Her first year at WMed, our new strategic plan, changes to the leadership structure, and new leadership hires

Dean Termuhlen's Take Header


In this month’s installment of Dean Termuhlen’s Take On …, our dean Dr. Paula Termuhlen discusses several topics, including a look back at her first year as leader of the medical school, our new strategic plan, changes to the leadership structure, and the additions of several new leaders.

Dean Termuhlen's Take PhotoThinking back on your first year as dean, what are you most proud of in terms of your accomplishments as a leader and the collective accomplishments of the institution?

I’m very proud of the way we quickly came together and created a really compelling and inspiring vision and mission for WMed and that’s not just my accomplishment, it’s really an accomplishment of the entire institution. We were able to take that on in a way that engaged our community and every single person at WMed had the opportunity to participate, and that is incredibly important as we chart a path forward. The two things that are really fundamental for our future as a medical school is that we’ve defined the population that we will prioritize –  the people of Southwest Michigan – and we’ve identified the overarching reason for the work that we do, and that’s health equity.

What challenges tested you the most as a leader in your first year leading the medical school? Additionally, what are you most excited about – and what keeps you up at night – now in year two of your tenure?

I think one of our biggest challenges in the last year – as an entire medical school and certainly as a leader – was working through the tragedy of the death of Dr. Rebekah Sharp. We’re a small institution and so the loss of anyone, and particularly a loss due to suicide, has a significant impact on each of us. As I think about what things keep me up at night, one is continuing focus on the welfare of everyone at WMed and ensuring that their own wellness is thought about and provided for. In addition to that are external threats like workplace violence and mass shootings. Those are things that any responsible leader today, unfortunately, has to think about. We know we have plans in place for these types of events, but I hope those plans never have to be tested. The other thing that keeps me up at night is considering our ongoing relationship building, particularly with our hospital partners, and recognizing that they’re both deeply invested in our success and yet they have their own challenges as does Western Michigan University. So, it’s important for us to continue to foster those relationships that help us receive the financial resources that we need to move forward, as well as the integration that we need to achieve the work we’ve decided is ours to do.

As you look ahead, talk about the medical school’s new strategic plan for 2022-26 that will be rolled out broadly in the coming weeks. How will our new mission, vision, and values that are the foundation of the plan help WMed excel as an institution and community partner over the next decade?

I’ve already seen evidence of how defining and refreshing our mission, vision, and values, and setting three strategic priorities around health equity, elevating our organizational culture, and advancing medicine and science has helped us with our recruitments of new leaders. It gives us an important way of communicating with our community partners around the work that they need and want us to do with them. It’s also already given us the energy to really start to pursue things. For example, we are working in collaboration with WMU to look for federal and state monies that would support the development of enhanced mental health services for children and adolescents. Children and adolescents, and particularly those that need support for mental and behavioral health, are individuals who often have the least amount of health equity associated with their care. Going back to the recent recruitments of our newest leaders, I know that the candidates for those positions were particularly interested in this work and over time we’ll continue to see how defining our mission, vision, and values will help us add skill sets to our WMed team that can really help us excel as an institution.

In alignment with the new strategic plan for 2022-26, the medical school has made some changes to the senior leadership structure that enables you to focus on building strategic partnerships while ensuring appropriate leadership oversight of medical school operations. Take a minute to talk about the process that led to these changes and how this aligns with our new strategic plan.

We have matured into an organization that is no longer a startup so it is important for us to reflect on the infrastructure we have and make sure we have the pieces in place to sustain our work going forward. So, it was really a point of due diligence to take a look at our leadership structure and we focused on ensuring that we had the right people in place across the four traditional medical school missions of education, research, clinical care, and community engagement. It was also important to acknowledge that we are an institution that is a separate and free-standing entity so in addition to the academic titles that individuals hold we were able to come together and think about more organizational leadership in the roles of chief officers of a variety of different themes. That, in and of itself, helps to tell a story of the academic work that we do but that we’re also an organization that has employees and learners who we need to ensure have the right structure and tools to do their work. Going forward, what all medical schools are asked to do is to not only be internally facing but to really be externally facing and have key partnerships within their communities, as well as regionally and nationally. We have a structure in place now that really empowers our leaders to do that internal work, and that frees up me and a few other people to now focus on building those partnerships. I approach all of this as a true servant leader so I want to decentralize leadership, as well as decision making and some of the operational work so that it can be shared across a broader group of people. That’s important because I always like to say that if I’m the smartest person in the room on any particular topic then we might be in trouble. We want the leaders who have the most content expertise for whatever the topic is to guide the decision making. The important part for a servant leader is to take that all in and continue to shape it and to lead it in a direction that then allows people to do their best work and gives them the opportunity to shine for the work they are doing.

