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 Preston Howard Blomquist, MD is a professor and vice chair for education, as well as a residency program director in ophthalmology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern).
ACGME: How did you become involved in medicine, and in academic medicine specifically?
Blomquist: In my training program, a few local ophthalmologists volunteered their time to staff intraocular surgery. Their wish to give back to the profession through teaching had a profound impact on me. When I finished training and came to Dallas to join a multispecialty group, I offered myself similarly to the local teaching institution. As I rose through the leadership tiers in my eight years with that physician group, I found I felt most fulfilled the one day each month I staffed resident surgery at Parkland Memorial Hospital, the county’s public hospital. When the UT Southwestern academic faculty position of chief of service for Parkland was advertised in our profession’s main journal, I thought I’d try that for a change. That was 22 years ago. Being able to help people in need of care while simultaneously helping new ophthalmologists develop the skills to provide that care independently in the future has been a gratifying and stimulating experience.
ACGME: What does receiving this award mean to you?
Blomquist: I am humbled by this award. I see fellow program directors who are exceptional teachers, who care for the well-being of their charges, and who are equally if not more deserving of recognition than I am.
ACGME: What do you feel is the most important job the program director has?
Blomquist: A program director acts not only as instructor but also as surrogate parent at times. Residency may be the first time a young doctor has ever held a real job or functioned in a team where the stakes were high. Just like my children, I want my residents to be courageous (to try, to fail, and to try again until the challenge is mastered), to accept responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions, and to cooperate with others on the health care team. The goal is for each resident to develop to his or her full potential.
ACGME: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Blomquist: The best day of the year is our annual alumni reception at our national Academy meeting. There I get to catch up with my graduates, to see how their lives have developed, to revel in their accomplishments (both personal and professional). How wonderful it is to see when they have surpassed their mentors and exceeded their own expectations!
ACGME: What is the most challenging?
Blomquist: Striking the balance between allowing a resident the right amount of autonomy for his or her level of training with the necessity to provide high-quality care to all patients is a tricky tightrope to walk. With experience, one can see when residents are having difficulty and can often intervene before care goes awry, whether in the operating room at the bedside. Yet complications will happen even in the best hands, and teaching residents how to deal with the psychological effects for both themselves and the patient can be daunting.
ACGME: What advice do you have to residents or fellows who may be interested in pursuing a career in academic medicine?
Blomquist: Most physicians in academic medicine enter without formal training in education. However, you can look to your own mentors for examples of good teaching, look to your own life (e.g., parenting is wonderful preparation for leading young minds). Then take advantage of courses in andragogy offered by your academic societies, and by the ACGME. Read Make It Stick [by Mark A. McDaniel and Peter C. Brown] and Courage to Teach [by Parker J Palmer].