While most annual conferences have a theme, seldom is that theme carried through to the very heart of the program the way the Alliance of Independent Academic Medical Centers did at its annual meeting, held in St. Pete Beach, Fla., in March. “Change Management and Leadership” was a part of everything, from the keynotes to the poster sessions.

It had to be, says Kimberly Pierce-Boggs, AIAMC’s executive director, adding that academic medical centers are dealing with healthcare reform and work force issues that necessitate changes in the way medicine is both practiced and taught. “We wanted to address both the personal micro level—why we are resistant to change and how we can fight our change-resistance demons—and the macro level of how to lead change in your organization and in academic medicine.” Here are three of the ways AIAMC tied it all together:

1. Changes Through the Educational Continuum
The conference kicked off with insights into the changes happening on all three levels on which academic medical centers operate: undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education. Though all three of the presenters are ubiquitous at industry conferences, it was the first time that the three actually shared a stage at the same time, says Pierce-Boggs. First up was Darrell Kirch, MD, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, who laid out some of the changes that will need to be made in the undergraduate level learning environment to ensure that graduates are fully prepared to enter tomorrow’s healthcare system.

He was followed by Thomas Nasca, MD, MACP, chief executive officer of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, who told the audience of the need to stop training residents in silos and start training them as members of healthcare teams that include nurses, pharmacists, and technologists. Murray Kopelow, MD, chief executive of the Accreditation Council for CME, then completed the arc by addressing the need for changes in the continuing medical education system that would inform physicians throughout the bulk of their careers.

2. Overcoming Resistance to Change
Harvard University’s Meehan Professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development Robert Kegan, PhD, explored why people tend to be resistant to change and how they can overcome that resistance, and he conducted a group exercise to help audience members identify their sticking points. Just having Kegan as the keynote speaker required a change on the part of AIAMC, which historically has shied away from keynoters whose expertise lies outside of academic medicine. But last year the organization had great success with ABC's aviation expert John Nance, who talked about some of the things healthcare could learn from the airlines, and Pierce-Boggs says this year's keynoter was also a hit.

“Having someone come in from outside the field of academic medicine helps our attendees get outside of their comfort zone a bit,” she says. In fact, Kegan’s presentation was so well-received that Pierce-Boggs was worried they might need more meeting space for the three-hour intensive workshop Kegan was giving that afternoon as a follow-up to his keynote.

3. Leading Change in the Next Generations
Following the AIAMC’s annual meeting was the final meeting of the organization’s National Initiative: Improving Patient Care Through Graduate Medical Education, which focused on integrating academics and quality in teaching hospitals by having residents lead quality-improvement projects in their institutions. While there have been many initiatives aimed at increasing patient safety and reducing medical errors, they were seldom being driven by residents, even though residents can be a big asset, says Pierce-Boggs. “They’re working in every unit at all hours of the day and night—if you ever want to know what’s going wrong in any teaching hospital, ask a resident.”

About half of the 35 AIAMC members who participated in the initiative shared the outcomes of their quality-improvement projects during separate poster sessions at the AIAMC conference. “It was tremendous to see all the work collectively in one setting, and it was heartwarming to see residents get up and talk about their work,” says Pierce-Boggs. As she listened to the residents talk about having the opportunity to work with leadership on quality issues, talk with the C-suite about where the problems are, and lead change, Pierce-Boggs realized that, while the intention behind the poster sessions was to build a bridge between the two meetings, they may actually be doing much more. “It struck me as I stood in the back of the room that I was watching change leadership in action.”

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