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By Merin C. MacDonald | Date published: March 1, 2024

Medical Education
a Profoundly Rewarding Career Path for Mary Callery O’Brien

Physician-educator, Mary Callery O’Brien, MD, is passionate about medical education. Since she completed her chief residency at UMass Chan Medical School in the mid-1990s, Dr. O’Brien has developed and led innovative curricula for medical students in the T.H. Chan School of Medicine 

“[After my chief residency], I was offered the opportunity to start a longitudinal preceptor program in the medical school where first and second-year students go out to community primary care preceptors offices and shadow them,” said Dr. O’Brien. “This program is still running today after over 25 years!Co-founded by Dr. O’Brien and Dr. Sarah Stone, the program was a first of its kind at UMass Chan and allowed medical students to step outside of internal medicine practices on campus and experience the unique features of community internal medicine as part of their training. While the program started with students working with primary care physicians, it has evolved into a larger program where students now work with both a primary care physician and a specialist.   

Although Dr. O’Brien is no longer running the longitudinal preceptor program that she and Dr. Stone pioneered, she has continued to be heavily involved in teaching and curriculum development. Over the past decade, she has taught the Building Working Cells and Tissues course which focuses on the basic science and clinical correlations of disease. In the new Vista curriculum, she serves as the Principles 1 Course Director, teaches in the course, and chairs the Discovery Curriculum Committee. The Discovery Phase takes place during the first year and a half of medical school and is where students are immersed in engaged interactive learning.  

“The main focus of this curriculum is engaging [the students],” said Dr. O’Brien. “It's not just giving lectures but imparting knowledge beforehand and then interacting with cases in lectures or small groups and problem-solving.” This innovative approach to medical education is unique in that it combines elements of classic classroom-style learning with highly interactive learning models where students are given questions ahead of their lectures and are asked to prepare beforehand so that they can come to their sessions ready to problem-solve and answer questions.   

Dr. O’Brien finds the work that she does in the medical school profoundly rewarding and encourages her physician colleagues to consider teaching. “Education in the Department of Medicine and at UMass Chan has always been considered important and that's why I have stayed because there are a lot of opportunities, even for community practitioners,” she said. There are more opportunities for clinicians to become teachers in the medical school and their educational contributions are integral to helping students learn to problem solve. 

Dr. O’Brien is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Community Internal Medicine and chair of the Discovery Phase of the Vista Curriculum at the T.H. Chan School of Medicine. She earned her medical degree from the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. She completed her internal medicine residency and chief residency at UMass Chan Medical School. Dr. O’Brien is an internal medicine physician at a community practice in Shrewsbury.