March 12, 2021

Honoring Excellence: Q and A with Meghan M. Walsh, MD, MPH, FACP

This interview is one in a series of interviews with recipients of the 2021 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 were honored at the ACGME Annual Educational Conference, which took place virtually February 24-26, 2021.

2021 Parker J. Palmer Courage to Lead Awardee Meghan M. Walsh MD, MPH, FACP is the chief academic officer and designated institutional official (DIO) at Hennepin Healthcare. She specializes in internal medicine.

 

ACGME: How did you become involved in medicine, and in academic medicine specifically?

Walsh: I took a gap year (technically five gap years) between college and medical school. That time shaped my perspectives and my eventual career path in a myriad of ways.  I didn’t have the opportunity to travel in college, so joined the US Peace Corps as a chemistry and physics high school teacher in Malawi, East Africa. I absolutely loved teaching (and still do). This was the early 1990s and HIV/AIDS was rising in its prevalence and impact in eastern Africa. I began to volunteer at the local hospital on my weekends and assisted with anything the local Scottish doctor needed me to do. I was amazed by the impact of good public health and prevention and humbled by illness that had no cure.

I returned home and worked in a women’s health clinic in Chicago and eventually moved to Baltimore to complete my Master’s in Public Health at Johns Hopkins. When I eventually entered medical school there was nowhere else I wanted to be and nothing else I wanted to do.

I moved through medical school and residency knowing that medical education was the area of medicine that brought me the greatest joy. I truly love teaching, and medical education, as much now as I did as a new teacher in East Africa.

ACGME: What does this award mean to you?

Walsh: Parker Palmer is a true inspiration to me. He is an educator and an activist who lives his life with courage and conviction. I believe in our role as leaders in medicine, shaping the field of medicine while also growing a new generation of physicians and leaders in our communities.  

ACGME: What do you feel is the most important job a DIO has?

Walsh: Developing our GME community to feel valued and empowered to contribute to their everyday environment and continuously improve it. Fostering relationships and trust. I entered this role at a time when at least half of our major residency programs had a change in leadership at the program level. The program directors were new, I was new. We learned a lot together. Today we have this incredibly wise, thoughtful, and trusted group of program leaders, it is an incredible team and a really fun place to innovate and work. We were tested during this pandemic and so many members—learners and program directors and coordinators alike—innovated, redesigned processes, and managed change together.

ACGME: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Walsh: The learners and my GMEC [Graduate Medical Education Committee]. There is a true connection to the mission at Hennepin. We all believe it and have built a collective resiliency to withstand even the toughest challenges. The notion of “vicarious resilience” is so impactful in GME. The idea that we build our own strength and resilience because of the people we serve—for our faculty it is our patients and our learners, for our learners it is our safety net mission. It is palpable here.

ACGME: What is the most challenging?

Walsh: A pandemic + systemic racism and marginalization that is pervasive + financial distress. And that [was] just 2020.

ACGME: What advice do you have to residents who may be interested in pursuing a career in academic medicine?

Walsh: It is always changing and you with it. It feeds my curiosity and innovative mind, it aligns with my purpose, and it pushes me out of my comfort zone every day. Learners build resiliency in medicine. This is a team sport and I couldn’t imagine practicing medicine any other way.