U-M Medical School preparing learners ‘to change the world’

February 18, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

The new executive vice dean for academic affairs in the medical school and chief academic officer for Michigan Medicine, Debra F. Weinstein, M.D., arrived on campus in November from Boston to lead a group of educators and learners not only finding its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but also excelling during one of the most challenging times in our history.

A lifelong educator, she is committed to ensuring that our talented and hardworking learners — medical, master’s and doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and residents — have the resources and guidance they need to achieve their own individual goals as physicians, scientists or both.

Recently, Headlines caught up with Weinstein as she acclimates to a new role, new institution and new town — in the midst of a pandemic — and contemplates Michigan Medicine’s exciting future.

Here’s what she had to say:

Q: What are your impressions of Michigan Medicine and the medical school in your short time here?

DW: It was clear to me during the interview process that there are incredibly dedicated and talented people here who truly enjoy working together — and that sense has been continually reinforced since I arrived. When my transition to Michigan was announced, I received calls from many colleagues whom I never realized had U-M roots, but who were exuding enthusiasm and institutional loyalty even years after leaving Michigan. That says a lot. I also see a deep commitment to the tripartite mission (clinical care, education and research), with deliberate intent to focus on the intersection of these areas to find synergy, balance resources and address inevitable conflicts head on. Having the medical school and health system fully aligned and the education mission represented “at the table” are distinctive features of Michigan Medicine and are key to making this happen.

Q: What do you consider to be your top priorities for the near- and long-term?

DW: My near-term priority is getting to know more of the Michigan Medicine community (beyond those who I work with most directly) and learning more detail about the areas for which I am responsible. I also am keeping an eye out for opportunities to consolidate committees and reduce the number of meetings for all of us. Everyone needs to preserve time and space to address the longer-term objectives. Working on big, important challenges — enhancing diversity and inclusion, innovating how we educate and enhancing institutional culture and individual well-being — must not be eclipsed by the demands of day-to-day operations.

Q: What excites you most about your role in educating the doctors and scientists of the future?

DW: Each person who comes through this institution is poised to have a positive impact, whether by treating patients, advancing science or improving health care. Some will quite literally change the world. Giving our students the best possible preparation and experience, and helping them to harness their talent, overcome challenges and connect to their passions, will have an exponential effect. While I really enjoy interacting with learners one-on-one, the scale of impact at the institutional level is breathtaking.

Q: How has medical education changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and which of these changes will continue post-pandemic?

DW: The pandemic has certainly disrupted some traditional processes and challenged long-held assumptions about medical education. Remote learning (e.g.  telehealth clinical encounters, expanded use of simulation and Zoom-based teaching conferences) has been quite successful and surely will continue at some level post-pandemic. The idea of competency-based training (in lieu of relying on time spent or number of “cases”) is an important basis for advancement when education has been interrupted — and the pandemic will help this approach become more mainstream. In addition, the COVID-19 crisis has brought health disparities to the forefront, underscoring the importance of reinforcing this in our curricula and advocacy efforts. The importance of interprofessional teamwork and the essential roles of residents, fellows and medical students as part of the health care team also have been highlighted, and I hope stronger collaboration will be a long-term outcome. Finally, the pandemic has pushed everyone in health care beyond our usual limits. The importance of self-care and attention to student and caregiver well-being — with enhanced access to resources — must carry forward.

Q: Given your experiences as a physician and educator, what advice would you give to students entering the medical field?

DW: This is a particularly challenging time to enter medicine — but also particularly compelling. Because there are so many different career paths for physicians, I encourage students to think about what experiences and issues seem to resonate most deeply with them so that they can choose a specialty, practice setting and mix of activities (patient care, research, innovation, leadership roles, etc.) that will inspire them far into the future.

Q: What do you like to do when you are away from campus?

DW: For now, learning my way around Ann Arbor is a priority (I have no innate sense of direction!). Our dog, “Teddy,” who thinks he’s a bear, is making sure I get enough fresh air and exercise even in these sub-zero temperatures. Spending time with family is always a priority and immersing myself in my other new role — as grandma — is a particular joy.

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