(This biography from Richard L. Baron, MD originally appeared in RadioGraphics)
Bringing a radiologist’s perspective to medical student education, Kitt Shaffer, MD, PhD, is known for her mastery of cutting-edge technology and evidence-based education innovations, as well as her unassuming nature.
“I think the key to being an effective teacher is to always be willing to change your views, to respect your learners and make the basic assumption that they know what they are saying and may have understood something that you did not realize,” Dr Shaffer said. “I hope to be able to learn from my students in almost every teaching encounter and really value that part of the experience. I want to always be a learner myself, and I think that makes me a better teacher.”
Dr Shaffer is vice-chair for education at Boston Medical Center and a professor of radiology at Boston University (BU) School of Medicine. She came to BU after 3 years as director of undergraduate medical education for the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her accomplishments included the development of the radiology portion of the Cambridge Integrated Clerkship, an innovative multidisciplinary revamping of the traditional 3rd year of medical school.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from Kansas State University, Dr Shaffer received her medical degree from Tufts University. She holds a doctorate in anatomy from the University of Kansas. She interned in medicine and surgery at Newton Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts and was a diagnostic radiology resident at Tufts New England Medical Center. She completed a fellowship in thoracic radiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston.
A prolific researcher, Dr Shaffer studies the use of digital methods in anatomy and radiology education. “I have always been a computer geek and have been interested in designing and using all sorts of digital systems, from databases to drawing tablets, since I was an undergraduate,” she said. “I think the key to effective use of digital teaching methods is to adapt them to basic principles of sound education—such as keeping things centered on the learner rather than the teacher—and responding on the fly to rapidly changing demands from learners, versus maintaining a rigid approach. The teaching should drive the technology and not the other way around.”
Dr Shaffer’s work has attracted funding from a range of sources, including a 2005 Education Research Development grant from the RSNA, the Association of University Radiologists, Association of Program Directors in Radiology, and Society of Chairs of Academic Radiology Departments to develop three-dimensional modeling software for teaching radiologic anatomy using clinical case material.
While working in many radiology-focused positions, including clerkship director for core and elective radiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital from 1997 to 2005, Dr Shaffer also has expanded beyond the typical resume of a radiology educator. In particular, in 2004 she assumed the position of director of Harvard Medical School’s gross anatomy course.
“The opportunity to run the Harvard anatomy course for 5 years was a once-in-a-lifetime event and a true chance for me to grow as a teacher,” Dr Shaffer said. “It forced me to rethink many things about how to teach and to focus my attention on what is relevant rather than every detail. I am a true believer in problem-based and learner-centered methods, and the environment in that course at that time was extremely conducive to this type of approach.”
Dr Shaffer has lent her teaching and technologic expertise to numerous committees and special projects, including the MyCourses website and the Information Technology in Education Steering Committee at Harvard Medical School. She also served on the Task Force on Evaluation, which worked to standardize grading for students at Harvard Medical School across sites and disciplines, and founded a medical education interest group at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
In keeping with her technologic savvy, Dr Shaffer is also an authority on PACS (picture archiving and communication systems). In helping develop the radiologic consultative service at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, she worked with clinic managers to renovate the work area and install the latest digital systems. At Cambridge Health Alliance, Dr Shaffer spearheaded the development of a PACS teaching file for use throughout the institution.
With clinical research into general oncologic imaging, Dr Shaffer’s publications cover imaging of primary mediastinal large cell lymphoma, thoracic lymphangioma, primary cardiac and pericardial tumors, and imaging methods for solitary pulmonary nodules. She has collaborated with oncologists in breast cancer detection after mediastinal irradiation for Hodgkin disease, imaging of the prostate with CT for radiation planning, and imaging of treated lung cancer.
At BU, Dr Shaffer has been appointed an advisor-at-large for medical students; lectures in the anatomy, histology, physical diagnosis, and pulmonary medicine courses; and serves on the promotions committee for medical students. She has developed a Resident-as-Teacher curriculum for the residents in radiology and codirects the Clinician Educator Development program, a series of national workshops for junior faculty interested in becoming better teachers.
Dr Shaffer is a founding member and past-president of the Alliance of Medical Student Educators in Radiology (AMSER) and helped develop national curricular guidelines for medical student education in radiology. A longtime member of RSNA, Dr Shaffer traveled to Shanghai, China, in 2008 as part of the RSNA International Visiting Professor program and currently leads a mentoring program for applicants to the RSNA Research & Education Foundation from the developing world.
With a broad body of education, research, and clinical and administrative work; multiple major awards; and singular achievements, Dr Kitt Shaffer has risen to a rarefied level within the specialty. Paradoxically, what has contributed to this success is a down-to-earth desire and ability to engage students, residents, and faculty of all levels of experience, selflessly helping them become accomplished radiologic contributors themselves.