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Perspectives: Preparing for New Leadership Roles

The Perspectives section of Faculty Vitae regularly poses a provocative question to leaders in academic medicine. This month, we asked several leaders to offer their advice on preparing for new leadership roles. Leaders from AAMC Women in Medicine, Faculty Affairs planning committees, and Council of Deans share their insights.

Preparations for leadership positions begins long before stepping into the new role. How should leaders prepare themselves for the new role? How are you preparing for your new role?

Eve Higginbotham, M.D.

Dean and President
Morehouse School of Medicine
Dr. Higginbotham is a member of the AAMC Women in Medicine Planning Committee and newly appointed Dean and President of Morehouse School of Medicine

“My preparation for this role as Dean and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at the Morehouse School of Medicine started the first day I entered medical school. For the broad dimensions of the role of Dean, I have to rely on all my own experiences as a student, resident, faculty member, clinician scientist, assistant dean, department chair and leader in ophthalmology as starting points for understanding the needs and expectations of this wide group of constituents. My more recent experiences in ELAM and as an AAMC Council of Dean fellow will be particularly useful as I must quickly learn a new type of an institution in a different geographic sector.

The weeks leading up to my first formal day in this new position have been a complex mixture of transitions: saying good –bye to my Ophthalmology patients and relocating my elderly parents who live with us. In the midst of all of these changes, I have begun systematically learning more about the institution by reviewing institutional documents and meeting with key department chairs, center directors, associate deans, and other members of the senior leadership and administrative team to understand the culture and critical issues I will need to address. I have plans to attend the Spring meeting of the Board of the Directors of Morehouse and the AAMC Council of Deans which will broaden my view of the opportunities and potential challenges at the local and national levels.

The first 100 days will go quickly and in my case will be highlighted by graduation, the introduction of a new President, meeting a number of the alumni at the annual meeting of the National Medical Association, completing my informational meetings with faculty and staff leaders, and obtaining a deeper understanding of the institutional financials. Against this backdrop are several ambitious objectives, ranging from a campus-wide strategic planning process, to developing the leadership team within the Dean’s office. It will be important to quickly refine these initiatives and create implementation teams as I continue to develop a deeper understanding of the culture of the institution.”

A. Lorris Betz, M.D., Ph.D.

Senior Vice President for Health Sciences
Executive Dean, School of Medicine
CEO, University of Utah Health System
Dr. Betz is a member of the Council of Deans and serves as the COD Liaison to the Faculty Affairs Planning Committee. He has been Dean for 7 years.

“The prospect of moving into a new leadership position in academic medicine can be both exhilarating and intimidating. I would highly recommend participation in one of the many AAMC leadership development courses designed for department chairs, associate deans, and medical school deans. These programs provide skills ranging from reading financial statements to dealing with the media and allows an opportunity to develop a network with other academic leaders in similar positions. An executive coach may be helpful in providing more individualized guidance over a longer period of time.

Learn as much as you can about an organization before and immediately after joining it. Don’t assume that it is the same as the one you came from, since the old adage about academic medical centers is usually true – “when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one.” The most powerful tools that you have to change the culture of your new institution are to lead by example. The most important part of a senior administrator’s job is to recruit and develop other leaders.

And finally, pay attention to your personal life. Spend time with your family. Pursue your hobbies. Develop friendships outside of your immediate co-workers and direct reports. Look after your health. Keep your sense of humor.”

William Haffner, M.D.

Professor, OB/Gyn
Uniformed Services of the Health Sciences
F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine
Dr. Haffner is a former member of the AAMC Council of Academic Societies and is incoming President for the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

“The foundation for my presidential initiative for the Association of Professors of Obstetrics and Gynecology (APGO) is built upon my 25 years of active participation in APGO’s workshops and meetings as well as using its extensive teaching resources. During my president-elect year, I narrowed the options for a significant initiative through numerous discussions and meetings with senior faculty, junior faculty, and medical students in a variety of settings across the U.S. at APGO and at my own institution. By far, the richest resonance heard and felt regarding a wide range of possible initiatives was in the area of faculty development.

Finally, a Task Force on Faculty Development will address the goal for faculty at all levels to become more effective and successful in defining their academic career goals; designing the best route to accomplish their goals in congruence with departmental and institutional goals; appropriately documenting their career journey; and successfully navigating what can be daunting steps in the demonstration of excellence in scholarship: the promotions and tenure process, publications and presentations, successful grant writing, and regional, national, and international recognition. This will include recognition and enhancement of the very important roles of mentors and a better understanding of mentorship. Concurrently, I will be preparing a series of personal presidential perspective presentations and publications to address this very important topic of faculty development.

With numerous principal stakeholders involved, a task force appointed for further input, and a series of membership publications in preparation, I was delighted to open my national platform at a local Grand Rounds presentation. Ob-Gyn Grand Rounds on the “Strategies in the Design and Documentation of Your Professional Development in Medicine” captured for my department the spirit of what I hope to accomplish in the first 100 days of this presidency.”

Anne Wright, Ph.D.

Research Professor
Department of Pediatrics
Arizona Respiratory Center
Arizona Health Sciences Center
Dr. Wright is a new member of the AAMC Women in Medicine Planning Committee and newly appointed Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at the University of Arizona

“To prepare for my new role as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, I did several things. First, for intellectual grounding, I read as widely as I could (mostly in the business literature) about two things: effective leadership and institutions that succeed in retaining and motivating employees. Second, I interviewed individuals in the College of Medicine that contributed in some way to the programs I planned to develop or expand.

A key component of my approach involves the application of research methods, not only as an evaluation tool but also as a way to define a problem, show its magnitude, identify its cause and assign accountability. Using personnel databases to document attrition rates by department over a five year period. I worked with the business managers from three departments to determine the actual amount they spent in the past year to replace different types of faculty. When I presented these results to the Department Heads Council, they were suitably impressed with the cost of faculty attrition and the savings that could be achieved through targeted faculty development and retention programs.

By the end of my first 100 days as Associate Dean, my hope is to: develop a vision about the scope of work for the Faculty Affairs Office, which, among other things, will permit me to determine my needs in terms of staff and other resources. The programs that we will develop need to be responsive to the needs of faculty members; continue to interview faculty, to learn about their experiences both here and in other institutions, and then to create a plan for our career development program; and develop a comprehensive evaluation plan and initiate the construction of a database to use in assessing the impact of these programs on faculty retention, productivity and morale. Faculty diversity is a high priority.

I will learn about and re-evaluate recruitment/hiring process with regard to both better planning and diversity. Finally, I plan to connect with and learn from those individuals who have similar responsibilities at other medical schools. I began working on this at the AAMC Annual Meeting last November, and expect that the emerging AAMC group for Faculty Affairs will provide a forum to learn from the experiences and insight of others.”


Faculty Vitae

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To inquire about updates to information published in Faculty Vitae, please e-mail Valarie Clark at vclark@aamc.org.

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