After growing up in California and spending the majority of his medical career on the east coast, Paul Ko, MD, MEd, is officially a Midwesterner after joining IU School of Medicine on August 1 as the school’s associate dean for curricular development and oversight. The first to hold this newly created position, Ko will be responsible for curriculum across the school’s nine campuses. Recently, he took some time out from unpacking moving boxes to answer a few questions about his new role, what attracted him to IU School of Medicine and his thoughts on medical student education.
You’ve spent the past 11 years at State University of New York-Upstate Medical University. Tell us about your background and your journey from California to the East Coast.
I was born in Asia and immigrated to the Los Angeles area when I was seven. While I haven’t lived in California since childhood, I call it home because my family still lives there. I earned my undergraduate and medical degrees from Boston University and completed my residency in emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Since 2008, I’ve been at SUNY-Upstate, most recently serving as associate dean for undergraduate medical education.
You’ve spent a number of years practicing and teaching in emergency medicine. What sparked your interest in this specialty?
As a medical student, I was intrigued by emergency medicine for the variety of patient care and the opportunity to treat both adults and children. I really like being able to do a little bit of everything—from trauma to medical and surgical emergencies. The ED is a safety net for anyone who is in need of medical care, and I like the unpredictability of what may walk through those doors each shift I work. I’ve been practicing emergency medicine for almost 17 years now and still love it every time I work in the ED.
How did you become involved in medical education and why have you made it part of your career?
I discovered that I really loved working with and mentoring medical students, and that’s how it all started. Based on my interest in mentoring students and developing curriculum, I started the emergency medicine clerkship program at SUNY-Upstate. Over the course of the past decade, I’ve taken on more administrative responsibility—from clerkship director to curriculum oversight as assistant dean over the clerkships and most recently, as associate dean over the entire medical school curriculum. It really was a progression from my love of working with students and my interest in developing sound, innovative curriculum.
What attracted you to this position with IU School of Medicine?
When I met Dr. Allen [Bradley Allen, MD, PhD] and Dr. Wallach [Paul Wallach, MD], I was really blown away not just by who they are as leaders, but by their vision for IU School of Medicine. Then when I interviewed for the position, I met the MSE team and was so impressed by them as individuals and by how cohesive of a team it is. It’s important to me to be part of a team that’s aiming to be the best in the country—and that’s evident here. With the school’s vision and commitment to innovate, as the largest medical school in the country, we have the opportunity to be a national model in training the future physician leaders in healthcare, and that’s really what drew me here.
Additionally, my wife, Dr. Melissa Ko, is excited to be joining the IU School of Medicine faculty as associate professor of neurology and ophthalmology and director of clinical operations for the Glick Eye Institute and neurology.
You’ll be responsible for curriculum development across all nine IU School of Medicine campuses. Any initial thoughts about how you’ll approach aligning curriculum for the school’s regional campus system?
Coming from my previous institution which had an existing regional campus, I’ve learned the importance of building trust and strong communication with the regional deans as a starting point. My leadership approach in working with each of the campuses is to get to know the faculty, stakeholders and students, and really highlight the strengths of each campus.
Comparability between campuses is very important for LCME (Liaison Committee on Medical Education) accreditation, so we will continue to use existing metrics to make improvements to ensure the experience at each campus is not just comparable, but excellent for each of our students.
How will you spend your first days and weeks on the job?
I’ll be joining IU School of Medicine about the same time as our first-year students start in August. So, in some ways, even though I’ve been in medical education for more than a decade and a physician for nearly 20 years, I feel l like I’m starting medical school again. I’m looking forward to getting to know the students, faculty and staff and immersing myself in the IU School of Medicine community.
What do you see as priorities in medical education today?
I think priorities include being innovative not just in teaching traditional basic science and clinical care in new ways, but doing it in a way that incorporates important concepts, such as social determinants of health, quality/patient safety and interprofessional education, as well as fostering an understanding of health care systems and health care economics. These things have always been part of the curriculum, but are now taking center stage in how we teach medical students.
There is also opportunity to help every medical student not just complete four years of medical school at IU and graduate, but to excel in something. Medical education is becoming increasingly competitive and there is a lot of stress around applying for residency, which makes the school’s Scholarly Concentrations such a great opportunity for our students to distinguish themselves when they graduate. I’ve worked with students long enough to know that a lot of our students study hard, have good board scores, but residency programs are looking for more than that now. With the concentrations, we’re giving students a head start and a chance to develop a niche and expertise early to become the healthcare leaders of tomorrow.
What should students know about you?
I’ll be a dean who’s very accessible. I enjoy talking with students to learn where there are opportunities and challenges and then seeing what I can do—and how I can use my experience—to make a difference for them in the curriculum, and their four-year experience here at IU School of Medicine. I am looking forward to my interactions with students more than anything else in my job here, so do stop me and say hi.
How do you like to spend your free time?
We have three daughters, 9, 7 and 6, and even though they’re young, my wife and I love to travel with them. A couple of years ago we took a trip to Europe, and the kids still talk about it. We’ve traveled across the U.S. and are excited to explore all the cities that are within driving distance of Indianapolis. We enjoy going to national parks and museums. Our kids are also involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, so we are excited to get plugged into the central Indiana community as a family.