Mar 312014

In 30 years of association with the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, I have never seen a time in which there was more thoughtful engagement by so many people. It is clear that we are all working to redefine what our school will need to thrive in the future. We have realized that we are in an environment that demands that we change and adapt to the future. Across the whole school, folks are taking this “metamorphosis” very seriously. This focus includes faculty, staff and students.

The diversity and the richness of the conversations that have been occurring are incredibly inspiring. It is impossible not to appreciate the true vitality of our faculty and staff as they engage in a wide variety of useful work. As I observe what is happening across the school, it is already possible to draw some conclusions.

Sincere attempts are being made to balance cost and benefit. Questions are being asked as to what needs to remain as essential and what is now redundant. The clear demand is that we manage and support our core missions of education, patient care and research in the most efficient and effective way. Some components must be retained while others need modification. Some traditions are now more sacred cows than critical to our future, and these need to be recognized and left behind. We will need to invest in new things, too. Preparing for a bright future for our school means finding the right balance between increasing efficiency or cost containment and appropriate investment in those things that will position us well in a new world of health care. In doing so, we must accept that we will not be able to serve all purposes – be all things to all people.

I’ll use a few pictures and some narrative to illustrate what we are observing. These are in no chronological sequence or priority.

This picture is representative of theblog3 “Redesigning Education to Accelerate Change in Healthcare” (REACH) Initiative. It includes the Teachers of Quality Academy, a group of 38 faculty members across the health sciences who are spending a year learning how to improve health systems and developing curriculum for our students. The REACH project team just hosted a team of American Medical Association leaders on campus. From all reports, a very rich and productive conversation developed.



This picture represents somblog2e of the faculty and staff who attended a March 26 program that was supported by the Brody Women Faculty Committee, “Effecting Diversity and Gender Changes in Academic Medicine.” The Brody Women Faculty Committee hosted two leaders, Edna Chun, associate vice chancellor for human resources at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Dr. Rosalind Fuse-Hall, president of Bennett College, who brought a powerful message of how diversity and inclusion can amplify business success in our enterprise.



This picture represents soblog1me of those who engaged in Real-Time Strategy work several weeks ago. This has served as a backdrop to discussions that are critical to our success as a medical school. Real Time Strategy is a cross-section of faculty and staff who spent time imagining the future we envision for the Brody School of Medicine

The richness of these conversations is inspirational and compelling. They are breaking out at the very best time in our evolution, or as we have been saying, the “metamorphosis” of our medical school.

I’ll reassure that we are not the only ones who are facing similar challenges. This is a country-wide phenomenon at every academic institution.

Reassuring to me is that what I am reading from these conversations is that our precious school has all of the competencies to come out ahead of the curve! Our aggregate local knowledge and advantage are huge competencies themselves.

Read these overheard quotes and come to your own conclusions:

“Many things are going well between the medical school and education right now. But at the same time we need to continue to improve, as this is a time of metamorphosis, and we are a work in progress.”

“We have a great collection of diverse people who put patients first and see the future as quite bright. They have big hearts and maybe a chip on their shoulders. And that’s a good thing, as it keeps them striving for something better. Most people are on board, but there remain some who are tied to the past and some who have confusion, as we have three different missions.”

“Internally, the school doesn’t work as well as it could, and some people are in compartments looking and moving in their own directions. There continues to be a division between clinical and educational aspects, and the attitude is “That’s not my job.” Some faculty members are not as productive as they could be, and they stop others from being productive. We seem to be improving on moving these people out of the way. Others see research as a drain, but if managed appropriately research could play a leading role as we transition and lead. “

“At times we are impacted by negative outside factors. When times do get tough, the entire organization pulls together, powered by self-reliant determination. The staff, teachers and students are great providers that impact the wider community and state in a positive way.”

