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Carol Aschenbrener, MD

68MS, 75R-Pathology

The Dubuque, Iowa native, has a distinguished publication history and has made significant contributions to the understanding of neuropathology in brain tumors. She currently serves near the pinnacle of leadership in academic medicine as the Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer with the Association of American Medical Colleges. She played a critical role in the development of Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM), the nation’s only program focused on preparing senior women faculty to move into positions of institutional leadership, and continues to serve as a career consultant for ELAM fellows.

How/when did you become interested in science and medicine?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by how things work and been pressed by the need to keep learning. The idea of being a doctor was well formed by age nine, though I can’t trace its origin. No other members of my family pursued careers in the health professions.

What interested you to pursue a career in Neuropathology?

The fascination with how things work led me first to study psychology and philosophy in college, then the function of the brain and its diseases in my medical training. Later that same curiosity fueled an interest in organizational 

development, which prepared me both for administrative and consulting roles.

Please highlight your major career achievements, awards, discoveries, etc.

It’s difficult to think of personal achievements because my attention for the last 25 years has been focused on the work of leadership – creating the environment and conditions that will help others to achieve. My earliest “success” was collaborating with Dr. Tom Kent (56BA, 59MD, 63R- Pathology) on the development of a multi-institutional photographic test item bank for the Group on Research in Pathology Education. This fueled my interest in curriculum development, assessment and program evaluation. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to contribute to several leadership programs in academic medicine, both as an executive and as a consultant. In particular, I treasure my long association with the AAMC Professional Development Program for Women in Medicine and Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM).

Is there a teacher, mentor or University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine faculty member who has helped shape your education?

I was privileged to have many generous and wise colleagues at the University of Iowa who contributed to my professional and personal development. Three stand out as wise mentors: Tom Kent, who gave me early opportunities to become deeply engaged with medical education and gave me regular constructive feedback about teaching; John Eckstein (50MD, 54R- Internal Medicine), who modeled the kind of leader I longed to be; and George Penick, who shared many insights on how to serve one’s higher values while contributing to the academic mission.

How or why did you choose the University of Iowa for your education and medical training?

As a native Iowan, the University of Iowa was my first choice for medical school. It had a strong reputation and was close to home. After the first year of medical studies and a year earning a Master of Science degree in neuroanatomy, I transferred to the University of North Carolina when my husband at the time was accepted into a program at Duke. I returned for residency training because the University of Iowa was “home” – and stayed for 21 years.

What kind of professional opportunities or advantages has your University of Iowa medical training provided?

A rich network of colleagues, a tradition of settling for nothing less than excellence, an environment of collaboration, and a spirit of inclusion that was definitely ahead of the times.

As a graduate of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and a former faculty member, and having held the role of Dean through every level including the role of Senior Executive Dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine, what does being the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award mean to you?

I came of age, both professionally and personally, at The University of Iowa. Colleagues and experiences there shaped my values and deepened my appreciation for life. It is a humbling and treasured experience to be recognized by the academic community to which I owe so much.

Please describe your professional interests.

My professional interests have changed over the years but medical education has been a persistent thread. At present, I’m very interested in helping our member institutions and others advance the concept of competency-based learning across the continuum of the formation of a physician; from medical school admissions requirements to maintenance of competence in medical practice. I also continue to focus on systems and processes that characterize high-performing organizations in academic medicine.

Your service to the medical profession and to the professional development of academic medical centers and their faculty has been a focus of your career for some time. What led you to academic medicine and what has fueled 

your passion in this area?

For whatever reason, I am as much teacher as physician. My passion for learning has always been coupled with the desire to share and extend that learning with others. I never contemplated a practice setting other than academic medicine – it offered variety, intensity, rich intellectual challenge, top flight colleagues, and always the opportunity to serve the less advantaged among us.

How did you become involved in the development of Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM), and how has your work with ELAM impacted your own professional growth as a woman?

Page Morahan, the founder and architect of ELAM, was a colleague and friend and invited me to help share her dream of a program that would shape women as leaders in academic medicine. My work with the program has reinforced the belief that leadership is expressed in many different ways; there is no single right path or right style. I have grown ever more confident in the future because of the many capable and committed women I’ve met through that program.

What are some of your outside interests?

Reading, listening and playing music, traveling and watching my three talented granddaughters blossom.

As a physician with a distinguished publication history who has been able to combine and excel in research, clinical work, teaching and leadership, what would you say has been your greatest success?

As a mentor and executive coach, I’ve always advised others to develop their personal definition of success; to be clear on what matters most to them, what they want to contribute and how they want to live. My hope is to live life to the fullest, use my gifts in ways that make a difference, and learn to love better. Looking back professionally, I think my work helping leaders, especially women, to develop has the most impact.

Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your professional work?

My grandparents reinforced – and modeled – the importance of sharing one’s talents for the good of others. I’ve tried to understand my talents and apply them, accept and mitigate my non-talents, and just follow the opportunity to do challenging, interesting, meaningful work. I’ve been blessed in always being able to find such, or having it find me.

Albert Camus’ definition of a happy life has also been a good guiding statement: love for another person, time in the open air, opportunity to be creative, and freedom from ambition.

If you could change one thing about the practice or business of medicine, what would it be?

My one wish would be that everyone whose work touches on the practice of medicine would live in awareness that it is the person who matters. The National Alliance for Physician Accountability, a group with which I’ve

 been involved, recently released a document entitled Good Medical Practice USA that distills the duties owed by all physicians to all patients. I wish that the conditions for medical practice were such that all physicians would be willing – and able – to honor good medical practice in their work.

What is the biggest change you've experienced in medicine since you were a student?

The opportunities and challenges of information technology – the ability to gather and categorize information rapidly, and the potential for great improvement in monitoring the quality of care in a given medical practice.

What one piece of advice would you give to today's medical students?

Let your life be guided always by love for others; in the end, it’s the only thing that matters and along the way, it makes everything easier and more fun.

What do you see as "the future" of the medicine?

I hope the future will be the successful search for ever better ways of caring for the whole person. My dream is that the care of patients will be unfailingly competent, compassionate, safe and centered on the patient and his/her family. My concern is the societal valuation of technology and material things will draw us away from what really matters; care for the person.

Monday, May 15, 2017