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.
Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Awardee Lisa Willett, MD, MACM, is the internal medicine residency program director and vice chair for education in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
ACGME: How did you become involved in medicine, and in academic medicine specifically?
Willett: I have been in academic medicine my entire career. After my internal medicine residency, I spent a year as a chief medical resident and loved the combination of teaching and patient care.
ACGME: What does receiving this award mean to you?
Willett: A great deal! The role of program director is a tough one, and the sacrifices are often unrecognized. We don’t do this job for awards or national recognition—we do it for the love of our residents and the privilege to develop our future physicians. It’s an honor to be among such a highly respected group of program directors and I am so grateful for this award.
ACGME: What do you feel is the most important job the program director has?
Willett: To ensure that physicians in practice are ready for independent practice, and know their clinical skills are developed for patients to get the care they deserve. Also, making sure that medical education is valued in our medical institutions—with all the competing demands in practice, we must ensure educating the next generation of physicians remains a priority.
ACGME: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Willett: Seeing my residents grow and develop both professionally and personally along the journey of residency.
ACGME: What is the most challenging?
Willett: When a resident struggles, I feel their pain with them. It’s heartbreaking to see a trainee suffer.
ACGME: What advice do you have to residents or fellows who may be interested in pursuing a career in academic medicine?
Willett: Do it! It’s the best job in the world! Talk to as many people as you can in different roles and at different institutions. There are endless ways to be successful in academic medicine and you can find the path that is right for you.