At any given time, the nephrology department at Children’s of Alabama is training three fellows, one for each year of its three-year program. The program is one of the best in the country, but one thing it lacked until recently, according to pediatric nephrologist Michael E. Seifert, MD, was a formalized educational curriculum.
To fill that need, the department started a weekly lecture series in July 2021. It runs throughout the academic year, and lectures focus on topics that correspond to content themes in the American Board of Pediatrics Pediatric Nephrology Certification Exam. The goal is to educate the fellows about topics they will encounter frequently—such as hypertension—or topics most fellows would have had limited experience with as pediatric residents—such as dialysis and kidney transplantation.
It’s not the first time the department has offered lectures for fellows; the difference now is that it’s a formalized program.
“We always had some faculty give lectures for our fellows but had never organized a formal didactic curriculum for our fellowship program,” said Seifert, who’s the associate program director for the Pediatric Nephrology Fellowship program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “We often sent our fellows to formal lectures delivered through the adult nephrology program. While these are high quality, they were often not relevant for pediatric nephrology.”
In the new program, Division of Pediatric Nephrology faculty give the majority of the lectures. Occasionally, speakers also include guests from other divisions who speak on topics that might relate to kidney issues. For example, a urologist might speak on bowel and bladder dysfunction; a rheumatologist might provide a broader view of lupus, which often affects the kidney.
The fellows are also encouraged to prepare and deliver their own talks to develop some of their presentation and public speaking skills in a friendly environment. “They really appreciate that opportunity to hone their skills in a relatively low-risk setting,” Seifert said.
The didactic lectures are interspersed with journal clubs and case discussions. “We had a fellow recently who did a great presentation of a complex case that he was taking care of and how it spurred a quality improvement project,” pediatric nephrologist Erica Bjornstad, MD, said.
“We’re really trying to help build their confidence in clinical pediatric nephrology but also in how we can take that further beyond just clinical education to spur their research or quality improvement ideas,” she said.