Dr. David S. Jones, Associate Professor of the History and Culture of Science and Technology in the MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS), has received the 2010 Donald O’Hara Faculty Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Harvard Medical School (HMS).
“Since 1982 this honor has been bestowed on our most outstanding teachers, a highly select group of the nation’s leading medical educators,” Harvard Dean for Medical Education Dr. Jules L. Dienstag wrote in an email congratulating Jones on his award.
Commenting on the honor, Professor David Mindell, Director of STS, said, “This is a wonderful award for David, recognizing his outstanding teaching, and it mirrors the recognition from our own campus with David’s MacVicar Faculty Fellow Award last year. David Jones is a scholar in the true MIT style, whose excitement for research spills over into enthusiastic teaching."
Jones was honored Monday, May 10, in a ceremony held at HMS’s TMEC Walter Amphitheatre. About 150 people were in attendance as Darja Djordjevic, an MD/PhD candidate in the Social Sciences Program at HMS, presented the award.
A leading medical educator
“Professor Jones captivates his students with his gift for hypnotic storytelling,” Djordjevic said. “He leads rich discussions with a special gift for stimulating and challenging students with crucial questions while enriching all with his wealth of knowledge.”
The ceremony was particularly meaningful for Jones as an HMS graduate; he completed his MD and PhD in the history of science in 2001. “I looked at the list of former award winners and these were the faculty members I loved when I was there,” Jones said.
Social and economic contexts for medical outcomes
In addition to Jones’ faculty appointment in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, he has taught “Introduction to Social Medicine and Global Health” as an HMS lecturer since 2006. The course is designed to help students understand the social and economic contexts that affect well-being. “If you ignore the conditions in which people live you’re not going to be successful as a physician,” Jones said. “Social, economic, and political contexts determine the diseases that we suffer and influence the outcomes of medical treatment.”
While "Social Medicine" is a required course, students spend far more time studying basic sciences, such as biochemistry and physiology, he said. “I assumed teaching awards would go to those who teach the science courses, so it was a total surprise when I got the call,” Jones said.
With two major teaching awards, in as many years, from two world-class institutions, Jones remains humble about his talents. “The course is really a team effort,” he said. “I think what this award reflects is that over four years we’ve created a new course from scratch that students now accept as an incredibly valuable part of the curricula.”
Teaching about social medicine and global health
“Introduction to Social Medicine and Global Health” began as a collaboration between Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. Jim Yong Kim (cofounders of the nonprofit Partners in Health), and Allan Brandt, Jones, and other faculty at HMS; Jones, however, has had primary responsibility for the course from the outset. One reason the course is successful is because it tackles issues of global health, Jones said. “Many students at HMS (and MIT) are deeply interested in global health now. The course provides teaching, mentoring, and role models for these students.”
Still, it is clear that it’s not just the course that students value — Jones himself is something special. “The prize is our school’s most visible validation of your teaching accomplishments and reflects in a small but tangible way how much you are valued by your students and by HMS,” Dienstag wrote.
An intellectual giant and a friend
In her award presentation, Djordjevic noted that the prize is awarded based on student nominations. She quoted what some students had to say about Jones:
“Dr. Jones is a rare and wonderful combination: he is both an intellectual giant and a friend who understands the student experience and wants it to be rich as possible for all of us.”
“Dr. Jones is the kind of teacher who is able to ‘connect the dots’ for students as they navigate a preclinical course load that is siloed in several distinct disciplines.”
Djordjevic also praised Jones for his memorable slide presentations. “His use of technology and seamless transitions between his presentation slides are famous at both the Harvard and MIT campuses,” she said.
When pressed, Jones admitted, “I just totally obsess about my slides. I figure if you’re going to ask students to pay attention to you for an hour, you have an obligation to make it interesting.”