Helping Veterans a Noble Calling for IHP Graduate

November 11, 2020
David Topor

To many people, Fridays mean the weekend is soon to begin. Not so for Dr. David Topor, the associate director of healthcare professional education at the Veterans Administration Boston Healthcare System.

For the past few years, Topor has hosted the "First Friday Faculty Development Presentation Series.” Using knowledge that he learned while earning his Master of Science in Health Professions Education in 2013 from MGH Institute of Health Professions, the psychologist developed a presentation series that provides effective ways for health professions faculty to teach, supervise, and mentor health professional trainees at more than 150 Veterans Administration medical centers across the country.

For his efforts, he received the 2020 Worthen Innovator Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“There was a need to make sure that faculty working at VA facilities had the tools to effectively teach their students the skills needed to provide high-quality health care to veterans,” said Topor, a clinical psychologist at the Brockton VA campus who also is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “It’s all about getting veterans the care they need.”

The webinar series includes core teaching skills such as writing teaching objectives, developing curriculum, setting learning goals, assessing learning, and giving feedback to learners. It also includes offerings on using spaced learning and experiential learning activities in teaching, the science of learning, leadership skills for educators, and preventing burnout in educators. 

It is a boon to faculty who work at rural VA centers because it allows them to have access to the same information as their urban peers and helps keep them working in locations where maintaining the same medical staff for longer stints is especially beneficial for consistent patient care. “We want to make sure we lift all boats so everyone can get the same services,” said Topor, who earned a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

While the series was initially offered at VA Boston, word quickly spread throughout the system as colleagues quickly recognized its importance and impact. Today, participants from as far away as Hawaii take part in the monthly series that has moved to an all-virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 1,500 continuing education credits have been awarded since 2017, when the series first was offered nationally. Faculty participants have included nurses, physicians, dentists, counselors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, psychologists, social workers, physician assistants, health care executives, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and dieticians. 

Topor, who provides phone and on-site faculty development consultations to VA Medical Centers nationwide, published a 2019 paper on the series’s success and a 2018 paper on a framework for faculty development at VA Medical Centers. 

Topor was initially drawn to the VA system to provide psychotherapy to veterans with a wide range of mental health needs and to educate trainees to provide clinical care to veterans. “Every day, I wake up and look forward to going into work,” he said. “It is a noble cause to care for our nation’s veterans.”