By Alexandria Sanchez

More Than a Title

Medical Leadership Academy Inspires Solutions

We all remember our graduation day, right? For some of the doctors sitting in the front row, graduation programs and mementos had stacked up over the years. As Robert Fritch, DO, surveyed the group, multiple hands were still up when he asked how many had more than five graduations at this point in in their lives.

This group of graduates was different. They were older than you would expect, established in their careers and even in leadership roles. But for some, the two-year Medical Leadership Academy had reinvigorated their commitment to medicine, to The University of New Mexico's Health Sciences mission and to each other.

Fritch is the academy's medical director. "I have had academy members write and say, 'I really see the world differently now, and I am a much more effective leader and I am not nearly as confrontational and I am better at getting the outcomes.'"

Born out of a need for high-level, small-group leadership training, the academy has graduated 105 faculty members over the past six years, with the most recent graduation coming just this week.

The nomination-based application process is only getting more popular and competitive each year. The most recent round of nominations produced three times as many applicants as spots available Fritch said.

"It's been a fantastic opportunity," said graduate Justin Baca, an emergency medicine physician. "I didn't know what I was getting into, but what I quickly found out - what I was really amazed by - was the breadth of the program, as far as bringing in leaders from all over the Health Sciences Center. So we got to connect with people who are really passionate about what they do in departments that I would have never interfaced with and we learned quickly that we have a lot in common."

The graduating class of 34 represented a wide range of fields, such as Family & Community Medicine, the Office of the Medical Investigator, UNM Carrie Tingley Hospital and the College of Pharmacy. Using their unique skillsets, the participants broke up into quality project groups to find creative solutions for real problems in UNM Hospitals clinical settings.

"This year several of the seminars addressed these significant issues, like sepsis in pediatric patients and how we treat them in the emergency room, first start patients in the clinic, how our organization deals with advanced directives and end of life," Fritch said.

Baca said the solutions and ideas identified in the quality projects will have a direct impact on improving patient care and outcomes.

"We all recognize that there are very challenging problems that we encounter every day and over time, if you see something not improving, it's easy to say it can't be fixed," Baca said. "But I see that even throughout our quality improvement projects we picked challenging projects and I think we made progress where it was thought to be not possible."

The academy not only focuses on problem solving, it aims to teach each leader how to effect change, whether they carry a title or not.

Michael E. Richards, MD, MPA, UNM'S Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs, speaking as the graduation keynote, challenged each graduate to "find an opportunity to say yes when others have said no."

David Pitcher, MD, UNM Hospital's executive physician, echoed the sentiment. He told the graduates to "not be afraid to fail spectacularly."

For graduates like Baca, the inspiration has already been translated into action, "The way I approach different interactions now, and the way I approach things in my lab or in my department, I think I have been able to improve based on what I learned here."

Fritch and other senior Health Sciences Center leaders are planning to expand the academy in future years.

"The place that I see it growing and spreading is to our undergraduates and into our residents," Fritch says. "Our residents deserve high-quality leadership training - our fellows deserve that. This is not taught in a medical school. Our undergraduate medical students are asking for leadership, so I am working on that."

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