This interview is one in a series of interviews with recipients of the 2020 ACGME Awards. The awardees join an outstanding group of previous honorees whose work and contributions to graduate medical education (GME) represent the best in the field. They will be honored at the upcoming ACGME Annual Educational Conference, taking place February 27-29 in San Diego, California.
Debra L. Dooley GME Program Coordinator Excellence Awardee Jennifer M. Shipley is a residency/fellowship coordinator II in neurology at the University of Florida.
ACGME: How did you become involved in academic medicine?
Shipley: I worked in catering for 13 years prior to starting in graduate medical education. The combination of long hours and no benefits was starting to wear on me, so I started applying for jobs at the University of Florida. I applied for anything I might be remotely qualified for. The office manager for the Department of Neurology saw my application and remembered working with me for catering. I got called in for an interview and got the job. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into, and no background in graduate medical education. You could say I fell into the job.
ACGME: What does receiving this award mean to you?
Shipley: I’m truly honored to receive this award. When I learned I had been nominated, I was shocked; I feel like I’m just doing my job. I take pride in my work, and always felt like I did a good job, but the award nomination seemed to validate my work. When I received the email from Ms. [DeLonda] Dowling [ACGME Awards Manager] that I was chosen for this award, I had to re-read the email several times to be sure I was reading it right I’m very humbled by the whole thing.
ACGME: What is the most rewarding part of being a coordinator?
Shipley: Knowing that I’m helping so many residents and fellows with their education and career. In the years I have been a coordinator, I’ve seen more than 100 house staff physicians graduate. I still keep in touch with many of them and they send me updates on their lives. I’m always excited to see what they are up to and how they are doing.
More than one of my residents has referred to me as their “work mom.” I feel like my house staff are part of my family. When I get the chance to meet their parents, one of the things I hear most is, “Thank you of taking care of my son/daughter.” It’s my job to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to, to help them when problems arise, and to offer support. It’s very gratifying to know that in some small way I’ve made a difference in their lives.
ACGME: What is the most challenging part of being a coordinator?
Shipley: Keeping track of all of the various schedules for our own residents and all rotators to ensure even coverage and maximum educational benefit. Our resident tour of duty schedule is a monster. We include the rotators on the schedule to make sure we haven’t overloaded any of the services or elective rotations. The master is on an Excel spreadsheet that when printed out is three pieces of legal-size paper, landscape orientation taped together. From there, the schedule is uploaded into two different systems. Every time a change gets made, the schedule is updated in all of these places. To help with this, we developed a rotation revision checklist that must be filled out by residents when a rotation change request gets made to be sure that there is full coverage. When I started, we had a three-year program with a total compliment of nine residents. There were also not that many rotators; maybe one or two per month. Currently, we have a four-year program with a total compliment of 32 residents and at any given time up to 12 rotators at once. The growth has been tremendous.
ACGME: What advice do you have to brand-new coordinators who are just starting their careers?
Shipley: Find a seasoned coordinator to mentor you and take advantage of any help your institution’s GME office offers. I came to my job from a completely different career and had no idea of what I was doing. I was lucky enough to know the internal medicine coordinator in our institution, Susan Major. Susan met with me and took me under her wing. She explained the basics of graduate medical education and what the job of a coordinator entails. I will be forever grateful for the guidance she gave me. I called her often in the first few years with questions; she was always happy to help. I’ve tried to follow in her footsteps and help any new coordinator that comes my way be it in my own institution or even a different institution.
At the University of Florida, we are also very lucky to have a fantastic, supportive GME office. They are full of resources not just for coordinators, but our education programs as well. I’ve been to many training classes that they have put on over the years and they have been invaluable. I would not be where I am today without the help and support of our GME office as well as the support of a fantastic program director.