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The Teacher-Learner Advocacy Committee helps medical students resolve conflicts, promotes positive learning environment

Feb. 13, 2014

Whether in the classroom or the clinic, it's no secret that medical school and residency can be a high-pressure environment.

Among the many resources offered to members of the IU School of Medicine community is a committee whose mission is to guard against these stresses boiling over into unprofessionalism or conflict.

The Teacher-Learner Advocacy Committee, or TLAC, was established about 15 years ago at the IU School of Medicine to foster a professional learning environment through assistant with in conflict resolution as well as to sponsor programs that enhance communication and professionalism in all learning. The committee was primarily established to assist medical students, residents and fellows, but also faculty also benefit through its encouragement of a positive learning environment.

"If an individual experiences some sort of event, situation or culture that they believe has negatively impacted his or her learning experience, then he or she may contact TLAC to address the issue," said Marly Bradley, M.D., J.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and chair of TLAC. "It's important for learners to realize they have this resource at their disposal, because not many medical schools or training programs have such a committee."

The committee's composition is diverse. From second-year medical students to faculty who have been at the school for more than a decade, TLAC strives for diversity to ensure students have someone to relate to when bringing an issue to the committee.

In addition, TLAC will provide assistance to people from all School of Medicine campuses, with TLAC members welcome to participate from any campus either in person or via polycom. These members will also investigate any incident across the state -- either remotely or in person -- with faculty and students willing to travel to meet those seeking assistance.

When a complaint is brought to the attention of TLAC, a response team is created to investigate the claim. Typically, this team consists of four to five members from the committee, with a faculty member serving as the lead. During the information-gathering phase, the team will interview all parties in the conflict and gather information to present confidentially to the committee at large, which has more than 20 members.

Once the committee collects this information, TLAC members will work together to devise a recommendation, with all responses requiring committee approval before a disposition.

To participate on the TLAC committee, a medical student must be at least in their second year of training. To better understand the reason a student wishes to join, all potential candidates are interviewed by their committee member peers. (Student member discretion is also among the top qualities sought by the committee due to the confidential nature of the issues they address.) Students recommended for the committee are then officially appointed by the dean.

Complaints include unfair treatment, unprofessionalism and discontentment over a grade, which TLAC does not have the authority to change. In the most serious cases, TLAC recommendations may be taken into consideration by supervisors who do possess the authority to implement stronger consequences.

"A learner may suspect they are being treated poorly, or even that individuals in a similar position were, or will be, treated poorly, but still let their voices go unheard because they don’t want to create waves, or they simply want to put their head down and successfully complete their program." Dr. Bradley said. "We encourage anyone who encounters an issue to speak up."

Most complaints brought to TLAC are rooted in communication breakdowns and are resolvable, she added. Never in the history of the TLAC has the committee ever received a report of retaliation in response to a complaint. Although the committee cannot guarantee against negative consequences, Dr. Bradley said IUSM has a zero-tolerance policy against retaliation.

Overall, Dr. Bradley said the existence of TLAC, as well as the dedication of its members to the committee's mission, has made an overwhelmingly positive impact on the school.

To report a question or concern to TLAC, or to express interested in getting involved, contact Dr. Bradley at

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