SGIM Forum

Inspirational Stories from 2022 SGIM Education Award Recipients 

22 days ago

Medical Education: Part I

Inspirational Stories from 2022 SGIM Education Award Recipients

Dr. Killian (kkillian@northwell.edu) is an assistant professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. Dr. Kiefer (meghanm@uw.edu, Twitter @meghanmkiefer) is an associate professor at University of Washington School of Medicine. Dr. Farkas (ahfarkas@mcw.edu) is an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Milwaukee VA Medical Center. Dr. Merriam (sullivansb@upmc.edu, Twitter @sarahbmerri) is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

The Awards Subcommittee of the Education Committee is pleased to highlight SGIM’s 2022 Education Award Winners! The following Q & A accounts share the compelling inspirations, triumphs, and challenges that contributed to each winner’s impressive achievements.

Sondra Zabar, MD—Career Achievement Award for Medical Education

What inspired you to pursue a career in medical education?

I went into medicine being passionate about helping others and building relationships and had always thought I was going to be a community clinician. A lot of one’s journey and career is luck and being open to new things. During my chief year, I was given the opportunity to take on the associate program director for ambulatory care role and I fell in love with med ed!

In the beginning of my career, I did a lot of curriculum design, and then moved on to faculty development, and then got the med ed research bug. For our primary care program, we would periodically write grants focusing on our next innovation. During one of these cycles, someone shared information about OSCEs and I thought, “we should do that!”.

What is a career accomplishment that you are most proud of?

I’m really proud of the collaborative approach that I’ve taken. At NYU, our approach to Performance Based Assessment has continuity—we use similar approaches for UME, GME, and CME. That allows for a shared mental model about teaching and assessing communication skills; it has allowed us to build a longitudinal database over years and brought opportunities for scholarship. We’ve been able to build a program for research around communication skills using problem-based assessment. I’m also proud that, through SGIM, we’ve been able to present our work and collaborate with others. I appreciate getting to see how the seeds that were planted many years ago have grown.

What advice would you give to a junior clinician educator who is looking to pursue a similar career?

Once you have taken time to explore different aspects of medical education, find an area you are really passionate about. Then dive into that but recognize how your expertise will apply in other domains. I say, make it count 6 times! Something you use for residents, for example, could you also offer it to your faculty with some tweaks? Build your expertise but use the nidus of your work in ways that will allow you to teach things more than once (this makes you a better teacher), collaborate across groups (this allows you to teach more learners), and to build out an area you are excited about that will evolve over time.

Find partners and collaborators that make the work richer and more meaningful. There’s more than enough med ed research to go around. One’s career is a journey, and I’ve learned from each part. I’ve been really fortunate along the way to work with students, residents, colleagues, and standardized patients that have made the work better. My additional advice is: allow yourself to think big and dream! What else could this be? Who else could this help?

Daniella Zipkin, MD—Mid-Career Medical Education Mentorship Award

What is a career accomplishment that you are most proud of?

As a mentor, I feel proud every time a mentee makes strides towards their goals, gets recognized for excellent scholarship, and builds their reputation as an educator. There is no clear path to success as an educator in medicine, so every little bit counts. This recognition from SGIM around my body of work as a mentor has truly been a pinnacle moment for which I am tremendously grateful.

What advice would you give to a junior clinician educator who is looking to pursue a similar career?

Stay true to what you love, elevate educational time as the priority in your work life and learn how to pitch your work to stakeholders who have the power to carve out time for you to teach. Also, it takes a village! Seek out mentors with successful educator careers and join working groups and committees at regional and national organizations to build a network of collaborators.

Can you describe one of your biggest professional challenges and how you approached it?

I was challenged in early career, trying to get traction as a clinician educator and also start my family. Having small children and being perceived as too busy was one reason for being passed over for opportunities. People are busy for plenty of reasons, and the judgment experienced by women faculty around family planning can be frustrating. I responded by managing my time how I needed to—for instance, reducing to 80% and taking one day per week at home with my kids when they were little—and to carefully strategize my next move towards an education leadership role. I was intentional about taking steps to get involved, and visible, in educational activities that mattered to me, and it paid off!

Do you have any other wisdom to share?

I’ll finish by sharing some thoughts for other women clinician-educators in particular: Don’t apologize for taking up space. Take the word “just” out of your email lexicon. Step up and present yourself as qualified for the role you want. If it feels like you’re learning it all as you go, that’s ok. We all feel that way sometimes. If you don’t believe in your worth, it gives others permission not to either.

Wei Wei Lee, MD, MPH—Scholarship in Medical Education Award

Could you tell us about your career path and what inspired you to pursue medical education research?

As a first-generation medical student finding my path, I always came back to education and the incredible impact of the teachers and mentors I had along the way. My first three years on faculty were in a full-time clinical role in an underserved area. That time was so important for me to grow into my identity as a primary care physician. Under the direction of an early mentor, Dr Vineet Arora, the MERITS Fellowship in medical education allowed me to build a community of collaborators and colleagues—a village—to help me think about my work. I began narrowing down my area of interest in research. Many of my ideas came from the struggles I was having as a clinician and as a teacher. As I started working on projects with trainees, their lived experiences and ideas about creating a better learning environment became central to my work.

Do you think that formal training in medical education research is necessary to break into this field?

Formal training is helpful. The MERITS Fellowship and the Harvard Macy Institute Program for Educators allowed me to interact with, and be inspired by, educators from across the country. Formal programs and pilot grants give you protected time to think about your scholarly work. When you are immersed in clinical work, you often don’t have the space to ask the questions you want to answer or to understand the resources that you need to do so. It’s not possible to do medical education research in our current environment without a team. Creating teams of people who have expertise or skills that you lack allows you to grow.

What do you wish you had known earlier in your career?

Be open to new paths and opportunities. Many of us experience imposter syndrome, thinking, “I’m not sure if I’m ready to apply for that grant.” Having mentors who see your potential and encourage you to “go for it” is important. It’s also important to know that failure is a completely normal part of the process. Speaking openly about the issues we all go through in our lives and careers makes the relationship between mentees and colleagues so much richer.

What are you most proud of in your career?

It’s been an incredible joy to work with medical students as an associate dean. I get to help our students build a culture in which they can be vocal about the direction they want our profession to take and how we can best support them. It’s incredible to celebrate the successes of your trainees but also to be there in challenging times to help think about the path forward. We all need support when we’re going through a tough situation. It has been an honor to do that.


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