“The patient recognizes the Brody Medical School as a beacon in the community and enters expecting high quality and great services. The facilities are excellent and so is the quality of care offering same-day access. The patient wants and expects a one-stop shopping experience. We want to provide that experience as we see it leads to happy patients who return and an increase to revenues keeping things moving forward.”

“Unfortunately, the providers don’t always have all the tools they need. And so at times the patient has to leave and may need to come back multiple times or go to other service providers in different locations. Providers become great firefighters as they have multiple day-to-day problems they need to solve. They are good short-term problem solvers, but sometimes fixes backfire and lead to new problems, creating a cycle of fighting fires and wasting resources. Often internal and external communication breaks down creating new issues. And patients don’t always show up for appointments; technology is not being used at its highest level, so resources can be wasted.”

Some have commented about our “vision:”

“We have (need) a vision that we can all buy into, a vision that gives us energy and helps us with alignment. With an internal system working at full capacity, we have feedback loops that allow us to solve problems faster and better, leading us to new innovations, or better mousetraps. We are the “house of yes,” where happy patients keep coming back as we have a one-stop shopping care system that produces revenue so we can keep building our excellent system of care. Brody is filled with amazing, diverse people who have the tools and technology they need to do their jobs well. Research helps us to drive this bus. Our researchers and clinicians are engaged and collaborate together to understand what is needed. This culture of collaboration attracts new faculty who want to work in this type of environment. We will open our floodgates of knowledge as we all come together with one common mission and purpose that links us with Vidant. This is a time of metamorphosis, as the citizens in eastern North Carolina are transitioning toward good preventive health. And that’s our ultimate goal.”

Some are proposing early wins:

“We recognize that we do have some tools that could be used, like ‘My Chart,’ which could begin to help with patient communication and lead to better use of resources so appointment times are filled.”

“Perhaps we can create a shared vision for Brody, ECU and Vidant. The mission might be different in each area, but if a shared vision could be created, it might help people understand the interconnections of their work, leading to more opportunities for collaboration. “

“We should continue to foster a culture of collaboration. We should look for ways to bring young faculty, from clinical and basic sciences, together now so that they understand each other’s work. Find out what clinical faculty need from researchers so they see the power of working together.”

We will balance the intangibles and measure the objective outcomes. My colleagues, I am proud to say that you are all demonstrating what is essential in bring us to the very bright future that I predict is possible.

Carry on, and let me know how you are engaged in this metamorphosis. I’d like to hear from you.


Mar 122014

This blog series is about medical matters isn’t it? So I can mention this new word that I made up without expecting too many “bless your hearts.”

The point is that, as you know, my blogs are typically prompted by current events, and, of course, my own personal perspectives. I publish them on an “as needed” p.r.n. basis.

I have talked about heroes in the past. My great privilege is to work with all of you. Embedded within our culture is an indefatigable adherence to the mission of the school, and I am incredibly encouraged by the faithful commitment that I see and experience every day. Thank you so much!

I just met a whole roomful of similar heroes this morning. Our Office of Health Access facilitated a conversation with all of the health department directors from “down east.” We asked them to come here because we wanted to know how we could best continue our many collaborations and informal interactions with them.

My clear recognition is that, spiritually, you heroes at Brody are not alone in this part of the state. These health directors appear to be the most committed and dedicated leaders you could ever meet – all personally working to benefit the citizens of our region.

One could become jealous, because you could say the health directors have co-opted our mission. I am not jealous even for a moment – this is the very best thing that could happen to us. We must invite more folks to co-opt our mission!

I have long recognized that the work of improving the health of all of the citizens in eastern North Carolina is one that cannot be accomplished through the hard work, even with the lifetime work, of us here at “the Brody.” We need partners, and the folks that I met today seem to understand the need to work together.

Over the four decades of our existence, we have developed intimate relationships with all of the various agencies, businesses and practices that serve the health of our citizens. It is our intention to continue this work together.

