In this month’s installment of Dean Termuhlen’s Take On …, our dean Dr. Paula Termuhlen discusses how working as a team makes WMed a great place to learn and work, how teamwork is essential to medical education, and how those in the WMed community can work together to make the medical school even better.
What does teamwork mean to you?
You bring a group of people together with individual talents and experiences and together they set priorities and they execute the work that needs to be done. In particular, they bring all of those perspectives to decision making. This is the most contemporary model of leadership in organizations today. If you’re a sports enthusiast like I am, you see this play out in the sports world all the time. As a Green Bay Packers fan, I’m very excited about the possibility of my team making it into the Super Bowl this year. What you’ll notice about a football team like that is you have a lot of different positions, a lot of different talent, and the teams that are the most successful are those that have their players working on the highest level that they can with their skillset but they’re doing it in a way that enhances and magnifies the impact of their teammates. You can have the best quarterback in the world, but if somebody isn’t able to catch the ball you aren’t going to make any touchdowns.
How have you seen teamwork have a positive impact at WMed since your arrival?
The example that is front of mind is our Rapid Response Team and how we’re managing the pandemic. At this moment, we have the highest-ever number COVID-19 positive cases within the WMed community since the pandemic began. Yet, the work is going on. We’ve gotten to a place in how the team functions and how our larger WMed community functions where the people, without being told, take action to protect themselves and others. They don’t have to have a mandate around behavior because they’re already hardwired to protect each other and the greater good. That’s allowed us to continue to do our education in a hybrid fashion. We’ve had to scale back some in-person activities and we’re taking some extra precautions.
What are some challenges or opportunities in 2022 that you see for WMed that will require teamwork?
With our visioning process, the challenge we have is to establish ourselves and understand better why we are here and what the impact is that we want to make. We have a steering committee that is like a team that helps us to discern what our core values are, what work we need to do. We are having broad input and conversations to set the priorities, to make the decisions and then to execute the work so that we can be the best stewards possible of our personnel and financial resources.
Even with our Empowering Futures gift, we don’t have huge amounts of money coming in the door so we want to be good fiscal stewards. Another thing to consider is thinking about the strain of the pandemic, and the third is something that’s been termed nationally as “The Great Resignation.” We’re seeing challenges not only in hiring but also retention. People are making different decisions for a variety of reasons. It’s extraordinarily important that we define who we are and why we exist because that’s what helps us keep people satisfied with the work they are doing.
How important has teamwork been in helping you get to where you are in your career?
I get my greatest professional satisfaction out of working with others around a purpose. As a surgical oncologist, I have from the very early days of my training been hard-wired into working with multidisciplinary teams with the patient at the center in their care. In addition, our nurses, social workers, genetic counselors and others are incredibly important to help patients navigate their disease. In the research domain, some of my most highly recognized publications were part of a team effort with researchers from multiple institutions. All the different facets of my career have touched on teams.
Speaking to my current role of leading the big team of WMed, you must have the opportunity to build incremental leadership skills along the way. This is not something we learn in medical school. There’s a lot of on-the-job training. Your first opportunity to lead should not be at the helm of the medical school. I’ve had the opportunity to build my leadership toolkit where now I have the opportunity to lead the WMed team.
What attributes do you find important for a successful team to have?
You need a broad range of viewpoints and a broad range of skills. It’s diversity with a capital D that touches on lived experience, on how people view the world, and on concrete skills that people bring to the table. I frequently say if I’m the smartest person in the room we might be in trouble. I rely upon others to bring their content expertise and I expect to be challenged at times. That doesn’t mean I won’t make a decision or have an opinion, but I do expect to be challenged constructively and appropriately.
The most successful organizations are those that take the mindset of diversity very seriously. As we hire and think about leadership teams, we naturally gravitate toward those who think like we do so implicit bias can occur. You must consciously go after those that aren’t like you to really enhance and grow a team to get the work done at the highest level. I’ve seen that in my career time and time again. The more voices we bring to the table and the more constructive dialogue we have, the better off everybody is.
Why is teamwork important to medical education and the delivery of healthcare services?
We’ve recognized that physicians play a critical role in providing care, but we’re not the only thing. We’re feeling the shortage of nurses in the pain of the pandemic so acutely. For anyone who’s ever been a patient, it’s nice when your doctor sees you once or twice a day in the hospital. You rely on that person for guiding your direction of care, but when you’re sick at the hospital the person who’s at the bedside and does the most for you are your nurses, certified nursing assistants, and medical assistants. We have the best health outcomes when patients feel heard and are the most comfortable with the people taking care of them.
In medical education, in order to create that workforce of physicians that reflect the populations we serve, we need a wide variety of talents to be placed in front of medical students. We always need scientists who can help us with foundational science. We need clinicians who can speak to the disease processes that we understand based on the science. When new treatments arrive, we understand the science behind it and we can bring those from the bench to the bedside as quickly as possible to help provide care for patients.
The other part of a curriculum that we take very seriously at WMed is understanding our students and our residents will practice in a system of care. What does a patient have in their background in addition to the biologic components? What are some of those social determinants of health that they are bringing with them when they see you in the office or in the hospital that are going to impact how effective the care is or how you might need to modify the care to ensure that they have the best health outcome possible? We really are being asked to ramp up the education around those kinds of components and we do such a great job of that at WMed.
What’s your advice to others about how to be a good team player in helping the institution grow?
The first is listening – having the opportunity to hear and truly and actively and genuinely listen to what others have to say and respectfully acknowledge their viewpoint. You can never do enough of that. I’m naturally an extrovert so sometimes I will literally bite my tongue to make sure I’m just listening to what someone’s trying to share with me about their perspective. It’s in that sharing of perspective where we’re able to get a much more global sense of what our priorities should be, how we should be making our decisions, and how we should deploy our resources.
The second is empowering people. Our Senior Leadership Team and our Strategic Planning Leadership Team are two wonderful avenues where we’re able to bring large groups together who have both responsibilities and authority around decision making and deploying resources and being able to create those venues to allow people’s voices to be heard. We’ve also empowered a Staff Advisory Council and our Faculty Academic Council to help us with some of the work that needs to be done and needs to be thought about.
The third is something we need more of right now, especially during the pandemic, and that’s kindness. As an example, I was in a meeting recently and I knew at least two of the people meeting virtually had had COVID in the last 10 days. While I wanted to push forward a couple of topics being discussed, I recognized that people were probably not at their best, so right then wasn’t the best time to have that conversation. What I would ask of people is that they be mindful and kind to the stress that everyone is under right now and to pause and think about whether it is something that needs to be dealt with now.
Lastly, I would ask everyone to always be grateful for others who can help you get your work done in the best way possible. Sometimes that means someone catches something that you didn’t. We’re in this together and we can help others when possible.
A Hat Tip from Dr. T
I’d like to recognize Robin Scott, manager of Occupational Health and Infection Control, and our occupational health team for their management of our COVID/Influenza vaccine mandates and exemptions. While there were many people involved in helping our occupational health team, their leadership has helped WMed support best practices and keep each other safe. Together we can weather the storm of COVID!
Dean Termuhlen’s Take On ... is a monthly message from our dean to discuss topics of importance to WMed, medical school stakeholders, and the communities that make up Southwest Michigan. Is there a topic you would like to hear Dean Termuhlen’s take on? Let us know by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.