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 Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Awardee Dr. Deborah Chute is the program director for pathology at Cleveland Clinic.
ACGME: How did you become involved in medicine, and in academic medicine specifically?
Dr. Chute: I first seriously started considering medicine as a career in college when I loved my biology and science classes but also found a deep desire to help others in my work. I shadowed multiple physicians over a summer in my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, and loved the work. In fact, I even shadowed a pathologist during that time and thought the world of pathology was fascinating, but I clearly did not want to be a pathologist because I wanted to have more direct interactions with patients. Obviously, I came to realize what an amazing role pathologists play in patients’ lives later in medical school! I have always enjoyed teaching, and was a tutor throughout college and medical school. It was during residency that I realized how much I loved teaching and that I wanted to make it a permanent part of my career. My program director recommended that I apply to be on the ACGME Review Committee for Pathology, and I was chosen to serve from 2005-2007. That opportunity was invaluable—I realized my goal was to one day be a program director, to teach and mentor residents to become the best pathologists they can be.
ACGME: What does this award mean to you?
Dr. Chute: I am incredibly honored to have received this award—I never imagined I would be chosen. I suspect, like many successful physicians, that imposter syndrome is real for me too. The validation of hearing that my work is recognized and appreciated at a national level is invaluable.
ACGME: What do you feel is the most important job the program director has?
Dr. Chute: The most important job we have is to help mentor and guide people to be successful in their future careers. While a large part of this is helping make sure they get the right education and the right working environment, it is more than just that. We help people navigate four years of their lives (in pathology at least) which are fraught with uncertainty. Major life events happen, goals change, opportunities arise, and challenges occur. Helping them navigate that while reassuring them that they are not alone in this process is the most important thing we do.
ACGME: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Dr. Chute: Having dinner with alumni and hearing how successful they have become, how well prepared they are for the work, and how happy they are in their life is the single most rewarding experience I get as a program director. I always try to arrange to meet with alumni if I happen to be in the same town and have time to spare. These interactions sustain me through the hard days of the work of being a program director.
ACGME: What is the most challenging?
Dr. Chute: Program directors live in an unusual space in most institutions. We often have limited power and ability to make change at a departmental or institutional level, but are often tasked with pushing for changes anyway for the program. This means negotiating, collaborating, compromising, and at times not always getting everything you want. Additionally, often the learners do not understand the choices you have to make in the environment you have to work within, and they often are frustrated at the slow pace of change.
ACGME: What advice do you have to residents or fellows who may be interested in pursuing a career in academic medicine?
Dr. Chute: Find the source of energy for you: what is it that you look forward to in a day, that excites you, that sustains you through everything else? It is easy in academic medicine to get pulled in a lot of directions; you will get placed on local committees, working groups, national organizational efforts, research projects, and more, never mind your clinical work. Make sure the thing that gives you energy continues to be a key part of the daily work you do and do not let that slip away. For me, it was making sure I continue to have one-on-one interactions with residents on the teaching service in our residency program on a regular basis, because those moments of teaching fill my cup for all the other administrative time.
ACGME: Is there anything else you would like to add I haven’t asked about?
Dr. Chute: I am deeply grateful to the Cleveland Clinic Graduate Medical Education team for supporting my career, developing me into a strong teacher and leader, and also nominating me for this award. The faculty development and support here is amazing and I will always be deeply appreciative of Dr. Elias Traboulsi and Dr. Jeremy Lipman for their work as designated institutional official and supporting all program directors here.
Learn more about the ACGME’s Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award and nominate a deserving program director for the 2024 Award – nominations are due by March 15, 2023.