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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Debra Litzelman, M.D.

Picture of Debra Litzelman
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Debra Litzelman, M.D.

“I started out in psychology wanting to understand the workings of the human mind and the human body. When I became a physician, I knew I wanted to help others toward being physicians.”


Richard G. Lugar



When Debra Litzelman began her medical career she focused on internal medicine. But serendipitous service in 1990 with a team of physicians while she was doing post-doctoral training in a Faculty Development Program for Clinical Teachers at Stanford University led her to change focus and specialize in the teaching of clinical medicine, a field in which she is now widely acclaimed. "It was a path I had not anticipated," she says today, "but it felt right because I had always been interested in how we learn. I realized that the methods of clinical research can be applied to medical education. Call it the 'science of learning about learning'." So began her distinguished teaching career.

After obtaining her M.A. from the University of Southern California, in psychobiology, and an M.D. from the University of Cincinnati, Litzelman came to Indiana University in 1989 as an Assistant Professor of Medicine. Now, as Associate Dean for Medical Education & Curricular Affairs at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Litzelman's focus on clinical teaching has resulted in numerous enhancements to the medical school's curriculum.

She was nominated by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) to be a Local Legend for her work in clinical skills methodology as the Richard C. Powell Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Indiana University. One of her major accomplishments was the development of a set of techniques to measure medical teaching skills which since have been adopted widely nationwide.

While serving as Medicine Clerkship Director at the IU Medical School, she introduced Objective Structured Clinical and Standardized Patient Evaluations, and an evidence-based medicine mini-course into the medical curriculum. In 1996, she received the Indiana University Frederic Bachman Lieber Distinguished Teaching Award. In 2002-2003, she was selected to participate in the AAMC-Harvard Shapiro Institute's Millennium Conference for innovation in the implementation of a competency-based curriculum.

"Clinical teaching is where science meets the art of teaching," Litzelman says. "When I started, nobody had really valid instructional tools to use as instruments for measuring a good teacher. Now we use in-patient and out-patient methodologies that show background and clinical teaching and that highlight the qualities of the teacher that are most effective."

Her interest in clinical teaching has extended to Moi University, in Kenya, where she is part of a faculty development exchange program that has implemented clinical teaching methods designed to increase the skills of medical students using a problem-based learning curriculum.

Of all her numerous career accomplishments, she considers her greatest achievement to be the "thank you" notes that arrive unexpectedly from former students after they have left medical school. "Somehow," she says, "they recognize there has been something special about their medical education that helps them to reach out to others."



Appointed Assistant Professor of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine


Appointed Vice Chair for Educational Affairs, Department of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine


Appointed Associate Dean for Medical Education & Curriculum Affairs, Indiana University School of Medicine




University of Cincinnati, School of Medicine


Clinical Teaching

Sub Specialty

Internal Medicine