Dean Termuhlen's Take Header

In this month’s installment of Dean Termuhlen’s Take On …, our dean Dr. Paula Termuhlen discusses her communication style and why good communication throughout the institution will be key in helping the medical school’s continued growth and positive impact on the communities we serve.

Dean Termuhlen's Take PhotoAs a leader, how would you describe and/or define your communication style?

The first step in communication is listening and that’s something I have had to learn to do better over the course of my leadership journey. I’m naturally an extrovert so learning to listen was really a skill I had to develop and one that I continue to develop. Actively listening allows you to fully understand where others are coming from, where they’re at, and what they’re going to be able to absorb. The second piece is always being aware of who you are communicating with and having the emotional intelligence around that is equally important. I live by the phrase written on my office whiteboard, which is “People remember how you make them feel, not what you say.” So, you have to be able to communicate and be sensitive to tone and to the emotional state of whomever you’re communicating with. We have to be more intentional about how we communicate and, in a flexible work environment, that intentionality becomes even more important. Having said that, I think it’s also important to be efficient with your communication because our attention spans are much shorter today. One of the best things about WMed is the number of tools we can utilize to communicate effectively. My monthly Dean’s Take is an opportunity for me to share deeper thoughts around bigger topics that are of importance to many – but not all – of you. So, I strive to come up with other avenues of communication depending on the group I’m speaking with while also providing them with a variety of tools – face-to-face meetings, email, Microsoft Teams, surveys, etc. – to share their thoughts and feedback.

Why is good communication important and how can it help the WMed community and the institution grow, and continue to have a positive impact on the communities we serve?

One of our most important communication tools where we need to make sure we use best practices is email. It is such a key component of everyone’s work life today. With that in mind, I have a couple of rules I personally try to live by. First, if you’re angry or upset, or tired, or especially if it’s late at night, whatever you write should sit until the next day. It can take years to develop relationships and you can destroy it with a single email. Secondly, I have what I call the “Termuhlen 3 Email Rule” that says if an issue isn’t settled after the exchange of three emails, it’s time to pick up the phone. I can tell you that I have broken every single one of these rules and have paid a price so I share them with great humility and the hope that others will send to me their ideas about how they’ve learned to manage themselves in the email space. It’s important to always recognize that words matter and we’re really being asked as an organization and as a society to be more mindful of the language that we use and how we demonstrate respect for everyone. We have to keep that front of mind because we are all ambassadors for WMed as we work closely with our community partners and the people we serve. I also know that it is inevitable that we will make mistakes and inadvertently hurt others without meaning to. I’ve made that mistake and I’ve also learned as I’ve been hurt too that we have to forgive people. But we also have to be ready to speak up and advocate for ourselves and the groups we represent if we want to get to a point where we can have true dialogue about how we wish to be treated or how we wish our work to be conducted.

What are the different communication channels you’ve instituted since May to keep in touch with the WMed community, as well as the broader community, and how do you see those evolving over time? Also, what feedback have you received about those regular communications?

Speaking specifically to my Reflections from the 3rd Floor email, I want to allow people to have some insight into the role of leadership, what I’m thinking about and how I’m thinking about the organization or even life in general because I think there’s an innate curiosity. That type of communication tool provides an opportunity for people to get to know me in different ways and I personally try to pick topics that I think really resonate with people. So far, I’ve gotten very positive feedback and it really allows me a way to engage with our WMed community. I think another tool that is a strength for us here at WMed is video and I want to utilize it more in the future for events such as my State of the Medical School address. That’s a great place where a lot of people have a stake in that information and seeing that we present that information in a way that is focused, crisp, and accessible. So, stay tuned WMed.

Since your arrival to WMed in May, what strengths have you identified within the institution around communication?

One of the main strengths we have at the medical school is the technology that we are able to provide to members of the WMed community thanks to our incredible IT team and Communications team. Those are real strengths where we can tell our stories effectively using a variety of formats. We can keep people connected and our ability to do hybrid communication is really outstanding.

Conversely, where would you say there are opportunities for growth and improvement at WMed when it comes to communication?

What I think we have to be cautious about is that we don’t become complacent with the tools we currently have and just use them all of the time. Rather, we need to be constantly understanding and learning about how people want to receive information, if they find it useful, and if they find it helpful. If not, then we should be thinking about ways to evolve because how we communicate with each other is vital in our professional and our personal lives. We have to be constantly mindful of the tools we have, understand whether they are still meaningful and important, and periodically check in with members of the WMed community to see if they have other ways in which they might like to be engaged. Additionally, it must be said that social media is an increasingly important tool for our institution and other schools. I like to use social media to be thought-provoking and to acknowledge and congratulate people. I do not find it a good place for debate or ongoing dialogue but it is a wonderful way to really broadcast important acknowledgements that help raise the profile of WMed. We want to use that tool as a force for good, sharing our positive information.

A Hat Tip from Dr. T

I want to applaud and thank Michele Serbenski, our associate dean for Clinical Operations and Performance Excellence, for her tireless efforts around our Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation. A peer-review team from the HLC was at WMed October 4-5 for a comprehensive evaluation visit to reaffirm our accreditation, which is a requirement during year 4 of our accreditation cycle. As our accreditation liaison officer, Michele coordinated this entire effort and took on the work of providing oversight and direction for the timely submission of reports required for HLC policy and the visit.

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