The senior leadership structure is posted on our website and the most notable changes are that we have created an executive team in addition to the senior leadership team. The executive team is a smaller group that I will meet with regularly to ensure appropriate leadership oversight of our medical school operations. We have a new academic affairs structure that brings together undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education along with learner support services under Mike Busha, MD, as the senior associate dean for Academic Affairs. Also, institutional advancement is a common structure in many medical schools. This function serves the institution by promoting understanding of its people, programs, policies, and needs, resulting in securing adequate public and private support essential to the fulfillment of our mission. We have aligned fund development, alumni relations, communications, marketing, strategic planning, business development, and community relations reporting to Michele Serbenski, as senior associate dean for Institutional Advancement.

At WMed since you started a year ago, we have named new chairs for the departments of Medicine, Family and Community Medicine, and Obstetrics and Gynecology, an associate dean for Student Affairs, a chief of staff, as well as new program directors for the Psychiatry and OB-GYN residency programs. Why were these hires so important for WMed and what are you most excited about as most of these leaders begin their new roles in the coming months?

The recruitments of these new leaders were important and the reasons why were unique to each situation but if you look at it overall we are continuing to grow and develop the best of what we have at WMed. What I mean by that is in some instances there were internal candidates who we identified as being ready to take on the mantle of leadership, specifically Maria Sheakley, PhD, our new associate dean for Student Affairs and Brian Nielsen, MD, our new program director for the Obstetrics and Gynecology residency program. Then, we’re still in a phase of our growth and development in which having the cross pollination from outside leaders being recruited to WMed to bring their skills to bear on the work that we do is also very important such as with the addition of Madhavi Nagalla, MD, our new program director for the Psychiatry residency program and Nicole Allbee, PhD, our new chief of staff in the Office of the Dean. The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology was one that was very fragile because of the loss of Dr. Sharp and then there were a number of other faculty who were moving on to take different roles. Appointing leaders like Dr. Brian Nielsen and new department chair Kevin Ault, MD, will help stabilize and relaunch our efforts in this department. For our Department of Family and Community Medicine, the recent move from the Family Health Center – Kalamazoo into a new space at WMed Health Family Medicine – Crosstown Parkway in many ways gave us an opportunity to highlight some of that department’s best work that has gone on not only in Kalamazoo but also Battle Creek. So, it was a very exciting opportunity to bring in Daniel Stulberg, MD, as our new department chair to now think about the wide geography that this department serves and help to continue to expand and grow the department in a way that will help us accomplish the work of our mission and vision. The hiring of new department heads for Family Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology is central to health equity because of the focus on women and the focus on family. Lastly, in our Department of Medicine, this is an area that enjoyed strong leadership for many years under Mark Loehrke, MD, with a focus on education. With Dr. Loehrke’s retirement in January and the arrival in February of Santhosh Koshy, MD, as our new chair, there is an opportunity to grow and develop the other dimensions of the department like clinical care and research, as well as community engagement.

A Hat Tip from Dr. T

I want to take a moment to express my immense appreciation to everyone – residency program directors and coordinators, the Office of Resident Affairs, Facilities, Health Information Management, Human Resources, Information Technology, our WMed librarians, Occupational Health, and the Simulation Center – who recently helped welcome and orient our newest cohort of resident physicians. The cycle of life always continues at a medical school and part of that process is welcoming these new young physicians to further their training and it takes a village to make it all happen. These new residents help us provide great care to the patients in our community and it’s so important to help them launch successfully so they can add to the important work we do here at WMed.

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.