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Pulse - Spring 2023 Faculty Launch: Helping Mid-career Faculty Advance as Leaders

By Nancy West

Very few medical schools offer a faculty leadership development program specifically designed to help mid-career faculty advance in their careers. Drexel University College of Medicine is one of those few. Now in its second year of operation, Drexel’s Faculty Launch Program is an innovative training program that provides mid-career faculty with opportunities in leadership training, career planning and mentorship, while establishing a robust interdisciplinary faculty network. Each participant defines specific career goals and develops action plans for advancement.

Participants in the 2023 Faculty Launch Program
Participants in the 2023 Faculty Launch Program: (back row) Vanessa Pirrone, PhD, Eduardo Espiridion, MD, Ogechukwu Menkiti, MD, Renee Kottenham, MD, Amy Althoff, MD, Todd Strochlic, PhD, VMD, Janet Fitzpatrick, MD, and Seema Baranwal, MD; (front row) Nandini Madan, MD, Zhabiz Kazeminezhad, MD, Jessica Barson, PhD, Margaret Gilfillan, MD, Enitan Adegite, MD, and Adrienne Willard, MD (not pictured: Maxwell Cooper, MD)

The Faculty Launch Program focuses on developing these core competencies of leadership:

  • Leadership skills
  • Organizational strategy and alignment
  • Building effective teams
  • Self-assessment
  • Finance and budget
  • Change management
  • Project planning and implementation
  • Mentoring and faculty development
  • Negotiation and conflict management
  • Communication

A key feature of the Faculty Launch Program is the Faculty Leadership Impact Project (FLIP) that each participant designs, plans and implements. The FLIP expands the fellow’s leadership skills and institutional visibility through a departmental/institutional initiative that aligns with the fellow’s experience and expertise and meets a goal or need at the College of Medicine. The objective of the FLIP is to help participants integrate new leadership skills from the didactic curriculum to their projects and expand their experience as leaders to implement key stages of the proposed projects.

Participants work individually and collaborate with their department chair and other key stakeholders on the FLIP during the year-long program.

During four sessions, participants also work in Dragon Learning Circles, which are groups of four or five peers from various missions and tracks, along with a senior faculty facilitator.

In addition, participants benefit from executive coaches who help them grow and develop their leadership skills with individual coaching sessions throughout the year. Developed by Nancy D. Spector, MD, senior vice dean for faculty, and Michele A. Kutzler, PhD, associate dean for faculty, the Faculty Launch Program has 15 faculty members participating this year and plans to double that number next year.

Three current Faculty Launch fellows recently shared their positive experiences so far.

Jessica R. Barson, PhD

Jessica Barson, PhD
Associate Professor, Neurobiology and Anatomy; Course Director, Graduate Neuroscience I; Chair, PhD Admissions Committee; Co-director, Center for Systems and Behavioral Neuroscience, Drexel University College of Medicine

I’m up for tenure this year and, in the next three to five years, my goals are to be promoted to professor and to gain greater standing in the neuroscience community. To accomplish this, I aim to obtain more research funding, take on new student mentees, publish more and higher-impact papers, engage in more speaking opportunities at universities and conferences, establish myself as an editor for scientific journals and take on more leadership positions at Drexel. This will allow me to become a well-rounded senior researcher with influence on the direction of the University and the scientific field. Participation in the Faculty Launch Program will allow me to proceed thoughtfully into these next responsibilities, and specifically, to step into new leadership roles at Drexel.

My interactions with my Dragon Learning Circle have helped me understand and appreciate the challenges faced by my mid-career peers in other departments. Having their perspective is very important because it’s easy to get lost in your own departmental bubble. They have given me some really good advice about how to implement my FLIP that I would not have come up with on my own. The program has also added to my own mentoring circle, so I now have peers who can be resources for me and I for them.

As I move up the tenure track, I like being able to make important decisions about where the University goes, which ultimately impacts my day-to-day function. Faculty Launch is really helping me feel that I can be an effector of change by giving me leadership skills, experience and increased visibility in the University. I’m grateful to my sponsor, Itzhak Fischer, PhD, professor and chair, Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy, for his support.

FLIP: Establish a mentoring circle for woman-identifying and nonbinary graduate students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies (GSBSPS) at Drexel

My mission is to fill an unmet need in the GSBSPS by championing the interests of this cohort in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), striving to ensure that they can achieve their full potential. This mentoring circle will have a strong focus on graduate student- and Drexel-specific issues, including how to navigate advisor-advisee dynamics, scientific meetings and in-lab (student-to-student) dynamics. Using a mentoring circle format will allow for greater involvement of the GSBSPS community and could help with student retention and success in this cohort.

