Honoring Excellence: Q and A with Krista Lombardo-Klefos, MBA

April 1, 2024
2024 GME Institutional Coordinator Excellence Awardee Krista Lombardo-Klefos, MBA.

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 were honored at the ACGME Annual Educational Conference, which took place March 7-9, 2024, in Orlando, Florida.

Ms. Krista Lombardo-Klefos is a recipient of the 2024 GME Institutional Coordinator Excellence Award. She currently serves as GME Administrative Director for the GME Institutional Office at Cleveland Clinic. Ms. Lombardo-Klefos reflected on how she has found joy and fulfillment as an institutional coordinator, contributing to “GME as a profession.”

How did you become involved in academic medicine?

Ms. Lombardo-Klefos: By chance, I was working in the Heart and Vascular Institute in the Department Chairman’s Office, knowing I wanted something different, but that I wanted to stay at the Cleveland Clinic. I applied for the GMEC Coordinator position in our GME Office, not really knowing much about academic medicine, residents/fellows, teaching faculty members, programs, etc. I remember walking over to the office for the interview and meeting the team, knowing I really wanted to be part of it, and so glad I was afforded that opportunity. Once I started in GME, I fell in love with this world and have never thought of leaving. I have held various positions – GMEC Coordinator, MedHub Program Manager, Accreditation Administrator, and now, my current role of Administrative Director. I find so much joy and fulfilment in working with the best GME team.

ACGME: What does this award mean to you?

Lombardo-Klefos: Professionally, it is acknowledgement of hard work, not only for myself and what I have contributed, but to my organization overall. I am honored that I was nominated and when I went back and read the letters that were submitted, I was humbled and thankful. Personally, it is extremely special as the first ACGME GME Institutional Coordinator Award in 2011 was awarded to Pat Chapek, who brought me into GME and taught me so much. She allowed me the opportunity to learn and grow in the GME community and encouraged me to collaborate with other organizations and put myself out there. Her guidance, support, and holding me accountable are some of the main reasons I am the GME Director today (with help from some other amazing individuals, as well).

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

Lombardo-Klefos: The projects that this role has allowed me to be a part of and the change that those have made to our organization. In my 15-year career, there has been the transition to the Next Accreditation System, implementation of the Milestones, execution of the Clinical Learning Environment Review Program, and now Non-Standard Training Recognition (to just name a few). With all those new ACGME improvements come changes that organizations must make, at both the institutional office and at the individual program level. Throughout those major initiatives, we have grown our programs, locations, and GME office staff. Reflecting, being able to be a leader, and having a voice and a seat at the table to develop the operational plan that our organization was going to create for our programs are among the most rewarding. Being asked to sit on teams to create change, with my opinion heard and ideas executed, and seeing those transform, are all extremely rewarding as well.

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

Lombardo-Klefos: The volume we have at the Cleveland Clinic with 93 accredited programs, 109 Non-Standard Training programs, and around 1,400 clinical learners. [The challenge] is ensuring that we are providing the same level of oversight to all programs and that the residents and fellows have the best clinical learning environment and education. This would not be accomplished without the hard work and dedication of the entire GME Office staff – a team of 20 who manages all aspects of residents/fellows and GME programs. Another challenge of being an institutional coordinator is the evolution of the role, with more organizations formally recognizing it, allowing us to network and share what is working and ways we are doing things at our organizations.

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

Lombardo-Klefos: Many things… lean-in, say yes to stretch projects, ask to be part of the project team, show up, listen, write things down, do your research, continually learn, attend webinars, travel to meetings, make connections within your organization and outside in the greater GME community. When I was hired into the GME office 15 years ago, many told me advice that I share today to my new caregivers – you will need to experience a full academic year to understand. That was so true as many of the items we work on occur only once, maybe quarterly for some; experiencing the entire academic year allows you the opportunity to see the complete GME picture. I also add that GME is a language of its own, there are so many terms or acronyms that will be new, so you will need to learn them as you go. When I meet others in the GME community, I can usually tell those who have been around a while as they use the acronyms for items they are describing! My last piece of advice is to stick with it, GME is challenging and rewarding, give it time and make your mark at your program or institution.

ACGME: Is there anything else you wish to add that I haven’t asked?

Lombardo-Klefos: I have been at the Cleveland Clinic my entire professional career. I love GME as a profession, not only here but nationally, as well as the ability to be part of a larger GME community – an entire network of caregivers who understand one another, are not afraid to share and brainstorm, and who are truly there to lift each other up! Although at times this profession is challenging and exhausting, it is so rewarding and exciting.

Learn more about the ACGME’s GME Institutional Coordinator Excellence Award.