Dr. Edward J.N. Ishac receives 2011 VCU Distinguished Teacher Award

dr ishac receives distinguished teacher awardDr. Edward J.N. Ishac, Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology, received the 2011 Virginia Commonwealth University Distinguished Teaching Award.

Luckily, for the thousands of students taught by him — in the schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions at VCU — Dr. Edward J.N. Ishac decided to chose teaching as his vocation.

Since joining the VCU Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in 1993, Dr. Ishac has earned numerous teaching awards from the School of Medicine. These include the School of Medicine Faculty Teaching Excellence Award — the highest award for teaching in the school — as well as the School of Medicine Educational Innovation Award and the School of Medicine Outstanding Teacher Awards in the pharmacology and cardiovascular courses. From his department, Dr. Ishac has earned the Professor of the Year Award three times, the only faculty member to achieve this honor. In addition, he has received the Distinguished Volunteer Service award and the award for Education and Community Services from the American Arthritis Foundation and the State of Maryland for community education.

“He has a clear and logical mind, an affable demeanor, infinite patience and a love of his students that is readily recognized and reciprocated by them,” writes Dr. George Kunos, scientific director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health and former chair of the VCU Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

Students consistently rave about Dr. Ishac in their course evaluations and he earns the highest ratings.

A few of the comments: “I have never had a teacher in my life who worked so hard for the students,” “Professor Ishac is the best instructor I have encountered at this school to date,” “He has clearly perfected the art of teaching.” and “Wish he could teach every class.”

Dr. Ishac, widely known for his innovative, technologically savvy teaching methods, offers his students a website that provides many learning resources such as video and audio presentations, interactive learning tools, self-assessment quizzes, FAQs, glossary and explanations of pharmacological terms and principles.

“By providing these additional resources, it allows the students to expand their knowledge at a pace that they are comfortable with and to gain a deeper understanding of the material which is not possible within a classroom environment. This frees class time to discuss higher levels of critical thinking,” Ishac says. “To me, technology is a tool that can be leveraged to expand and enrich the learning experience. This is the generation of students who have grown up with technology; to them, cable TV, cellphones and high-speed Internet have always existed. So if you can communicate in their language, you’ve got a head start in attracting and maintaining their attention.”

B. Ellen Byrne, D.D.S., Ph.D., senior associate dean in the VCU School of Dentistry, writes that while this technology may seem commonplace or ordinary today, when Dr. Ishac “first created the site years ago, it was unique, innovative and way ahead of its time.”

Dr. Ishac was an early recipient of the VCU Faculty Mentoring program in 1999, which was designed to support and instruct faculty in their classes and to extend their knowledge and skills to be able to serve as mentors for other faculty within and outside their unit. The circle is now complete as Dr. Ishac generously offers to share his methods with fellow faculty members by providing faculty instructional workshops and demonstrations of his teaching activities such as the use of human patient simulations.

“As new technologies emerge, faculty need to consider and adopt innovative applications that foster and improve the quality of learning,” he says.

Dr. Susan R. DiGiovanni, associate professor of medicine and assistant dean for preclinical medical education in the VCU School of Medicine, says that Dr. Ishac possesses a superior talent in technological advances and has been very open with sharing his discoveries and techniques on how to engage students in the classroom.

“He is a wonderful role model for younger faculty,” she writes.

Dr. Jerome F. Strauss III, executive vice president for medical affairs for the VCU Health System and dean of the VCU School of Medicine, says that due to Dr. Ishac’s passion for teaching and his incredible generosity to his colleagues in sharing his expertise and enthusiasm in the creation of innovative, interactive instruction, “VCU is a stronger university.”

In addition to his teaching duties, Dr. Ishac has been selected by the National Board of Medical Examiners to serve on two prestigious examination item review committees. As one of eight members, he served from 2005-10 on the Step 1 Pharmacology Test Material Development Committee, preparing questions for the first of three national exams required for medical students before they can be licensed physicians. Dr. Ishac has been invited to continue his service as a member of the Interdisciplinary Review Committee that helps set the standards required for physicians to practice in the U.S.

Medical knowledge doubles every four to five years, Dr. Ishac says that teaching students how to learn and apply that information remains the most important lesson he can communicate.

“When they leave here, they’re going to have to continue learning,” he says. “That lifelong thirst for learning and adaptation is what we hope to impart to our students.”