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Michael Lieberman:
Helping Medical Students Survive and Succeed

Date: May 31, 2001
By: Angela Russo
Photo by: Colleen Kelley
Archive: General News

When colleagues and students of Michael Lieberman were asked to describe his teaching, one common theme stood out in their answers. Lieberman goes above and beyond the call of duty.

The PhD professor is a faculty member in the Department of Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry and Microbiology at the College of Medicine.

Michael Lieberman

"Michael Lieberman is an outstanding teacher who is dedicated to his students, colleagues and university as a whole," said John Hutton, MD, Dean of the College of Medicine.

"Dr. Lieberman is a wonderful person who truly cares about each students' success," said Jon Hathaway, MD, PhD and former student. "He is willing to spend his time helping students learn even though many times there is no formal recognition or thanks."

Lieberman has received formal recognition of his mastery of teaching in the form of the 2001 Mrs. A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching. He is just the fifth winner from the College of Medicine in the 40-year history of the award.

Lieberman came to the university as an associate professor in 1983 from the Harvard School of Public Health. From the beginning, he taught in the Medical Biochemistry and Human Genetics course which consists of 73 formal hour-long lectures and is taught by eight different instructors. As more and more of his time was spent teaching and his ability to get the point across to students became apparent, he was named director of the course in 1992. Being director remains his major teaching responsibility, although he also participates in teaching three graduate courses, one medical student elective course, and is the sole lecturer for a basic biochemistry course.

All first-year medical students are required to take the Medical Biochemistry and Human Genetics course, which runs for two quarters and is regarded as very difficult and extensive. It is designed to give first-year medical students exposure to biochemistry and provide an excellent grasp of the metabolic basis of disease. Lieberman said, "by teaching biochemistry via a disease-oriented approach, students will have a greater appreciation for the role of biochemistry in disease and clinical treatments."

As director, Lieberman gives almost half of the lectures and is responsible for the course syllabus (which is 1,200 pages long), materials presented and discussed in the small group sessions, meeting with the small group leaders, preparing examinations and coordinating the instructors. Lieberman also devises new methods of teaching and learning, often using the latest technology. The web site for Medical Biochemistry, which Lieberman developed, contains many useful study aids for the students, including old exams, PowerPoint presentations of lecture material, animations to explain difficult concepts and virtual lectures.

In addition, Lieberman always makes himself available to counsel students who need extra help.

"My goal is to have all students pass the class," Lieberman said. "I spend a fair amount of time with students who are not doing well to make sure they are given every opportunity to perform well on exams."

"I received a letter from Dr. Lieberman requesting a meeting after I failed a biochemistry exam," said Laurie Atkan, second year medical student at the College of Medicine. "I had a knot in my stomach before facing him. To my surprise, he was extremely understanding, tremendously encouraging and easy to be honest with. He helped me design a study plan that engaged my strengths. After leaving his office, I felt as though I could conquer medical biochemistry. I did well in the course, but more importantly found a true mentor."

For the past eight years, Lieberman has been the highest rated lecturer in the course and within the top five of all basic science lecturers in the first-year medical curriculum.

"Dr. Lieberman is an absolutely exceptional teacher, probably the best in the College of Medicine. He really makes an impact on students," said Jerry Lingrel, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry and Microbiology. "He has done everything one would expect from an excellent teacher and is clearly deserving of the Dolly Cohen Award."

"I feel very honored to be getting this award. There aren't too many people in the history of the College of Medicine who have won the award," Lieberman said. "It is a very humbling experience. It is recognition that I have been able to accomplish my goal and effectively teach students biochemistry."

Find out about other award winners.

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