Ogechukwu Menkiti, MD

Ogechukwu Menkiti, MD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Drexel University College of Medicine; Medical Director, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children

The Faculty Launch Program is a tremendous asset for mid-career faculty members. When I heard about the program, I had no doubt it would provide the necessary jolt to my career and much-needed assistance with networking, effectively sharing my achievements and optimizing visibility while opening the door for future collaborations.

Participating with like-minded peers in our Dragon Learning Circle has been a wonderful experience. Key components of the program centered on building an effective team, identifying and leveraging team members’ strengths, undergoing a 360-degree evaluation, and finally, partaking in a simulated high-stakes board presentation. I found the self-evaluation as well as the anonymous evaluation and feedback from team members (peers and/or supervisors) to be potent tools for improvement and successful change. Identifying my strengths and areas of improvement are key ingredients for success, and the added benefits of review with an executive coach will guarantee success.

It was beneficial to review as a group the key aspects of an ideal professional development plan with realistic goals for the next three to five years. My primary focus remains my academic promotion to professor of pediatrics, which requires increased visibility and impact in research, clinical excellence and networking. This will necessitate making appropriate proposals and presentations to key stakeholders at Drexel and St Chris. I have avoided these high-level interactions in the past, so it is great that this program prepared and exposed us to a simulated board presentation. This was an irreplaceable experience on which I will forever lean.

Dr. Kutzler and the Office of Faculty have been outstanding, and I highly recommend this program to all mid-level faculty. I remain grateful to Renee Turchi, MD, MPH, chair of pediatrics and pediatrician in chief at St. Chris, for her support in making this experience possible.

FLIP: Establish an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) Lab Space at St. Chris

Initiation of pediatric ECMO results in significant clinical events assumed to be related to inevitable changes in the inflammatory milieu of these patients. Our team has developed a pilot study to describe the inflammatory changes that occur following initiation of ECMO in critically ill patients. Successful description of the inflammatory process will facilitate identification of therapies to mitigate adverse effects. Our pilot study has yielded encouraging results. However, our research activities are hampered by the lack of resources and infrastructure for translational research. A dedicated research space and startup funding will facilitate research activities and productivity. It will also provide opportunities for medical students, residents and fellows to get involved in research activities or infrastructure for translational research.

Renee Kottenhahn, MD

Renee Kottenhahn, MD
Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics; Course Director, Foundations of Patient Care 1 and Clerkship Fundamentals, West Reading Campus, Drexel University College of Medicine; Attending Physician, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children

I joined St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and Drexel University College of Medicine six years ago. Over this time, I’ve taken on more responsibility within the medical school, and I want to understand how I can enhance my capacity to contribute to the curriculum and be a more effective leader. I also want to have a broader understanding of the College’s institutional priorities, leadership infrastructure, and finance for both clinical practice and academic medicine. I thought Faculty Launch could help me with all of this, and that is proving to be true.

My experiences and successes in the rollout of the Foundations of Patient Care 1 course at the West Reading Campus have been a foundational part of my professional development. A formal understanding of implementation and management strategies provided by Faculty Launch is a logical next step to build upon this experience.

As I pursue my professional goals, the networking and relationships I’ve formed in Faculty Launch will be invaluable. Members of my Dragon Learning Circle have expertise in student affairs, student admissions, research, advising and education, and are really generous in sharing their advice. We have a huge diversity in our backgrounds, medical specialties and our functions within the College, and this diversity is incredibly helpful to me in problem-solving my day-to-day questions involving students. It’s also very valuable to understand the challenges that my peers face and how I can work with them effectively across campuses, particularly in my new role as West Reading Campus Clerkship Fundamentals course director.

Coming up next are interviews with academic chairs and senior leadership. I think this will be an extraordinary opportunity to learn from national experts who are rooted in the institution. I am grateful to Drs. Spector and Kutzler and the Office of Faculty for their work on this program and to my sponsors, Dr. Turchi and Karen Restifo, MD, JD, regional vice dean, West Reading Campus, for their support. I encourage any mid-career faculty to consider participating!

FLIP: Develop a user-friendly planning model to unify DUCOM campuses in the execution of the Clerkship Fundamentals curriculum

I plan to use my new role as course director to expand the dialogue between campuses and to capture workflows that target areas of critical alignment. This creates an opportunity to learn and implement organizational strategy and promote efficiency and standardization of curriculum execution between campuses, allowing faculty to focus on teaching rather than logistics. With this tool, routine work can be more efficient, education will be uniform and faculty will feel more satisfied in their collaborative efforts.

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