Meet Dr. Sue Steinemann, JABSOM’s newest DIO and Faculty Affairs Director
16 February 2023
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For more than 25 years, Dr. Sue Steinemann has helped craft and execute the vision of the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s surgical department. Dr. Steinemann moved to Hawaiʻi and started as a critical and surgical care fellow in 1996. Citing the quality of the teaching at JABSOM and the diverse patient population, she quickly decided this would be home.
Dr. Steinemann started a private, general surgical practice while also working in the surgical ICU. While she loved providing hands-on care, she equally loved education and teaching. When the surgical clerkship director left, Dr. Steinemann took on the role of director of surgical education for medical students and following that, was Interim Chair of the department for three years. She made it a point to do more simulation-based education while collaborating with colleagues to incorporate other novel educational techniques.
This year, Dr. Steinemann is taking on a new challenge as JABSOM’s Designated Institutional Official. We sat down with her to learn more about what that entails and how she’ll continue to impact JABSOM’s future.
Q: During your career as a trauma surgeon, you’ve taught hundreds of students and made a great impact. What was most rewarding? A: I think general surgery, particularly trauma, is a great place for teaching. The teaching adds another dimension to practice because you’re able to teach both the technical skills and the patient communication and then the knowledge and the thinking approach. Surgery is a team sport, so we get to do a lot of interprofessional teaching. Even if it’s a procedure that I’ve done a hundred times before, when the learner gets that ‘aha’ moment or that confidence from being able to do something for the first time, it’s always just so rewarding. It’s like living it again for myself.
Q: When you were providing that hands-on surgical training, you still had a significant say in the administrative side of JABSOM. You spent more than 12 years as Director of Surgical Education for Medical Students and even was its chair for a short time. How did you juggle these critical roles? A: As a physician, you need to figure out time management early in your career. Even as a medical student, you’re busy! Getting the perspectives from both sides is invaluable. Sometimes your clinical background and your interaction with the residents and the patients help inform how to design educational programs and vice versa. Working on the other side and having some knowledge about the science of teaching and how to construct that makes you a better teacher. It helps you relate better to the residents and the patients and also enables you to teach those skills to the residents because the residents are teachers too. They’re teaching their junior residents. They’re teaching the medical students. It’s trying to create this culture of education and coaching and continuous improvement that’s so important to medicine.
Q: You’re taking on this new role of Designated Institutional Official. What will you be doing now? A: I work with Dr. Holly Olson, Dr. Lynn Iwamoto, and Crystal Costa, our administrative specialist. All are fantastic. It’s quite a group effort, and we all bring different backgrounds and perspectives to that role, which is helpful. The nuts and bolts of the job have to do with keeping the programs accredited nationally. So many requirements are set up to ensure that the quality of education is top-notch and that we’re adequately supporting our residents and fellows. There’s a more fun, creative part, too, that’s looking for opportunities in our state. We’re at a very critical point in our state. Most people know there’s a physician workforce shortage, particularly on neighbor islands and in more rural areas. Thinking about how residency and fellowship programs can help address that, not just when working as a resident and fellow, but for the long term when our graduates choose their community to live and practice.
Q: Dr. Buenconsejo-Lum, who is taking on the Interim Dean role, was the former DIO. Should we expect any changes under your leadership? A: Dr. Buenconsejo-Lum has done a fantastic job setting up the culture, recruiting faculty, and finding ways for people to get engaged. Obviously, she recruited the great team that I’m working with. So I’m not gonna mess with a good thing. Some of the things that we really are focused on, especially as Graduate Medical Education expands, is how to make sure everyone is prepared for their teaching role, focusing on that faculty development aspect of it. Bryan Brown also has been working on these bite-sized, asynchronous online modules that faculty can access and have some engaging educational experience that really gives them best practices and current knowledge on basic things like how to provide feedback, how to set educational goals for your learners, how to teach procedural skills. That’s just one part. The other part is to make sure that we recognize our faculty’s diversity of talent. I think that the historical trappings of research of being either in a lab or working in databases and then publishing papers, is great and still very important and pertinent, but there’s also scholarly activity that involves quality improvement activity and education. How do you recruit and retain a diverse group of residents and fellows? How do we address the workforce shortages? What is the science behind some of the teaching we do? How can we use simulation to our advantage? Now that we have this kind of technology, how do we give our students, residents, and fellows a running start and get them expertise both for their technical and non-technical skills before they even touch a patient? All of that is on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to it. We’re going to enter an exciting period of Graduate Medical Education that will see expansion and innovation in how we teach and evaluate the residents and fellows.
Q: You’re also taking on a SECOND role, which you say is a “natural extension” of the DIO. What will you be doing as Director of Faculty Affairs? A: Faculty Affairs involves getting people with that unique combination of skills and interests engaged in teaching residents and students. The skills are not just clinical skills. We also need faculty with research skills, faculty that are invested in quality improvement and patient safety. It’s a great diversity of talents, and it’s fun to solve that puzzle and make sure that our faculty, after recruiting them, are prepared to teach our learners because their teaching is so important to the future of healthcare here.
Q: Do you get the same joy in contributing to the school’s direction and planning its vision as you did when you were saving a life as a trauma surgeon? A: It’s funny you should ask that because some of my colleagues who are not administrators say, ‘why would you want to do that?’ While it does take you away from the bedside, it’s just such a wonderful opportunity to help craft healthcare in our state that’s going to have a durable impact. It really is an honor and, maybe, a little scary to know that these Graduate Medical Education years, the residency, and the fellowship years are just so crucial to your career as a physician. We have data that the quality of that education has a durable impact for at least a decade after the physicians are out in practice. It’s a critical period in the life of a physician and physician’s training, and to have the opportunity to impact that is great. I like the puzzle-solving in Graduate Medical Education because we get to work with the health systems leaders, educators, and the whole range of people involved in clinical care such as nurses, pharmacists and social workers. It really takes a tremendous diversity of training and background and skills to train a resident because they need education in so many different areas. Not just in their clinical specialties but also in communication and patient skills. The patients help teach the residents also. So it’s been fun to try to bring different people and resources together to craft the best educational experience for the physicians in this really important time.
Q: Part of your role as Faculty Affairs Director is to recruit talented people to join JABSOM’s faculty. They’ll want to know what you like most about Kakaʻako. What do you like to do here? A: Sometimes, if I have a break, I’ll walk down to Point Panic just down to the waterfront. It’s just fantastic to be near the water. Some of our medical students have surfboard lockers at JABSOM, so they can take a little break. Kakaʻako is now really thriving. I like Moku Kitchen. There are a lot of good restaurants in town and just the vibe, you know, I think it’s a really active, growing young vibe, you see novel artwork and just to be in the midst of students and residents, you know, walking around, it’s exciting! It’s super fun.