Published: 26-09-2014 10:47 | Updated: 26-11-2015 17:53

Annika Östman Wernerson – Dean of Higher Education

Annika Östman Wernerson is the person chosen to take up the post of Dean of Higher Education at the turn of the year. She brings to this post her strong, long-term commitment to educational issues. And as Dean she’s keen to highlight the teaching role.

The future Dean of Higher Education at Karolinska Institutet (KI), Annika Östman Wernerson, is used to being fully occupied. She has one foot in clinical practice and the other in education. Furthermore, she is active both as a pedagogical and medical researcher.

“It’s very rewarding to me as a person to have all these different things going on. I obtain inspiration from different things, plus it’s really great fun. It’s an enriching experience and one develops as teacher, researcher and clinician,” she says.

She describes her clinical work, as Senior Consultant in Pathology at Karolinska University Hospital, Huddinge, as an essential part of her professional identity. There she can really feel that what she does has a vital role to play. The fact that it can be hard to juggle clinical activities, research and teaching is something she makes no secret of.

“It’s hard to hold the different activities together. If one wants to be strategic and advance in one’s career it’s often smarter to focus on just one field and achieve excellence within it.” At the same time, she believes it important to see the value of having persons who have more than one string to their bow, not least for those involved in teaching. “Not everyone should work like this but it’s important to enable more staff to combine the different elements,” she says.

At the turn of the year she takes up her new task of leading the work of the Board of Higher Education at KI. The Vice-Chancellor took the decision on the basis of the advisory election that was concluded on 9 June; here it was Annika Östman Wernerson who obtained most votes in the election for the Dean of Higher Education. She is the only woman and the only new dean for the coming mandate period. The question of facilitating combined posts for teachers, indeed, is one of those areas she hopes to contribute to as Dean.

“Combined posts are required for the sake of the breadth of what we can offer. This possibility now exists for physicians and it’s required in other professions too,” she adds.

Other important issues for her include setting a greater value on good pedagogical work and ensuring that clear career pathways exist for teachers.

“I believe it’s essential to raise the qualification status where good teaching is concerned. Otherwise there’s a danger that nobody will want to invest in developing the teaching role. The weight is set too much on the research side of the scales at present. There must be a reward for being a good teacher,” she comments.

She wants to see enhanced scope for seeking funding for pedagogical development projects, but equally it should be meritorious to carry out such projects. The research connection in the teaching activities is something she considers to be all-important. All researchers and professors shall participate in the undergraduate (first-cycle) courses and study programmes and the scope for research shall be more visible to the students.

Through her work with the Center for Clinical Education (CKU), she has strived to raise the quality of work-integrated learning. It is a real challenge to make the education element more visible in healthcare activities.

“I happen to believe that one has to work hard to ensure that all the different healthcare managers realise that the students are a good recruitment pool,” states Annika.

“If the students’ education in day-to-day medicine is of a good standard, then I think that they’ll be happy to apply there when their education is complete. The competence of the supervisors is important, as is the fact that the students feel that they are seen, appreciated and made welcome. There are places where we don’t have so many students at present, such as primary care and in geriatric care. Here the demand for professional posts will be very considerable in future.”

In her pedagogical work she is motivated by the need to ensure that the students really understand- and do not just memorise. When, in 2012, she received the annual KI pedagogical prize, the justification highlighted her ability to activate the students and to stimulate their creativity. She is keen for the students to find it fun, to be curious and want to solve problems.

“When I teach pathology I can either say: ‘now you’re going to learn about kidney cancer’ and, by way of a lecture, rattle off a mass of subject matter. Or I can have the students discuss the subject using a concrete case and give them a surgical specimen with kidney cancer which they have to examine themselves,” she points out. To have to put on surgical gloves and feel and turn the organ affected and try to understand what happens when the tumour grows – this offers a wholly different understanding of the subject, in her view. The students start wondering and wish to know more.

“There’s so much one can do to arouse the students’ curiosity in order to stimulate the learning process,” says Annika Östman Wernerson.

It was indeed the possibility of finding an answer to her questions which made her decide to become a physician in the first place. To begin with, she was convinced that she wanted to become a nurse. When she was working at Södersjukhuset (Stockholm South General Hospital) she amassed a host of questions. She soon realised that she wanted to learn more and to understand more, so she applied to the Programme in Medicine and was given a place.

And if you hadn’t been a doctor, what then?

“I may have become a vet in that case; I thought about it a bit at the time. I would have worked in some field involving healthcare, no doubt.”

Text: Karin Söderlund Leifler

Photo: Gustav Mårtensson