Monday, the University of Michigan’s Senate Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Affairs took their weekly meeting to the Medical School to talk about academics at the Medical School with Carol Bradford, the Medical School’s executive vice dean for Academic Affairs and Michigan Medicine’s Chief Academic Officer.

Bradford, who got her undergraduate, master’s and medical degrees at the University, began by talking to the body about what she is doing in her role as Vice Dean of Academic Affairs, which she began in July 2016.

The previous chair of the Otolaryngology Department, Bradford is one of three executive vice deans at the Medical School — she is in charge of the school’s academic mission, while her colleagues control the clinical and research sectors of the school.

“I view my role as oversight of faculty and all learners, which we sometimes call residents or trainees,” Bradford said. “We’re also extremely committed to faculty development, so I think we’re all learners because we’re all striving to improve.”

Strategic planning for the department has been a priority of Bradford’s since she took the position. She and her team created five “pillars”— education, people, discovery, care and service— that now guide the academic mission of the Medical School.

“We came up with this mission and strategic framework, which is that the University of Michigan Medical School will transform health through bold and innovative education, discovery and service, and we’ll do that in a vibrant and inclusive learning community, with enabling resources and infrastructure,” Bradford told the body.

Bradford then opened the conversation up to SACUA, asking for their suggestions on how to best engage with the community and improve their overall strategic plan.

SACUA vice chair Ruth Carlos, professor of radiology, mentioned different strategies may work better in different situations. More sensitive topics like conversations on diversity, race and equity require different outreach methods, as people are often more reluctant to talk about them.

“I believe it’s contextual,” Carlos said. “What we want to share, and the information we’d like to get back really depends on the topic and the sensitivity of the topic … It’s challenging to come up with a single recommendation and in many instances, the stakeholders we’d like to engage don’t know they’re stakeholders. They don’t know they can be engaged.”

Bradford agreed, sharing that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts have been very robust at the Medical School. Each department within the school has a diversity unit, and implicit bias has been a major target of these units recently. According to Bradford, over 6,000 members of Michigan Medicine have done unconscious bias training.

This segued into a conversation about wellness and civility among the Medical School community. Wellness is a growing concern among academic medical centers, and something Bradford and her team have been paying close attention to in the past year and a half.

“Our goal is to prevent and protect against burn out in the workplace environment, and it’s really for the entire workforce, we really wanted to make sure that there was nobody that was not included,” Bradford said. 

When Bradford opened the conversation to suggestions from the Committee again, SACUA member Joy Beatty, associate professor of management studies at U-M Dearborn, asked how the Medical School was addressing issues of civility in their community.

“Civility is how we treat each other, and wellness is ‘are we well,’” Bradford clarified. “So when we began to put them together, we thought, perhaps correctly or incorrectly, that lack of civility could be related to lack of wellness. And I think where we’re thinking right now is that there is overlap, but they’re two separate issues, so we need wellness tactics and we need separate civility tactics.”

SACUA member Stefan Szymanski, professor of kinesiology, steered the conversation back to wellness, saying the pressure to always be one of “the leaders and best” might contribute to a faculty burnout at the University.

“We talk about being victors, leaders, the best and I think for many people that can create discontinuity,” Szymanski said. “People don’t get up every morning feeling like a victor, a leader or the best, necessarily, and our expectations are constantly saying ‘this is what we are.’ I think that places a lot of stress on individuals.”

But on the other hand, Bradford said she found through her research that meaning and purpose could be an antidote to lack of wellness in a community.

“If you come to work and make a positive difference in the lives of patients, families, the organization, whatever it is, that actually can be a really good prevention and help you maintain and keep wellness,” Bradford said. “But I think what you’re referencing is we can’t all be superstars, so it’s about making room in the organization for everyone to make a positive impact and a difference, and when things are not going well, what resources are available.”

The Committee rounded out the discussion with a question from SACUA member Neil Marsh, professor of biological chemistry. Marsh wanted to know how Bradford viewed the relationship between the basic science departments and the clinical science departments, and how she plans to improve it. He said he has felt a large divide between the two disciplines at the University.

Bradford, the previous chair of the Department of Otolaryngology, which housed the Kresge Hearing Institute, a basic sciences department, has spent many years trying to foster the relationship between the two groups. She said she hasn’t yet found a perfect answer to Marsh’s question.

“Our teams are working very hard to hold (the two) together,” Bradford said. “It’s an opportunity and a challenge … I think we need to find forums and avenues for meaningful collaboration and win-win situations.”

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