Priming the pipeline

I have mentioned before that one of my top priorities is to attract and grow diverse talent for discovery in outstanding clinical care, for shared discovery in research, and for education. As part of my role, I get to interact with Chairs of Internal Medicine at other institutions and hear their perspectives and experiences. It should surprise no one to hear that one regular topic of conversation is about how to develop and nurture the faculty. It is somewhat comforting to learn that each institution, regardless of resources or location, is chewing on this question and the best way to answer it. Every department of medicine around the country is grappling with similar issues, such as the retirement of senior physicians from the Baby Boomer generation and the need to accommodate flexible schedules. We all might think the grass is greener somewhere else, and nobody’s grass is greenest. But I do believe at Iowa, for all our chewing, we have one of our best answers already well in hand when it comes to faculty: build our own pipeline of future leaders.

Our trainees and junior faculty who are already here comprise a pool of individuals who have already chosen Iowa at least once, whether it was for residency or medical school or what they thought might be a quick subspecialty fellowship. It is not uncommon to hear from faculty members that thought they would only be here a couple years and then, suddenly, decades have passed, and a career and a life was built. I am one of those. Many will say it is because of one or two people who took the time to nurture an interest, some spark or potential they saw.

Consider Dr. Raul Villacreses, a graduate of our residency program and a former Chief Resident. When Dr. Villacreses joined our Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship, his career to that point had mostly focused on education and clinical care. But, once he started to spend time in research, he felt what he called a “compelling need” to keep going. Just this week we learned this his NIH K12 career development grant has been funded as he builds on his work with COVID-19’s impact on small airway diseases. Of course, he deserves most of the credit because of his creativity and diligence, but some is shared by the faculty mentors in his division, who have a long track record of helping junior faculty discover a passion for research and growing physician-scientists.

Two other former Chief Residents, Drs. Matt Soltys and Nicole Fleege, have also joined us as faculty and are making positive impacts in medical education and in breast cancer treatment and research, respectively. Then, there are other young physicians and trainees that fit the concept of “building our own pipeline of future leaders”: Dr. Jen Streeter, a new faculty member in our Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, completed medical school, residency, and fellowship here in the MSTP and PSTP pathway and is starting to build a research program. And our PSTP matched with Dr. Alex Greiner, a graduate of our nationally competitive MSTP program, to train with us and hopefully follow in Jen’s footsteps.

Similarly, those with a primary interest in clinical care find support for career goals at Iowa. Dr. John Wilde, now faculty and a graduate of our Hospice and Palliative Care Medicine fellowship, will continue his work in how clinicians can increase their effectiveness with patients through touch with his new pilot grant. It should be noted that when we talk about supportive environments, it does not just come through encouragement from senior faculty. Dr. Wilde will be able to process and better understand his survey data because of the research assistance he will receive from the UI’s Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (ICTS). Clinicians with a spark of an idea for improving the patient care experience or developing a clinical trial are fortunate to find a team ready to help build that into a project.

Sparks are expected to fly in our summer undergraduate research programs that are starting next week. They offer undergraduates a first, hands-on experience in scientific discovery. Dr. Martha Carvour is nurturing similar sparks in her research program addressing health disparities. Two years ago, a medical student named Carolina Gonzalez Bravo earned a summer research fellowship in her lab. Now, Gonzalez Bravo will run her own project working with community members in western Iowa as well as medical students under a grant from the Infectious Diseases Society of America. From undergraduate to junior faculty, we are priming the pipeline.

About Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD

Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD; Interim Chair and DEO, Department of Internal Medicine; Kate Daum Endowed Professor; Professor of Medicine – Cardiovascular Medicine; Professor of Radiation Oncology

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