An immersion in design thinking via monthly workshops paired with practical experience in healthcare design challenges

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How We Teach Design Thinking

The UVA Medical Design Program teaches students to apply design thinking to help improve healthcare delivery at an individual and system level.

Each year we teach an elective in design thinking for first-year medical students. The course begins in August of the first semester of medical school and consists of a series of monthly 3-4 hour long workshops that focus on teaching clinically-relevant design skills for future physicians. Workshops are conducted in partnership with patients and clinicians from the UVA Health System, as well as educators and design practitioners from UVA's graduate schools and nearby professional firms. Completion of the course is officially recognized by the UVA School of Medicine in each student's Dean's Letter.


    The Core of design thinking

    The Medical Design Program teaches students to engage in three interrelated, non-linear processes that are essential to design thinking:

    • Inspiration: Using design thinking to solve problems requires a deep, empathetic understanding of people. This phase is about observing and listening to people in order to identify their unmet needs. By doing this, you can start to figure out what your design challenge really is, and how and where you might find inspiration to understand it better.   
    • Ideation: Every solution starts with an idea - or rather, many, many ideas. This phase involves a divergent process of exploring lots of potential ways to solve a design challenge, and then gradually converging on a viable solution after much testing and iterative improvement of your prototypes.  
    • Implementation: Once you've figured out a great solution to a target user's problem, how do you deliver that solution to them? Is it a product you need to bring to market? A new process or service you need to deliver? This phase focuses on the nuts and bolts of operationalizing your solution.

    Monthly Design workshops

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    One afternoon a month, we meet for a 3-4 hour workshop focused on teaching clinically-relevant design skills for future physicians, and engaging with real-world case studies and healthcare problems as a way to learn and practice these skills. From the start, you will be on your feet, speaking with patients, clinicians, and others, and learning how to apply design thinking to your work as a medical student and future physician. Students get to make connections across the university, learning from leaders in the UVA Health System as well as faculty at UVA graduate schools and professional firms.


    practical immersion in design thinking

    The best way to learn design thinking is doing it. Over the last two years, our students have used design thinking to explore a variety of issues - from ways to ease the transition to medical school for new students, to high-priority issues across the health system like reducing inpatient readmissions, preventing patient falls, and improving the Emergency Department experience for patients and healthcare providers. By learning from patients, healthcare providers, experienced designer-teachers, and each other, students have a unique opportunity to explore design from a variety of perspectives.

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    summer experience + beyond

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    Being a UVA Medical Design Program student doesn't end after taking the year-long course for first-year students. Course alumni join a vibrant and growing community of medical designers at UVA. Throughout their time at the medical school, they can participate in special events on grounds and put their design training to work through summer experiences, ongoing involvement in the program as peer mentors and teaching assistants, fourth-year research electives, and work as physicians-in-training and emerging healthcare leaders. 

    The message of an unexpected outcome in a diverse team carried on throughout the workshop. My favorite part was dissecting the problem, and trying to see what the underlying issue really is.
    — Zaid Obaida, SMD '19