Commentary: Teaching creativity and innovative thinking in medicine and the health sciences

Acad Med. 2011 Oct;86(10):1201-3. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31822bbb9f.


The National Academies of Science recently criticized the state of scientific innovation and competitiveness in the United States. Evaluations of already-established creativity training programs--examining a broad array of students, from school age to adult and with a wide range of abilities--have shown that such courses improve thinking skills, attitudes, and performance. Although academic medicine provides informal training in creativity and innovation, it has yet to incorporate formal instruction on these topics into medical education. A number of existing, thoughtfully constructed and evaluated creativity programs in other fields provide a pedagogical basis for developing creativity training programs for the health sciences. The content of creativity training programs typically includes instruction and application in (1) divergent thinking, (2) problem solving, and (3) creative production. Instructional formats that have been shown to elicit the best outcomes are an admixture of lectures, discussion, and guided practice. A pilot program to teach innovative thinking to health science students at the University of Texas includes instruction in recognizing and finding alternatives to frames or habitual cognitive patterns, in addition to the constructs already mentioned. As innovation is the engine of scientific progress, the author, founder of Innovative Thinking, the creativity training pilot program at the University of Texas, argues in this commentary that academic health centers should implement and evaluate new methods for enhancing science students' innovative thinking to keep the United States as a worldwide leader in scientific discovery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Creativity*
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Teaching / standards*
  • United States