Students high-five at a leadership day activity

Leadership Program

Influencing Positive Change

Physicians must provide transformational leadership at many levels. This begins with a deep self-awareness and connection to one's values, purpose and mission. Transformational leadership is key to building highly effective teams, fostering interprofessional collaboration, providing exceptional patient care, and positively impacting complex systems.

Michigan has a long history of graduating leaders. Our innovative curriculum embeds and integrates leadership training during the entire medical school experience with the goal of preparing students to influence positive change for the rest of their careers.

As a medical student at Michigan, your leadership and management skills are cultivated through a variety of action-based learning experiences that fulfill three critical domains for future physicians:

Working with faculty coaches and mentors, you’ll track your progression with the Michigan Leadership CV starting in the first week of medical school. This tool provides an individualized framework to map leadership activities and assess milestones as they are completed, with the flexibility to adapt to your personal goals and interests. The CV aligns with the ERAS application, which will be very useful when applying for residency in your chosen field.

Students may also choose to have one-on-one leadership development sessions with a faculty advisor. These sessions are tailored to the student’s individual experiences and goals to assess how they can leverage their strengths to take their leadership skills to the next level.

Specific activities in the Leadership curriculum are designed to develop leadership skills, including:

  • Large-group events.
  • Case-based learning.
  • Hands-on sessions.
  • Self-reflection.
  • Longitudinal faculty mentorship.
  • Capstone projects.

Our program is very much predicated on the idea that there is leadership with a title and leadership without a title. We can always lead ourselves, we can always influence others. To sum up our curriculum in one word it would be leadership = influence. We certainly encourage students to take on leadership roles, but also be aware of the impact you are having on others and if your influence matches the intent you bring to the situation.

David Fessell, M.D., Clinical Professor of Radiology, Director, Medical Student Leadership Program

Drop-In Office Hours

Every month, our Leadership faculty offer students a chance to stop by and ask any questions about the leadership curriculum, share thoughts on new sessions or ways to improve, discuss challenges with a student group, or to get guidance and ideas for further development.

Francis Collins, MD, with Michigan medical students
Dr. Francis Collins, NIH director and UMMS alum, shares his story during a Conversations with Leadership event.

Conversations with Leadership

Throughout the year, notable University of Michigan Medical School alumni return to campus as featured guests of our Conversations with Leadership series. Alumni share their experiences and expertise, followed by a Q & A with students. Some speaker events are co-sponsored with student groups like NextGen Med.


Med Student Story Series

As part of the Medical Student Grand Rounds series, the Story Series gives students a chance to tell a story from their life and relate it to what they have learned so far in med school. These lunchtime events are co-sponsored with the Communication Collaborative, a student-run organization to help students improve their oral presentation skills.

Leadership Program FAQs answered by Dr. Fessell

How do you teach leadership to students with various levels of leadership experience?

We understand that students come in with a wide range of backgrounds. Some arrive straight out of undergrad, some have worked in the Peace Corps, some have been in the military, some have been on Wall Street, some have started their own companies, some have been captains of their sports teams and students groups, and all have done some really amazing things. It's very much about meeting our students where they are, and then tailoring feedback and coaching so they can take their leadership skills to the next level.

What is the purpose of the Michigan CV?

The purpose of the CV is twofold. One, it helps our students track their activities: their volunteer work, their research and what they're learning in their Doctoring groups, leadership curriculum and Interprofessional Clinical Experience outings, etc., so that when they apply for residency they will have all of that information in one place. It's formatted to align with the ERAS application.

There are also different prompts and questions within the CV to help students reflect and maximize the value of their experiences: How has this impacted me? What did I learn? What am I going to do now?

What about students who identify themselves as introverts?

Introverts bring a lot of strong attributes to the table: an ability to focus over the long haul, work in solitude, be introspective, thoughtful and reflective, and to learn from experience - not just jump from one thing to another. Introverts in some ways are highly suited to leadership. We hope to help all of our students to know their skills, power and ability to be great leaders.

What are the goals for the Leadership curriculum?

In the first couple of years, we focus on the structure of leading self, working in teams and impacting systems with the goal of helping students dial up their emotional intelligence, improve speaking and communication skills, enhance their ability to have challenging conversations, and start thinking about how systems work in health care.

We also help our students prepare to enter their clinical rotations with sessions on empathy and team building, and distilling medical terminology into language that patients understand.

In the M4 year, the focus is really on your Capstone for Impact project, which the Leadership curriculum feeds into. Students may choose a leadership project for their Capstone for Impact requirement.

Why does a Leadership curriculum make sense at Michigan Med?

The speed and slope of change in our health care system will only continue to increase. Leaders are needed. Leaders who have an awareness of not only themselves but other people.  Awareness of how their actions, words, habits and tendencies - conscious and unconscious - affect other people, so they can make a positive change in the world. That's what it's all about really: Helping affect positive change in a world that's changing so rapidly.

At all medical schools you can acquire medical knowledge and get experience taking care of patients - that happens all over the country. At Michigan, you can improve your ability to lead yourself so that your intent matches your impact. You can increase your skills around leading teams and influencing other people and groups. Even if you are not the leader of a group by title or position, you can still have a very positive influence.

Doctors are looked to as leaders, not only inside the hospital, but in the community as well. We want our students to have the skills to leverage these opportunities in a very positive way. We try to “bend the experience curve” a bit to give our students skills and experiences coming out of medical school so they can have an even greater positive impact on the world.

What is the role of student representatives in the Leadership curriculum?

They are elected by their fellow students at the beginning of the year to represent them on the leadership curriculum team. The student reps are really vital. They attend meetings, give us feedback and ideas, help us plan and shape the curriculum, and facilitate the messaging and communication with students. We are fortunate to have them. They do a fantastic job!