If she was to describe herself in one word, Nehad El-Sawi, Ph.D., says it would be “builder.” The assistant provost for educational innovation and enhancement at DMU knows that as medicine and the health sciences continue to advance, so, too, must the knowledge and skills of people who teach in those areas, including the basic sciences.
“I really enjoy creating and building. What are areas that need improvement? How can we innovate?” she says. “There are tremendous opportunities to do that, and that really excites me.”
Dr. El-Sawi’s innovative spirit, leadership and service to the International Association of Medical Science Educators (IAMSE) led to her unanimous selection as a recipient of the 2021 Edward Patrick Finnerty Lifetime Achievement Award. The highest level of recognition bestowed by the association, it honors members who have demonstrated sustained involvement in and commitment to IAMSE’s advancement. The award is named in honor of Edward “Pat” Finnerty, Ph.D., SC(ASCP), professor emeritus of physiology and pharmacology at DMU.
Dr. El-Sawi, who joined DMU in July 2019, has been an IAMSE leader from its very beginning. It originated in 1988 as a special interest group on basic science education within the Association of American Medical Colleges. In 1993, it became a volunteer-run independent organization, the Basic Science Education Forum. Given its global growth, in 1997 it was replaced by the nonprofit IAMSE. Dr. El-Sawi was a charter founding member, chaired its Web Audio Seminar Committee for seven years, served two terms on its board and has been a member of other committees.
“The association gives me opportunities to interact with colleagues who share the same interests and passions. It allows me to see what’s needed right now and what’s on the horizon, what’s ahead on the road not yet paved,” she says.
In her role at DMU, Dr. El-Sawi oversees the library, faculty development, student support, continuing medical education and the simulation center. When COVID-19 forced educational institutions to go virtual practically overnight, she and her colleagues assisted the University’s clinical programs in using online platforms to offer simulation exercises, standardized patient encounters and basic medical and surgical skills sessions. She already had been leading efforts to greatly expand faculty development opportunities, including several IAMSE series.
“Dr. El-Sawi is a nationally recognized expert in faculty development,” says Ralitsa Akins, M.D., Ph.D., DMU provost. “She aligned, streamlined and strengthened our faculty development programs and brought it to the next level.”
These efforts took a team, Dr. El-Sawi says.
“I enjoy aligning people’s strengths and passions with institutional goals,” she adds. “When you do that, it’s a win-win all over the place, because people are doing what they love.”
Her IAMSE leadership and experiences were valuable, too. The association was a pioneer in virtual instruction, offering its first audio seminar series in 2002 and expanding such programs since. Dr. El-Sawi documented the popularity of these programs as lead author of the article “Utilization and Perceived Effectiveness of a Web-Based Faculty Development Seminar for International Medical Science Educators,” published in 2019 in Medical Science Educator.
“We realized faculty development was challenging for many institutions because of the expense and time involved in traveling,” she says. “We filled a niche that was very much needed.”
Pandemic challenges aside, Dr. El-Sawi praises her colleagues and DMU’s environment, culture and “unlimited opportunities” for instructional innovation. Those will only grow when the University moves to its new campus in West Des Moines in 2023.
“Establishing a new campus is very exciting,” she says. “It will be very progressive and state-of-the-art and will allow us to do what we do in new and innovative ways.”