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Member Spotlight: Dr. Annemarie Thompson on Training the Next Generation of Anesthesiologists and COVID-19's Lasting Impacts

Now Residency Program Director at Duke University School of Medicine, Dr. @Annemarie Thompson has seen her professional life come full circle since earning her MD from Duke nearly 25 years ago. In this ASA Member Spotlight, she discusses how medical education has changed (and how it hasn't), handicaps the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on residency training, and shares her best advice for the next generation of women anesthesiologists.

You earned your MD at Duke in the mid-90s and now you’re a professor there, so this is an apples-to-apples question! In your experience, have there been any significant changes in approach to medical training over the years? If so, what are the differences and how do you account for the change?

Wow, how much time do you have? There have been tremendous changes in medical education over the years. Some have been a continuous evolution of what was already happening in medical training years ago with simulation and case-based, small group education, but more importantly is the realization that medicine is a journey, not a destination. There are significantly more opportunities for exploration in nontraditional classroom and rotation-based areas such as global health, leadership, technology transfer, quality improvement, and business education for physicians to name a few.

Duke has maintained a unique medical school curriculum for the past 50 years where basic sciences are taught in a year, akin to drinking from a fire hydrant. The upside of this schedule was earlier exposure to our greatest teachers, the patients, in the 2nd year with the 3rd year of medical school allowing opportunities to pursue research, advanced degrees, and other areas of interest. Many other medical schools have adopted a similar program of study. Having the opportunities to connect with faculty and pursue interests not in a traditional curriculum is an important step toward holistic, lifelong education.

Now for the downside. I’m not sure how this part will be received, but I do think some advances in medical training have actually been a step back. The proliferation of exams required of medical students and residents over the past 20 years has shifted focus away from the patients (again, our greatest teachers) and toward preparing and taking standardized exams. There absolutely needs to be rigorous standards -- and a few exams, but we also need to carefully think about the connection between these exams, the competencies they demonstrate, and the clinical education opportunities lost in the time spent preparing and taking tests. The recent elimination of one of the USMLE exams, largely due to COVID pandemic concerns, may be the beginning of a reevaluation of our testing processes for medical students, residents, and yes, faculty.

As director of the residency program at Duke School of Medicine, you know firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected resident recruitment and training. What’s been the most striking to you? What if any lasting impacts do you expect to see?

The COVID-19 pandemic presented an obstacle but also an opportunity for all of us to rethink the way we recruit and train residents. From the recruitment standpoint, the COVID-19 pandemic effectively put the brakes on what had turned into an expensive, time-consuming process for medical students at the expense of clinical training. By conducting virtual interviews, there was a significant cost and time savings for students (and hopefully a return to clinical training) that I hope can be continued in some form going forward.

As a program, we had to quickly pivot to an online recruitment and interview process, and there were many concerns. How do you give an applicant a “feel” for a program they have never seen? How do you capture the 3-dimensional residency experience during a 2-dimensional interview, complete with artificial backgrounds and audio delays? Fortunately, we have amazing residents who stepped up – way up – to help convey the strengths and spirit of our program, hosting virtual open houses, highlighting our program through social media, and speaking one-on-one with applicants. They were the superheroes of recruitment while dealing with the pandemic’s effects on their own lives and training.

How do you inspire your female students and residents? Are there any personal stories or experiences you typically share with them as they navigate their training and, if so, can you tell us about one such experience here?

We have terrific role models of strong women clinicians, researchers, and leaders in our department, and the best inspiration and motivation comes from the interaction of our students and residents with these role models. While there are some challenges unique to women, as a Program Director, my goal is to challenge all residents and students to question the norms and stretch their thinking about what an anesthesiologist is, who they “look like," and the impact anesthesiologists can have on our society. I do not want to see our future physicians limited by their own imagination or the imagination of others.

You're a member of this year's Committee on Annual Meeting Oversight (AMOC). In your opinion, how well did ASA handle the fast pivot to an online-only meeting last year, and what do you envision in terms of format for this year's event?

The conversion of the 2020 Annual Meeting to an online-only format was impressively successful and seamless! The AMOC leadership did an excellent job incorporating the suggestions from the track chairs into the plans for a condensed, but highly informative meeting. I’d like to thank the AMOC leadership for understanding that “Zoom fatigue” exists, and the program itself was outstanding. Even though I’m a member of this year’s AMOC, right now your guess is as good as mine about the format of the 2021 Annual meeting, so I will withhold speculation on that question.

Is there anything you’d like to talk about that we haven’t asked you here?

I’d like to mention what makes an organization great is the people, and that is what I miss most about not meeting in person. The ASA Annual Meeting is a tremendous opportunity to dream, plan, learn, express gratitude, meet new people, and reconnect with others. I look forward to a future where we are together again.

Annemarie Thompson, MD, is Residency Program Director for the department of anesthesiology at Duke University School of Medicine. In addition to serving on ASA's Committee on Annual Meeting Oversight, she is Chair of ASA's Educational Track Subcommittee on Perioperative Medicine. She specializes in cardiothoracic anesthesia.


ASA Community Blog is published as a benefit for ASA members. The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributing writers only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of ASA.