Yes, these folks I met today, like many of you, are representative of the “different type of heroes” that I have described before. These individuals have no issue with holding the fort and minding the store. Some days, we all are satisfied to just make things better.

By the way, all of the other health sciences deans attended the meeting as well – Dean Sylvia Brown, Dean Greg Chadwick and Dean Stephen Thomas. They are my heroes, too!

Keep up the good work.

Until next time,


Jan 282014

I have to start this conversation with an apology. You all know that I wasn’t born here in eastern North Carolina. I just came here as fast as I could.

This time of year reminds me of preparing the green, leafy and leathery-when-raw vegetable that is called “a collard.”

The few times that I have been to the grocery recently, it appears that every grocery cart is literally overflowing with the greenery.

Yes, I have come to acquire the taste. Nothing better than a “mess” of collards to accompany some good country cooking! It may even be good for our health. That is, if there was not so much fatback in the recipe.

This time of year, it also seems that collards are not the only thing that is being cooked. This last weekend’s newspaper headlines indicate that the City Council is looking toward Greenville’s future. I have not followed the council’s strategic planning process closely, but it does appear that this year’s work embraced some different thinking. Fountainwork, a consultant group, was hired to facilitate the planning retreat. Councilwoman Marion Blackburn was quoted as saying, “It was a chance to stop thinking of us as we are now and start thinking of what we can be.”

Greenville’s recent history was invoked for the sake of setting the foundation for the conversation, and “in the final stretch of the retreat’s session, (the) council brainstormed Greenville’s vision in the format of a 2034 magazine cover, complete with the headlines, images, quotes and sidebars.

“(The) council broke up into two teams and used pens, markers, paper, scissors, glue and other supplies to dream how Greenville would grace a magazine cover and spread 20 years into the future.”

This exercise that was engaged by our elected leaders sounded to me to have been valuable for them. The Daily Reflector article is worth reading, as it is clear that the group was working earnestly to come up with plausible scenarios that are likely to be of great benefit in our future. Health care and education were clear themes, and, understandably, these areas of endeavor are close to our own passions.

At “The Brody,” we have already embarked upon a somewhat similar activity. You may not yet be aware, as this strategic planning process is not in the format of “a retreat.” At the conclusion of this process, we will be re-imagining our future as well. We have called this process “real-time strategy.”

At The Brody, we are tending to peoples’ lives and educating our students and ourselves 24/7. Therefore, it is nigh impossible to have all 2,000 of us to simultaneously come together for even an afternoon, much less an hour. So, in consultation with others, we have orchestrated the opportunity to create an almost continuous strategic-planning process. It will need relatively small stretches of dedicated time while concentrating with maximal focus and intensity. The engagement should finally feel personal and palpable to everyone who dares to care about our mission sufficiently to be full partners in this endeavor. This is how we will secure our future evolution. This process has already started with a small group and will expand to include many others over the next several weeks and months.

We look to imagine our future and dream a little. In this way, we will continue to cherish and support our values while looking forward. In my way of thinking, we need to all consciously recognize that there are many opportunities for us to grasp. In real terms, however, this future can be achieved only with our own personal passion, commitment and work.

“Strategic planning” is often an event, but it is continuous adaptation and innovation that’s demanded. It’s an opportunity to set priorities and begin to work on them.

Rather than a retreat, it’s an advance — a constant challenge of changing our methods to respond to our context. It is our values that remain constant.

To tell the truth, I have become really passionate about collards. My foundation recipe that I have learned from native eastern North Carolinians has involved cleaning the leaves of sand and dirt, de-ribbing, boiling them “to death” seasoned with fatback and chopping the resulting product.

I have not been able to leave well alone!

Here is my latest modified approach. The cleaning and de-ribbing of the leaves remains essential. This is where the recipe begins to deviate. Roll the leaves as if one is making a cigar. Then slice across the rolled leaves, at half inch intervals.

(Question: We all know how to roll cigars, right? My grandfather taught me in Jamaica. But that’s for another time.)

