This interview is one in a series of interviews with recipients of the 2023 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 ACGME Annual Educational Conference, taking place on February 23-25, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee.
2023 David C. Leach Awardee Christina Baxter Vernace, DO is a primary care pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health. At the time of the nomination, Dr. Vernace was a resident in pediatrics at University of Florida Health Shands Children’s Hospital. She represents a team who worked on this project, including Angelina Bernier, MD, Mary Catherine Hart, Lindsay Thompson, MD, and Keiaria Williams.
ACGME: Why did you want to become a physician?
Vernace: My pediatrician inspired me to become a doctor. It blew my mind that one person could have such a profound impact on an entire family, and I always admired his affable personality, humble confidence, and skill set. I wanted to have a job that made a difference in young peoples’ lives, and I couldn’t imagine a career that did this more than as a pediatrician.
ACGME: What, so far, has been the most rewarding part of your residency?
Vernace: The constant learning. I went in knowing I was nearly a blank slate for pediatric medical knowledge, but I learned quickly that the social, personal, and emotional learning was as mountainous and rewarding as the medical piece. It was incredible also to meet doctors who were doing my dream job and learn the many different ways to do that job. We each bring something very unique to the patients we serve.
ACGME: What has been the most challenging?
Vernace: The hours, and again the humbling knowledge of all there is to learn! Each time I felt confident about something, something else would come along and challenge that. And this is medicine. An art and a forever practice of growing and using the experiences.
ACGME: What innovation/improvement did you implement in your program?
Vernace: I started (with some local heroes) a farmers’ market that was on the site of our most underserved clinic. This market took SNAP/EBT [Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program] funds and allowed us to really teach and live out what we preach about healthy eating. There was an obvious scarcity of fresh foods and fun (healthy) foods that were affordable, and this brought that to the primary care setting. There seemed to be no better place to have a kid-friendly farmers’ market!
ACGME: What does it mean to you to receive this award?
Vernace: This is an absolute honor and privilege. It was a gift to undertake this vision I had, and to be recognized on the national level is very humbling. It truly takes a village, and this was certainly not the result of only my diligence.
ACGME: What advice would you give to other residents/fellows who are looking to either replicate your improvement or implement an original idea of their own in their own program?
Vernace: Patience and time are needed. What doesn’t get done one month might still not get done the next. Learning to use each fail as a teachable moment (to yourself) is invaluable. Even if your project doesn’t come to fruition, the personal skills gained are going to be essential for the rest of your career.
Learn more about the ACGME’s David C. Leach Award and nominate a deserving individual for the 2024 Award – nominations are due by March 15, 2023.