“Always trying to innovate”: a mini Q&A with Manish Suneja, MD

Manish Suneja, MD, is the Vice Chair for Education and Program Director (PD) of the Internal Medicine Residency Program. He sat down with us recently to talk briefly about where the program has been and where it is headed next.

You became Program Director in 2014, eight years ago. Who was instrumental in helping you through that transition?

There are a lot of people I can thank. The good thing was when I took over the program, it was already in an upward trajectory thanks to [previous PD] Scott Vogelgesang’s leadership. So that made my job really very simple. This is a program which I can tell you does not rely on its laurels. It’s always trying to innovate and there’s a lot of people who make this possible. I think somebody who is always at the forefront is Jane Rowat, the educational development director. She always has amazing ideas, always looking to innovate. And of course our administrative staff, Cindy Batzkiel, Abbey Gilpin, Denise Floerchinger. These are the people who actually make the backbone of this program.

And of course, I already had an amazing support team of associate program directors. I already had Dr. Katie Harris, then we had Dr. Justin Smock and Dr. Brian Gehlbach join in, and now Dr. Krista Johnson. So a really amazing team. One member who was an associate program director when I took over, but is not part of the team now is Dr. Gwen Beck. And she had an amazing spirit of innovation as well. Though she’s not one of my APDs right now, I can tell you, still in spirit, she’s still part of the program. Of course, the Chief Residents over the last seven years are always instrumental in shaping and executing the vision of this program.


What do you see as the primary responsibility as the program director? Has that changed over the years, or is it still the same?

The main responsibility has always been the same. The fundamental goal is to train the next generation of physicians, next generation of leaders, next generation of physicians who are gonna actually change the world. Train them, so that they can actually transform the healthcare delivery system. We are training them in all the fields, including in understanding social determinants of health, because one of our promises is to meet the societal needs. And I think the training here is a very forward-thinking. We have created multiple pathways to individualize the training as well. We have the primary care pathway, a hospitalist pathway, and over the last six or seven years, I wanted to make sure that teaching remained at the forefront of what we do too.

I don’t want to train just practitioners of medicine from this program, I want to train teachers of medicine. So we now have a teaching resident rotation. We’ve developed a distinction in medical education pathway. And of course, if people are interested in further honing their skills, you can also do a masters in medical education as well.

One of my major goals has been to look at how do we actually teach our learners about health disparities. So we are in the process of developing a health equity pathway, which will not just focus on social determinants of health, but we are also going to provide experiences to our residents related to global health and global inequities and global disparities as well. Of course that does not mean that we totally forget about our community. So we will be fostering more community involvement and creating a longitudinal pathway so that this becomes part of who they are as physicians.


The most recent match was almost two months ago. Do you think next year’s recruitment will return to in-person interviews?

It’s very hard to say right now, whether it’s going to be virtual interviews or in-person interviews, but the way things are going, there’s a very high likelihood that the interviews will be either virtual or there might be a hybrid option where after the match list is put in, there would be an opportunity for some of the applicants to come and visit Iowa City and the hospital. If that hybrid approach is chosen, it should not favor the people who actually come and visit the place. So we will put in practices where anyone from the leadership will not be involved in the real-time, in-person visit, so that there’s no bias in our selection path.


What can you tell us about this incoming class of interns joining us next month?

We are very excited about our incoming class. They’re coming from so many different programs all over the country. We had a very, very rich array of applications this cycle. One thing I can tell you, which I’m very excited about is, that 50% of our categorical class is women, and that is something which we are very proud of. We are also proud of the accomplishments of this class. They have multiple publications, lots of scholarship, lots of volunteer activities. We are very pleased with the match and very excited about the new energy, which this class is gonna bring in to the program.


What are the big challenges on the horizon for the program and how are we positioning to meet them?

As I was saying earlier, our health care delivery system has constantly been changing over the last few decades, and with the COVID pandemic, there were further changes. With the changing health care delivery system, our health care education pathway needs to transform as well.

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