The next few steps will clearly plunge me into the “Bless Your Heart” column!
Put the collards into a pressure cooker with “store-bought” Italian dressing and a little water. Season with some ground allspice, then pressure cook for 20 minutes. Sprinkle black pepper to taste and serve hot!

Oh-my-gosh, folks are saying! My momma would have died!

Values are like collards – their application and context can grow. Collards were once just on the back porch, but now we find them in fine restaurants.

I call this “re-imagining the future.” This is where good and engaged strategic planning becomes important.

Please try it; you may like it!


P.S. Do you know what your blood pressure is?

Jan 022014

Happy New Year colleagues! I had an intention to write a note during the holidays. It just wasn’t happening! These last few weeks have been like a bobsled run – just steering, no brakes!

Between football and advertisements on television, it is inevitable to come across the “deals” that make television advertising so compelling.

I remain fascinated by my own gullibility. But even for me, it is unimaginable that such valuable appliances and cures can be made available for so many for so little. The best deals are doubled – just pay shipping and handling.

It’s almost impossible not to “call now,” but I have discovered a nagging feeling that wants me to think about why these deals can’t be as valuable as touted. I have tried to imagine all of the possible underlying motives of the pitch person. Can it be that they love us, their customers, so much that they are extending their heartfelt generosity? Do they donate all of their excess profits to charitable organizations that support our community?

I have become somewhat skeptical about deals.

The word “deal” has taken on a new and perhaps more sinister slant. It seems that every week or so, a deal is brokered across the world. Historically, the very best deals turned out to elevate the lives humans across whole countries. Our country engaged in a deal with Europe after the last world war that sought to rebuild the damaging effect of war and has had lasting positive effects.

Many of these positive deals are preceded by the most thoughtful and magnanimous actions as can be imagined. These are the real deals – the ones that are created out of the purest of motives.

So, now we are discovering that there are other types of deals. These deals are embedded with an underlying catch. There may be subtle but intentional signs that of what appear to be intentional manipulative leverage. If the deal is driven by motives such as power and control, the outcome is likely to be dysfunctional.

“Real deals” seem to take place within a context of caring and compassion. Can one imagine making a deal with your children? Even when discipline and tough love are involved, due to the intention, the outcome is likely to be positive and rewarding.

As we face the New Year, I have resolved to work toward that very best of real deals that can be created in my personal and professional life. It is my intention to work against deals that are defined by a win-lose dynamic, no matter how compelling they may appear. I refuse to pay shipping and handling for two of the same gadget!

My new word to test my own intention is the word “optimal.”

That one word will suffice as my New Year’s resolution. How about yours?



Dec 062013

It is continuously inspiring to have the privilege of being embedded with so many technically advanced humans who support the mission here at Brody. Being technically competent is almost a given. Performing at the highest level of excellence is the baseline and normal way that we expect to go about our business in these healing missions.

I think there is more that is evident.

Listening to the news, it appears there are so many issues that seem to generate anger and distress. Disasters of every kind are chronicled – local, statewide and national. If that geography is not sufficient, issues of international strife are thrown in for seasoning.

Listening closely, I have held my breath in anticipation that beyond the distress and anger are potential solutions that will be clearly expressed. To date, breath holding does not appear to help!

It does not seem to be the fashionable thing to be in the business of offering solutions. This approach is clearly not newsworthy. Maybe it’s because this approach does not generate the necessary emotional tension that demands full alert. Finding solutions and bringing challenging and contentious issues to resolution does not appear to carry the same context as the heightened expression of frustration and continuously impending disaster.

So who are the ones who are finding solutions and thereby diminishing threat?

I recollect that the latest O. Max Gardner Award winner is Professor Samuel F. Sears, director of the doctoral program in health psychology here at ECU. This is one of the highest awards a faculty member within the UNC system can achieve. Dr. Sears is the world’s leading expert on the physiological implications for patients living with an implanted heart defibrillator.

