The Daily Dose • Friday, April 21, 2023

Navigating the Challenges of Academic Medicine: How Do We Enhance Our Efforts and Capitalize on Our Drive?

Wael Saasouh, MD

Success means different things to different people, but it always requires preparation, hard work and perseverance. Goals are not static targets and one should not shy away from changing them when required. Taking professional risks may be rewarding and may lead to more success than you would have imagined otherwise. On your path to academic success, collaboration is often a skill and a requirement where mutual benefit can be derived. This was the focus of the Scholars’ Day session, “Keys to Success in Academic Medicine,” held Saturday, April 15 at the IARS 2023 Annual Meeting. The contemplative session tackled the important topic of how to succeed in academic medicine and shared the viewpoints of three established academic anesthesiologists.

Kimberly Rengel, MD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, moderated the session and delineated the agenda.

The first speaker Seun Johnson-Akeju, MD, Anesthetist-in-Chief and Henry Isaiah Dorr Associate Professor of Research and Teaching in Anaesthetics and Anaesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital, discussed the definition of success and how that journey might look. Dr. Akeju outlined four essential steps he considers important to define one’s success and to choose your appropriate path. These include:

  1. identifying personal career goals, whether clinical, education, research, or others and taking care not to try to “do it all”;
  2. mastering one’s own environment, taking into account the strategic, cultural, and political topography of their workplace;
  3. developing a strategic plan, where short-term goals are clearly stated, required tasks are identified, and a timeline is set and followed with accountability; and
  4. iterating the plan once a goal is achieved or abandoned.

Throughout this process, mentors and sponsors are critically important to the journey, as much as finding some protected time where one could simply “sit and think” without interruption. He concluded by emphasizing the following reminders:

  1. It’s ok not to reach a goal;
  2. Positive relationships must be nurtured;
  3. Success is not a competition,
  4. Be kind to yourself and others, and
  5. Do the right thing every time.

Nirav Shah, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan, followed and discussed career pivots and the importance of resilience. He began by describing his career trajectory, where he transitioned from surgical residency to industry to private and then to academic practice. He pointed out that there can be multiple paths to a successful and fulfilling career. Each path naturally has its own barriers and opportunities, but a lot of opportunity arises when tackling a difficult problem. As such, Dr. Shah shared that he does not regret taking several professional risks which ultimately helped him to reach his current position. He shared a quote from Steve Jobs which he relayed during a 2008 commencement address that he gave at Stanford University, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking back. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Monica Vavilala, MD, Director of Harborview’s Injury Prevention and Research Center, Professor of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine and Adjunct Professor of Health Systems and Population Health at the University of Washington, followed with a discussion on interdisciplinary and multi-institutional collaborations. She stressed that while collaboration has its benefits and challenges, it is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Dr. Vavilala asked the audience if collaboration was necessary, especially when some are more than content to work solo and be self-sufficient. She relayed that anesthesiologists often fit that model despite having the skill sets to be natural collaborators. To determine the best method for you, she encouraged examining your own endeavors, your personality type, and the kind of work that you do. This careful analysis will help to make the best decision that fits your needs. Should you decide to pursue collaboration, remember that this is a multifaceted process and different entities are involved, she emphasized. Ideally, you want to find yourself at the intersection of a well-defined process, a supportive relationship and a defined task.