skin assessment in primary care after attending an introductory course on dermoscopy – the examination of the skin surface microscopy to evaluate pigmented skin lesions – in Vancouver in 2019.

Inspired, she sought further training aimed at family doctors, earning a Professional Diploma in Dermoscopy and later establishing a Skin Assessment Clinic at the University Family Medicine Group (U-FMG) at St. Mary’s.

At the clinic, Dr. Sava and her team provide support to patients by examining skin conditions and determining whether they require a referral to a dermatologist. She also trains a large group of residents who wish to gain experience in the field.

For Dr. Sava, the Skin Assessment Clinic addressed two specific needs for learners and patients.

“We have very few opportunities for training in dermatology in family medicine, but everybody wants to do it,” she explains. “The dermatologists then become overwhelmed by the demand and can’t absorb all the trainees. Similarly, they struggle to take on all the patients. So, there was a gap in the care and in training.”

Funding to address strained resources

By 2022, the popularity of the Skin Assessment Clinic among patients and residents was growing. This also put pressure on its resources.

“We had only two dermatoscopes for 56 residents and 45 staff,” she recalls.

“In family medicine, you have 30 minutes to do a consultation. Also, patients often have other medical needs they want to come in for,” she adds. “Just walking to the front desk to get an instrument eats up some of that very precious time with a patient.”

To meet these needs, Dr. Sava took a chance and applied for the Class of Medicine 1970 Educational Award for Teaching Excellence and Innovation, hoping that she could secure more equipment and education on generalized skin disorders, in addition to her previous training on moles and skin cancers. In September 2022, Dr. Sava received the news that she was one of two winners.

“I was especially happy because I appreciated the fact that someone is celebrating a project in family medicine,” she says. “It’s a great thing to have our idea validated.”

Since receiving the funding, Dr. Sava has been able to purchase three more dermatoscopes for the clinic and has completed another training course in dermoscopy. She has also designed her own course for residents and staff.

“I gave it to the residents last year, and I’m just about to finish giving it to this year’s group,” she says. “I’m also going to give the training to staff for the first time as well.”

Positive impacts one year on

Receiving the award has put the clinic “on the map”, Dr. Sava says, adding that she has received more emails from interested students in Quebec and even from the UK since then.

“This year, a few residents have told me that they applied to St. Mary’s specifically because of our focus on dermoscopy in family medicine,” she says.

Winning the award also helped Dr. Sava to connect with a supportive community of health professionals and researchers at the IHSE.

“When I presented our work at the IHSE [after winning the award], I mentioned that I was looking for funding,” she says. “Almost right away, people were emailing me offering to connect me with their contacts.”

Almost a year after she applied, Dr. Sava is optimistic about the future of the clinic and the educational opportunities it offers.

“For us, it’s helping to attract very good candidates. I also think it’s an essential field for family medicine, as we are often the first clinicians to see these things and make the decision to refer.”

This award was made possible by MDCM program’s Graduating Class of 1970. Find out more and apply by April 24, 2023 on the IHSE website.