A Conversation with Michelle Flood


Michelle Flood, PhD joins the Design Institute for Health as a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Researcher from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland where she studies medical education and is a pharmacy lecturer. Michelle’s main project is to conduct a longitudinal cohort study evaluating the Design and Innovation curriculum for 3rd year medical students. Her goal is to systematize knowledge around design education for future doctors and healthcare professionals. I sat down with Michelle to ask more about her background and experience at the Design Institute since joining us in June 2018.


Q: Can you tell me more about the Fulbright Scholarship Program?

Michelle: The program was proposed in 1945 by Senator Fulbright to achieve the best standing of international relations. The Fulbright Scholar Program is an exchange program, with an emphasis on me bringing something to Dell Med and going home with something new. I bring to this project my background in medical education to study the Design and Innovation curriculum – an emerging study that I’m keenly interested in learning more about.


Q: How does design relate to your background?

Michelle: I’m a pharmacist by training, I worked a professionally for five years and lectured part-time. I also completed my Master’s Degree in Healthcare Management and Leadership. In 2012, I moved full-time into academia, which wasn’t an easy decision for me because I loved my clinical practice. Since then, I have completed a PhD in Medical Education and am lecturing full-time.

My real interest is in trying to help people and in different ways. You can do it directly, as a health care provider, or indirectly through educating students, or you can bring it all together and try to do things holistically. That’s where I think learning about design and design-based approaches allows you to get closer to patients and students.


Q: Why did you choose to work with the Design Institute?

Michelle:  I came here because I was really interested in the innovative work that the Design Institute is doing – particularly relating to work with design in medical education and also with design applied in healthcare. What we don’t know about the role of design in medical education is “what’s the point really?” We know it has good application in healthcare practice, but very few institutions around the world actually incorporate design into undergraduate medical education or health professions education programs.


Q: What have you learned so far about the discipline of design?

Michelle: Those at the Design Institute are 100% fluent and understanding of design – but what I’ve been focusing on is how design interfaces with healthcare professionals. The way the information is presented and made available is so key to engage people who are use to traditional academic research rather than design processes. Trying to understand how to start that conversation and how to apply it has been very cool. Taking a step back and looking at something differently is a huge benefit, especially with the person-centered, focused-on-answers mindset of the Design Institute. They don’t have the limitations of someone that has worked in healthcare. There is a new angle to see things. 


Q: How do you define design?

Michelle: To be honest, I’m still working towards a definition. One of the most challenging things I’ve found from my initial literature review of where design sits in medical education is that there isn’t a definition of design in medical education. That is what our project aims to find – what is it really? Some people find it intangible, nebulous, but it is not. It’s concrete, it’s doing things, it’s a process. We are trying bridge that fluffy gap. So, to answer your question, I have to spend some time, synthesize it, and then come up with a definition for design in medical education.


Q: What is your timeline for the study?

Michelle: We are talking with the students three times, at three evolutionary points in their journey of design and innovation. First, at the start of the class, we will establish the baseline to understand their motivation for studying design — what they understand by it and what their expectations are. Second, I will speak with them again next year after the course is finished to evaluate their experience with the course and also to understand how these new skills are integrating into their education and work. And then the third time is when they are qualified and in their residency, I will speak with them again to see how design shows up and pulls through into their skills and perspective when they get into the real world and practice. So, I plan to follow this first class of medical students taking this distinction for the first time through to their residency at least, but really I am excited to see where their careers and work go with these new capabilities.


Q: Overall, how has your experience been? What is your favorite thing about Austin?

Michelle: The experience has been amazing. Even just being in Austin, but particularly here at Design Institute. I have learned so much by being able to participate in the projects going on.

The food is great. I love the Tex-Mex stuff. QUESO. Best thing ever. I’d never had it before, and it is the best substance in the world! It’s so tasty, I could drink it. I love the bits of jalapeño and the bits of everything. And the availability of it has been fantastic. And I love Topo Chico! I cannot believe I almost forgot to mention Topo Chico.

Katherine Jones