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September 26, 2019

Transitioning: An Interview with Donna Lamb, DHSc, MBA, BSN

Donna Lamb, DHSc, MBA, BSN, will leave the ACGME to become the new President and CEO of the National Residency Match Program

Donna Lamb joined the ACGME in 2014 as Executive Director of the Review Committees for Plastic Surgery, Surgery, and Thoracic Surgery. At the end of this week she’ll say goodbye to her ACGME colleagues and pivot to her exciting new role as President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), based in Washington, DC. We wish her all the best and look forward to seeing her accomplishments, and continuing to work together. We took a few moments to talk with Dr. Lamb as she wrapped things up here in Chicago.

What brought you to the ACGME initially, and what was your background in GME before you came on?
Actually, it was [former ACGME Executive Director] Pat Surdyk who finally convinced me to apply for an executive director position at the ACGME. She and I still laugh about a funny occurrence that happened when I was in south Florida. She called and left me a voicemail, but right after she announced herself, she got distracted and began to almost whisper that she needed to talk to me. Intrigued, I called her to ask what was going on, and we both had a good laugh. To this day, we still greet each other in a whisper and giggle. But as fun as that story is, anyone in GME will tell you that when [ACGME President and CEO] Dr. Nasca speaks to the vision of the organization, you know you need to be a part it.

I first became involved in GME in 2010 when I assumed the Director of GME position (by sheer happenstance) at Advent Health System in Orlando, Florida. I had multiple other administrative roles at the same time, including working with the hospital's LCME team to get the University of Central Florida's new medical students into our residency programs, but GME quickly became a passion, and I made a full turn in my career. I moved from the Director of GME role to a DIO position in south Florida, and then in December 2014, came to the ACGME.

How has your time at the ACGME changed your perspective and/or enhanced your professional/personal experience?
I have had an unusual career path to get where I am today. I am a nurse, having worked in trauma, neonatal, and cardiothoracic ICUs, and I worked as a "rounding nurse" with an invasive cardiologist (Dr. Irwin Weinstein), who treated me as if I was his resident and drilled me every day for years on patient findings, diagnosis, and treatment as we rounded and worked in the cardiac cath lab together. When my children were younger, I left nursing and worked as a litigation consultant in a law firm for eight years, and then went back to hospital administration, where I began my hospital leadership journey, which included business start-up and turnaround. The work at the ACGME has allowed me to apply all of this experience and knowledge to the work of accreditation, to relationship-building with our surgical communities, and to improving the efficiency of the Review Committees. Because of this, I have been able to continue to grow my abilities as a servant leader, which to me, means that you accept people where they are, you lead by putting others first, and your leadership can only be effective when you are helping others develop. It does not mean that there is no controversy, but it does mean always doing what is best for those we serve.

How did the move to the NRMP come about? Why was now the right time for change? What appealed to you about the opportunity?
The move to the NRMP evolved over a period of months as one might imagine. While in GME, I had interacted with the NRMP on multiple occasions as we went through the Match. Much like the ACGME, the NRMP is viewed as a somewhat scary entity that most know relatively little about, but it holds an incredibly important place in GME and has fulfilled its duties with the utmost of integrity. When I first began to speak with the NRMP Board, it was immediately apparent that they are an energetic and innovative group who had invested a substantial amount of time and energy on their vision of the future of the NRMP, the role it plays in the medical education continuum, and the attributes they sought for the new leader. Interestingly, a number of the Board members had been ACGME Review Committee Chairs or had some engagement with our Board, which allows for a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of the ACGME, NRMP, [Association of American Medical Colleges] AAMC, etc. What was also apparent was that Mrs. Signer, the founding President and CEO of the NRMP, had set a high standard of excellence and had amassed an incredibly qualified and capable staff, which has well positioned the organization for the future. As our discussions progressed, the goals for maintaining the utmost integrity of the Match and meeting the future needs of the range of the NRMP's constituents struck a chord with my desire to extend my servant leadership and to continue to work to improve all of the processes across the medical education continuum. The NRMP's trust in me, and excitement about my budding vision for the future, made this an opportunity that is truly once in a lifetime, and there is no time like the present!

What is your vision for the NRMP in the early part of your transition into your new role?
First and foremost, my vision for the NRMP is to maintain the excellence and integrity of the Match that the undergraduate and graduate medical education communities have known for more than half of a decade. I also have a vision to expand the conversation of how we help medical students, residents, and programs. Stay tuned... there is a lot of work to do and it is going to involve a lot of people!

How do you see the NRMP and ACGME (and others in the continuum of medical education) working together?
These organizations have always worked together as they are integral to each other. As to the future, I have a lot of ideas, but I'm going to begin with a listening tour. I don't want to assume that I, or anyone else, really understands the needs of this community. Again, stay tuned.

You will present at the ACGME Annual Educational Conference in February 2020. Can you talk a little about what you’ll be presenting and who should attend?
I have been asked to present at the osteopathic pre-conference at the Annual Educational Conference. Since I will still be fairly new in the role, my current plan to is educate the community about the NRMP, provide data about the Match, clarify the NRMP's role versus the AAMC's role in the application processes, and to discuss the challenges faced by the osteopathic community.

What are you taking away personally from your time at the ACGME? What will you miss most?
What I will miss most is our team in the Surgery section and the friendships I have made amongst the staff and our constituents. I will absolutely miss Cathy Ruiz, who has been amazingly supportive of me, of our team, and of our committees. I will miss Dr. Potts, who is an incredibly kind and humble human, a wonderful boss, highly respected among the surgeons, and who, as I have said so many times, has allowed me to grow in my role even when I was messing with his tribe. I will miss the group of Executive Directors who never fail to challenge each other, but who also laugh together and commiserate when things are stressful, because no one can understand the challenges of this role if you haven't done it. I will miss the Review Committees for Surgery, Thoracic Surgery, and Plastic Surgery. While many think these are difficult committees and challenging personalities, I have found them to be some of the most empathetic, energetic, and compassionate people I have ever met. Their drive to ensure quality in accreditation and training is second to none, and their ability to adapt and collaborate is inspirational. I am taking away an understanding of how incredibly important our work and we (personally) are to the communities we serve, even when it feels like they are angry with us or unhappy with our processes and decisions. I am also taking away a deep understanding of the importance of being present with our programs (and the people in them) and being acutely aware of their needs and their daily efforts to train the best residents and fellows they can. Whether it is apparent every day or not, the decisions we make affect lives. It is our privilege, and has been my honor to have been allowed to do what we do, and I will always carry that close to my heart. 

What are you most looking forward to in this next adventure?
Continuing to work with all of my colleagues at the ACGME and in GME. Exploring DC and the surrounding areas. Oh yeah, and becoming a grandmother, because my daughter is due to have her first child in March 2020!

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