Honoring Excellence: Q and A with Dawn Fountain

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 Debra L. Dooley GME Program Coordinator Excellence Awardee Dawn Fountain works in the general surgery residency program at the University of Kansas (KU) School of Medicine in Wichita.

ACGME: How did you become involved in academic medicine?

Fountain: My entry into the world of GME was unexpected and escalated quickly. I was working as a veterinary technician when I decided to apply and was offered an administrative support position in the surgery department at one of our local hospitals. I assumed the work would be similar to previous positions I had held as a secretary and administrative assistant. Boy, was that an underestimation! I started in November and by March had moved into the residency coordinator position when the previous coordinator changed careers.

ACGME: What does this award mean to you?

Fountain: I was shocked when I received notification that I was a winner. There are so many amazing coordinators in GME that I look up to and have learned from that I am truly humbled to have been deemed worthy of recognition by the members of the ACGME. I am so honored to have been nominated by my program and feel blessed to work with such amazing faculty members who have supported and encouraged me as I have learned and grown over the years.

ACGME: What is the most rewarding part of being a coordinator?

Fountain: The lasting friendships that have developed between me and so many of my faculty members and residents are my favorite part of being a coordinator. It is a privilege and gives me a great sense of pride to have played a small role in the formation of such amazing surgeons and physicians!

ACGME: What is the most challenging part of being a coordinator?

Fountain: The hardest thing for me has been learning to say “no.” Being a coordinator is a multi-faceted position that always keeps me on my toes. Although there is a general rhythm, there are also constant new challenges to navigate. The work often feels thankless, very few understand our role, and new duties and responsibilities seem to always be falling into our laps. It is a challenge keeping up with ever-changing rules/regulations and working with our leadership to determine impact and implementation for our program. Coordinators feel a deep sense of pride and responsibility for their program and work hard, just like the physicians they work with daily, to do whatever they can to help with that success. This often leads to taking on much more than we can or should and in turn, leads to burnout. I am eternally grateful to my mentor and friend, Dr. Juanita Braxton, for reminding me that acknowledging that "it isn't my job" doesn't make me a bad or lazy employee. Rather, it helps keep me emotionally healthy which makes me a better coordinator and helps everyone in the program be more successful.

ACGME: What advice do you have to brand-new coordinators who are just starting their careers?

Fountain: Find a mentor, get to know your peers across the country (even those in different specialties) and learn all you can from them! I have leaned on them and learned so much over the years this way; and I am always willing and trying to pay that forward to the next generation.