Reflections from the eye of the storm

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with a dozen other U.S. medical school deans who form the administrative board of the Council of Deans for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with a dozen other U.S. medical school deans who form the administrative board of the Council of Deans for the Association of American Medical Colleges. At the meeting, we were asked to discuss in small groups, “As deans, what keeps you up at night?” The conversation at my table turned to the challenges of leading through crisis. 

We discussed the multiple layers of events that have created a sense of ongoing burden in our environments, leading to stress and trauma. 

  • The challenges brought by the ongoing pandemic with its effects on clinicians, hospitals, our residents, fellows, and students, not to mention medical school faculty and staff, and indeed all of us as humans. 

  • The loss of loved ones. 

  • The personal experience of illness and fear of illness—this in the background of all we do. 

  • The ongoing social justice issues highlighted by the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the aftermath. 

  • Other significant public health issues, such as gun violence, with its impact seen in every hospital represented around the table, and the deep concerns about women’s health in the wake of the Dobbs decision. 

  • An ongoing war in Ukraine. 

  • Economic concerns. 

  • Staffing shortages in all healthcare settings.  

We all mentioned unique challenges at our own institutions, including leadership changes and recruiting during this time of instability. The list goes on and on. These are difficult times! 

We all agreed that deans worry most about the welfare of their institutions and their people during these truly tough times. I saw a quote recently by Norman Vincent Peale: “The cyclone derives its power from a calm center. So does a person.” But how does one find comfort, and calm, amid instability? 

I believe our centering calm as an institution, and as people who devote our professional lives to medical education, is our mission, as recently articulated in the process of our current strategic plan: “We transform lives through our commitment to outstanding education, innovative research, community partnerships, and exemplary clinical care. We amplify diversity and belonging as we advance health in Ohio’s communities and beyond.” 

Our collective work—creating the next generation of physicians to serve Ohio --is so meaningful that it provides a centering calm. The other source of comfort is our team members. Their dedication to our mission is sustaining as we work alongside them to fulfill our shared vision of what BSOM is and can be in the future.  

I read a poem the other day that appeared in the New York Times on May 27, 2022, by the poet Amanda Gorman—you may remember her from the 2020 Presidential inauguration. Titled, “Hymn for the Hurting,” she reflects on recent events. From the second stanza: 

Everything hurts. 

It’s a hard time to be alive, 

And even harder to stay that way. 

We’re burdened to live out these days, 

While at the same time, blessed to outlive them. 

Although we live in “interesting times,” we, and BSOM, will outlive them. Thank you for your dedication to our students, our patients, and our important mission. 

Last edited on 07/22/2022.