Dean Termuhlen's Take Header


The medical school is gearing up to kick off a comprehensive planning process, the Empowering Our Future planning initiative, that will shape the organization for its next decade. Our dean, Dr. Paula Termuhlen, shares her definition of leadership and the kinds of leaders WMed needs as it evolves in its next 10 years and beyond.

Dean Termuhlen's Take Photo

How do you define leadership?

I define leadership by the quote on my whiteboard: “Do not tell people what to do. Inspire by giving them things to think about.” A leader is someone who guides people along the path of an organization’s success. A contemporary model of leadership is no longer top down -- you must ensure people are with you on the journey. Organizations flourish when you harness the energy, talent, and passion of its people and use it for the betterment of the institution.

What’s your leadership style and what leadership skills do you find most useful?

My leadership style is servant leadership. I find satisfaction in discovering the outstanding attributes of the people I work with and seeing how they can connect to a larger vision. For servant leaders, it’s about the people they serve and the organization they’ve been asked to lead. The leadership skills I find most useful are listening and problem solving.

How have your leadership skills been tested since arriving at WMed?

We all recognize the significant pain the WMed family has felt with the loss of our faculty member, Dr. Rebekah Sharp, particularly because that loss was due to suicide. This experience called on different aspects of leadership skills for me. You become responsible for being the comforter in chief – responding to people where they are at and ensuring they have the support they need both to do their job and to support each other. You must compartmentalize your emotions and feelings so you can respond to the logistical needs and be the responsive leader for those who are in much greater need than you might be in the moment. When you’re tested like that, it’s extremely important to take care of yourself because if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. 

It’s been heartwarming for me to have different members of our WMed community reach out and check in to make sure I’m OK so I can help others. Thank you to those who did that.

One other way my leadership skills were tested almost immediately was receiving the $300 million Empowering Futures Gift. Managing the excitement and the expectations around that gift, in addition to the responsibility of the financial stewardship that will be required, were not on the horizon when I accepted the job. I quickly had to think about what that means.

What is your role in leadership as the senior leader of the organization?

There’s a fun and exciting part of this job: uncovering the skills and talents people have and then connecting them in ways that shine a light on the work that goes on. That’s the most fun of the job and the most fun any dean can have. I call this role the bragger in chief. 

Are you planning any changes in the leadership structure at WMed?

As a school in evolution, we absolutely will have leadership changes. I’ve convened a leadership work group that will look at our organizational structure, understand what is going well, what needs to be modified, and where we have gaps. This work group will be working in parallel to the Empowering Our Future planning initiative, so that by the time we complete the visioning process, we’ll have the structure we need going forward. WMed is ready to have us invest in its people and identify leaders internally who are emerging. We need to be able to create opportunities for them to participate in the leadership of the school. I hope that this process will help us identify opportunities to capitalize on the skills of the people we already have. 

This leadership work group has six members – Dr. Michael Busha, associate dean for Educational Affairs; Dr. David Overton, associate dean for Graduate Medical Education; Dr. Greg Vanden Heuvel, associate dean for Research; Dr. Keith Kenter, associate dean for Clinical Affairs; Lori Straube, associate dean for Administration and Finance, and Dr. Cheryl Dickson, associate dean for Health Equity and Community Affairs. 

Looking forward to the next decade for WMed, what leadership skills are needed most?

We still need some of the pioneering spirit that was captured in our first 10 years. We need a growth mindset – not just physically growing our organization but also around imagining the possibilities as we position WMed to be fully integrated into our community. Medical schools today are called upon to be more than places where young physicians are created. They’re asked to be full members of their community and to take a leadership role around health. We need people who can identify those opportunities, who want to move forward the science around health equity, and who can tell the story of WMed in a way that the region recognizes the value of having a medical school in our community. 

A Hat Tip from Dr. T

In the wake of the tragic loss of Dr. Sharp, many people have come together in a way that I’m so incredibly grateful for on behalf of WMed. Thank you to Dr. Karen Horneffer-Ginter, associate dean for Culture and Wellness, and Dr. Tyler Gibb, co-chair of the Department of Medical Ethics, Humanities, and Law, for spearheading our response and quickly pulling together mental health resources our community can call upon. We are so fortunate to have these skilled individuals help us get through this and stay with us on the journey to healing. Thank you to our faculty members and community partners who offered mental health services, as well as those who have worked in large physical ways and quiet behind-the-scenes ways so that we can continue to teach our students and provide care for our patients. For everyone who has worked on logistics, provided clinical support, sent messages to check on colleagues who may be having a hard time and cleared schedules so our colleagues can take some time to grieve – thank you. Your effort has not gone unnoticed.

Dean Termuhlen’s Take On ... is a monthly message from our dean to discuss topics of importance to WMed, medical school stakeholders, and the communities that make up Southwest Michigan. Is there a topic you would like to hear Dean Termuhlen’s take on? Let us know by sending a message to office.dean@med.wmich.edu.