As you can expect, Sam is a compelling speaker and educator, and one of his insights has been the effect of national disasters on heart irregularities. A month after the World Trade Center disaster, as an example, more potentially damaging heart irregularities were recorded in people who had devices implanted than before the event. This is a reproducible phenomenon.

This revelation seems to indicate to me that human emotion is affected by threats, even though not personal. These emotions then are reflected by physical responses that are potentially life threatening.
How can people inoculate themselves against these threats?

Former South African President Nelson Mandela – Rolihlahla Mandiba by his tribal name – died yesterday. His life and legacy are of historical proportions. It is evident that this man survived many real threats and hardships for significant portions of his life. He did much more than just survive. There must be lessons to be learned here.

Why did Nelson Mandela not succumb to deprivation? Why was he not perpetually angry? How did he manage to not only survive but thrive?

As fellow humans, I am thinking that each of us has the innate capacity to experience and consciously acknowledge personal threat and anxiety. Perhaps, with thought, practice and training, the human spirit can rise above what is an obvious predicament and achieve an unexpected, transformative level of achievement.

This is a moment in time when I think that it is appropriate to reflect. In some small way, how can each of us, as technically advanced as we all are, personally commit to finding what may be the pathway to human courage and ultimate achievement?

We live in a volatile and chaotic world. That is the given.

What is courage, but the conscious acknowledgement of the always persistent threats while simultaneously committing to elevating our individual human performance beyond that which can be imagined?

Why would one take such a risk?

We live in the poorest, sickest third of North Carolina. We are here to help.

Keep well,


Oct 302013

Humans, all of us, really seem to value heroes.

These are the folks who seem to snatch opportunity out of disaster. They must capture imagination and emotions and must appear super-human in some way. They must have displayed unimaginable courage in the face of insurmountable fear; impossibly augmented physical, emotional and even metaphysical strength in averting danger or destruction. Reordering the physical nature of things in some unimaginable way will suffice.

If they don’t personally survive, so much the better!

I have often wondered if these heroes sought out these opportunities. For example, did they always have visions of walking across a stage to thunderous applause? Was that image of adulation what motivated them to get out of bed and come to work every day? Is it pure happenstance that the right person met the right challenge at the right time and, with blind luck, survived?

In science, we recently celebrated the awarding of Nobel Prizes. On Oct. 10, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was bestowed jointly to James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof for “their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.”

In every case, as I have observed, the Nobel Prize selection process has focused on an achievement that ties together related mechanisms with a unifying discovery. The discovery solves a broad number of questions.

It has made me think about the way that these scientific “heroes” came to be. Did someone tell them to pursue a Nobel Prize? Was that their dream all through their career? What about those who asked the important questions even though they were not the first to find the answers? How important are these people and how should they be recognized?

I often wonder if we spend more time worshiping heroes and less time nurturing all those who essentially contribute to the process of creation of those heroes.

In commentary related to another awesome discovery – the Higgs boson – I read the following by Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology:

“Science has always been an intensely collaborative pursuit, and prizes to individuals are rarely able to capture the full nuance of the historical reality. In the modern era, when communication between scientists anywhere on earth is instantaneous and effortless, collaborations are growing larger and more central to the scientific enterprise.

“…in the future the prize committee should be allowed to consider institutions and collaborations as well as individuals. Doing so would not only give recognition to the many people who deserve credit for discoveries like the Higgs, but it would also reflect to the world the nature of modern scientific investigation.”

In no way were these statements made to diminish the enormous contribution of the prizewinners, but there is obvious truth to the fact that we all do not work in a vacuum.

How much credit can we bestow on those who work to avoid catastrophes versus running to the rescue? What value do we offer those who through the educational process instill the value of personal discipline and rigor in the art and science of discovery?

Who are our unsung heroes right here on the banks of the mighty Tar? Let me know.