Rochester Physician Honored for Key Role Educating Nation’s Neurologists

December 29, 2009

Ralph Jozefowicz, M.D.

A Rochester neurologist who is widely credited with enhancing the education of neurologists nationwide has been honored by the discipline’s largest professional organization.

Ralph Józefowicz, M.D., professor of Neurology and Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has been awarded the 2010 A.B. Baker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Neurologic Education by the American Academy of Neurology. He will receive the award at AAN’s annual meeting in Toronto in April.

Under Józefowicz’s leadership, Rochester has become widely recognized as a wellspring of quality education for neurologists. Doctors around the nation who are training in neurology routinely rank Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry among their top choices. Within the school, the residents whom Józefowicz teaches typically garner a disproportionate share of teaching awards.

Medical students routinely rate the course on “Mind, Brain and Behavior” that Józefowicz designed as their favorite basic science class. Józefowicz’s efforts come into play during a crucial time for medical students, when they rotate through different specialties, trying to decide what aspect of medicine to focus on. At Rochester, medical students typically rank their time in Neurology highly, and they choose to go into neurology at a rate three or four times the national average.

“A lot of medical students have what you might call ‘neuro-phobia,’” said Józefowicz. “To them, neurology is a difficult subject. That’s because they were never taught in a proper way. Rochester graduates don’t have neuro-phobia. They know how to sort out neurological problems and are comfortable doing so, benefitting their patients enormously.”

At Rochester, Józefowicz has won just about every teaching award available at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. In addition to AAN, his educational efforts have been recognized by the American Neurological Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, Jagiellonian University, and the Association of University Professors of Neurology.

Beyond Rochester, Józefowicz has visited more than two dozen universities to help shape or advise their efforts in neurology education.

Józefowicz became the neurological education guru while the Department of Neurology was headed by Robert “Berch” Griggs, M.D., who is now president of AAN. Griggs perceived Józefowicz’s capability to teach and expanded his role, making him associate chair for education and giving him broad latitude to lead the department’s educational endeavors.

“Ralph is a phenomenon,” said Griggs. “If you were to do a search for what makes a good teacher, you could do no better than to look at what Ralph does. He has enthusiasm, he has dedication, he has charisma, and he has incredible attention to detail. He loves the people he teaches, and he is concerned about the quality of others’ teaching.

“Virtually every neurology department in the nation has someone whose teaching is patterned after Ralph’s,” added Griggs. “Years after he has visited an institution, neurologists there still refer to the Józefowicz method of teaching, the Józefowicz plan, the Józefowicz visit. He is an international treasure.”

For six years Józefowicz led AAN’s education committee, and he spurred AAN to establish the Student Interest Group in Neurology (SIGN), a program that now has more than 100 chapters in U.S. medical schools. He has also developed an ongoing education exchange program between Rochester and Jagiellonian University College of Medicine in Krakow, Poland, where he teaches for four weeks each year.

Józefowicz joined the University 30 years ago as a medical resident. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Johns Hopkins University and his medical degree from Columbia University and has been on the faculty at Rochester since 1987. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and AAN and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

“Being a neurologist is always challenging and very rewarding,” said Józefowicz. “Patients come in with myriad symptoms, and while technology can play a role, often by spending time with them, listening to them and examining them, you can determine what is going on.

“The number-one audience for a physician is the patient,” he added. “The first job as a physician is to teach patients how to manage illness. A good doctor is automatically a good teacher.”

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