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Interview with Deb Simpson, PhD, 2022 AIAMC Ethel Weinberg, MD Award Recipient

Dr. Deb Simpson, PhD, is one of my FAVORITE colleagues and friends. She received the AIAMC 2022 Ethel Weinberg, MD Award during the AIAMC Annual Meeting in New Orleans on March 25, 2022. The award is given to an individual member who best exemplifies the energy and commitment of Dr. Weinberg, the AIAMC founder. When I learned that Deb would be the Weinberg Award recipient, I jumped on the opportunity to interview her for this blog. Deb is a self-less human who has significantly contributed to the field of academic medicine. When I think of individuals who have improved patient care through medical education, I think of Deb. I’m excited to share highlights of our conversation and professional friendship with you, part of which you can watch here [Interview with Dr. Deb Simpson].

How did you get connected with the AIAMC? What are the different roles you've served in the AIAMC?

Dr. Deb Simpson: I connected pretty soon after I joined Aurora Health Care, now Advocate Aurora Health, [be]cause Jeff Stearns and our academic affairs unit [were] pretty active. We were involved in the national initiative. First of all, [the AIAMC is] just fun people working and sharing important projects, so it resonated. 

More specifically, the AIAMC was really a chance to look at clinical outcomes connected to education.  I'm an educational psychologist by training. I think … the AIAMC was … wanting to make that tighter coupling and alignment of patient care outcomes and what happens in the clinical environment with what we do in our training programs. 

What roles have you be involved with at the AIAMC?

I'd had leadership roles in other organizations, including the AAMC, so I think I brought a lens from [the] traditional academic medical school side. I think that was what I could contribute along with some of those why questions. Serving on the board was fun to learn from an array of colleagues. As a board member, I co-chaired the program committee to figure out the ROI of various AIAMC activities. [We] made it something we could all learn from. As a relatively small professional group with a limited budget … it was essential that we respond to what our members want and what they value. As one of my PhD advisors said, “No one has ever had a shortage of ideas; they've had a shortage of being able to carry those ideas to fruition.”

On Big Data Analytics and Learning from Challenges 

Dr. Deb Simpson: Throughout my career I I have actively worked with faculty to help them develop their skills as teachers and educators and eventually helping them in the medical school setting to get promoted. To do that they needed to step back and create a record of their success. One of the things … that always was when people had to put all of their data together in an educator’s portfolio. It's like, “Whoa, I've done a lot. I have made significant contributions.” They had all glanced at each data set when it arrived, but when you put [data] together, you start to see a patterns.  Where are my  strengths, my opportunities for growth or where they ought to say, “That's not my best area. I would rather teach in this way.” I think it's the same phenomena [as] when you just have dots, you can't see the pattern. When you put all the dots in the same place, you can begin to see patterns.

The primary purpose for me has always been the growth and development of clinician educators… the faculty works so hard as clinicians.  ( We saw that  during COVID. And then they continued to do education programs, adapting as needed with innovations. My task was to keep those clinician educators  engaged, growing,  and feeling valued and rewarded during an unprecedented time One of the things I learned [from challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic] is that we have to figure out better ways to connect as humans. We can put everything online and do YouTube and virtual and Zoom and Teams and name every software that's out there. It's not the same. To help people grow … they need to trust. 

Where does the opportunity exist for independent academic medical centers in data analytics? 

Dr. Deb Simpson: I think our agility relative to those tied to universities and medical schools is the opportunity. I think it's a chance really for the AIAMC as a member organization to … [continue to pull] our agility and education data together for learning. Doing the whole thing is [going to] take big analytics…, but why not start there. We're already there with our NI projects. I think the organization is also going to have to think through how to pivot as, now, more and more health care systems have medical schools and are seeking increased alignment between patient care and education. As Danial Burrus would say, “Don't solve today's problems. Find out what the future wants are and solve those. Otherwise, we spend all of our days solving what's right in front of our face.” 

What gets you up in the morning and excites you about your work? Best advice you’ve been given?

Dr. Deb Simpson: I found it doesn't matter where I am or what organization I’m involved in, people involved in medical education are just genuinely good people; their intent and commitment is so strong. 

I'm one of those that have been so lucky to have an amazing number of mentors and people who are still providing guidance. The best advice was “the hand you shake today may be your boss, your peer, your direct report or your friend tomorrow because you never know, so be cautious about what you say.” The other was “if you share an idea or a scholarly work and you get input from others, say ‘I promise to listen and read carefully everything that you've advised me, but I don't promise to take it.’ ”

The thing I always say to people is to do what you really care about and do work where you want to make a difference; life's too short and it's too hard if you're not doing things you think are really important. Then we'll figure out how to align them, make them work, count for other things, but it's [got to] be in your heart.

March Madness Predictions

Dr. Deb Simpson: I have Arizona going all the way, but I love the cinderfella's. Yes, you know, Saint Peters. Go for it guys. So when they take down the [Kentucky] coach that makes … $8 million a year. The [Saint Peters] coach who makes couple hundred thousand – it gives us all hope. How can you not cheer for that? The women's bracket - it's kind of between Stanford and, South Carolina, and that's who I have in the finals. 

March 28, 2022, by Hania Janek, PhD: a Director of the AIAMC Board and Vice President of Education for Baylor Scott & White Health