This interview is one in a series of interviews with recipients of the 2024 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 March 7-9 in Orlando, Florida.
2024 Courage to Teach Awardee Jennifer O’Toole, MD, MEd is the program director of the internal medicine-pediatrics residency program and the interim designated institutional official (DIO) at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
ACGME: How did you become involved in medicine, and in academic medicine specifically?
O’Toole: After finishing residency, I spent a year as a chief resident in internal medicine. My time as a chief really opened my eyes to what a career in academic medicine, and more specifically, a career as a medical educator would be like. From there I was hooked, and the rest is history! I have been involved in residency program leadership since 2008 and I can confidently say being a program director is one of the greatest jobs in the world!
ACGME: What does this award mean to you?
O’Toole: I am so honored and still in a bit of shock over winning this award. Our med-peds [internal medicine-pediatrics] residents challenge me every day to be a better physician, teacher, and leader. Their humanity, determination, and commitment to providing world-class care to vulnerable populations of patients—including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities—struggling in the transition between the pediatrics and adult world and those that identify as LGBTQIA+, is awe inspiring. Receiving this award from them and my colleagues means the world to me and has provided encouragement to keep pushing forward in this job!
ACGME: What do you feel is the most important job the program director has?
O’Toole: Providing support and advocacy for residents during the challenging and stressful times during residency. Residents are dealing with life-and-death situations, and those experiences can take their toll. As a program director, my most important role is to be a stabilizing source of support and advocating for their learning and well-being.
ACGME: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
O’Toole: My favorite part of being a program director is watching my residents midway during the final year of residency. Seeing their confidence, knowledge, and leadership as seasoned senior residents who are running their teams and knowing where they started fills me with pride and joy. Something magical happens when you see your residents finally realize that they can indeed do hard things and truly are ready to practice independently!
ACGME: What is the most challenging?
O’Toole: Finding the time and funding to do all the innovative things I wish we could do in our program!
ACGME: What advice do you have to residents or fellows who may be interested in pursuing a career in academic medicine?
O’Toole: Academic medicine is a challenging and yet incredibly rewarding career. Don’t be afraid to do hard things and tackle a career in academic medicine. Find good mentors and sponsors to help you in your journey! Remember your career is a marathon and not a sprint; don’t try to do everything at once and set boundaries on your time. But also be sure to set ambitious goals and dream big; you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. Remember to take care of yourself, your colleagues, and the learners you work with; your team is everything.
Learn more about the ACGME’s Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award and nominate a deserving program director for the 2025 Award – nominations are due by March 27, 2024. Registration is still open for the 2024 ACGME Annual Educational Conference – learn more and register today on the conference website.