Honoring Excellence: Q and A with Bret Stevens, EdD, MBA, C-TAGME

February 28, 2023

This interview is one in a series of interviews with recipients of the 2023 ACGME Awards. The awardees join an outstanding group of previous honorees whose work and contributions to graduate medical education (GME) represent the best in the field. They were honored at the ACGME Annual Educational Conference, which took place in Nashville, Tennessee February 23-25, 2023.

2023 GME Institutional Coordinator Excellence Awardee Bret Stevens, EdD, MBA, C-TAGME is the institutional coordinator for McLaren Health Care and the associate designated institutional official (DIO) for McLaren Oakland and McLaren St. Luke’s hospitals.

ACGME: How did you become involved in academic medicine?

Mr. Stevens: It was by complete happenstance. As I was wrapping up my undergraduate degree and interning in a hospital, I began my full-time job hunt for post-graduation. The director of quality for the department was browsing jobs alongside me and saw a position for a medical education accreditation specialist. She had previously worked in medical education and thought it might be something I’d enjoy. I had never heard of medical education, the ACGME, nor anything related to residency beyond what Scrubs had taught me. I applied and was lucky enough to have a director and DIO who took a chance on me despite my limited job knowledge. That was almost 10 years ago, and the rest is history!

ACGME: What does this award mean to you?

Stevens: I’m honored, humbled, and was honestly surprised to receive this award. For anyone in GME, the ACGME Awards are among the most prestigious and I never considered myself worthy to receive such an honor. The award gives me a sense of pride for both myself and those that I have worked alongside over my years in medical education. I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in without the support of my colleagues and mentors.

ACGME: What is the most rewarding part of being a coordinator?

Stevens: The most rewarding part, hands down, is being able to help others succeed in reaching their full potential. Working in academic medicine we get to welcome brand new residents each year while simultaneously attending graduation ceremonies where we see the physicians they have become after their time in the program. Beyond the residents’ and fellows’ success, serving as an institutional coordinator, we have a hand in every program and the institution at large. The reward is not only in supporting the residents and fellows, but supporting program directors, coordinators, and the DIO in ensuring that the educational environment is the best that it can be for all parties. Being able to celebrate the successes of every one of these individuals is by far the most rewarding.

ACGME: What is the most challenging part of being a coordinator?

Stevens: I find two aspects of the role of a coordinator as the most challenging. The first is when we see others stumble in their GME journey. We come to work every day to support our residents and fellows in both their education and ensuring they help to provide safe, quality patient care. When a resident or fellow, for one reason or another, matriculates out of the residency/fellowship prematurely, it always weighs heavy. The other is when you feel a sense of helplessness or not being able to do enough to help your programs or institution succeed. As an institutional coordinator, we want resident/fellow, program, and institution to be successful, and realizing that we can’t do it all, despite our best efforts is challenging. It can be all too easy to forget to celebrate the wins and dwell on these challenges, but in the end the wins far outweigh [the challenges].

ACGME: What advice do you have to brand-new coordinators who are just starting their careers?

Stevens: Put yourself out there, absorb every ounce of information you can, and do it all with a sense of humility. The academic medicine community is one of the most supportive. There are hundreds, if not thousands, like you who are trying to navigate this world, so introduce yourself, make connections, find a mentor, join an organization, attend meetings, and participate in scholarly works. No one must figure this out on their own, and the amount of education and professional development available is unbelievable. Capitalize on those opportunities; even if the information isn’t applicable to your role now, it can paint a better picture for you in the future. Finally, do all of this with a sense of humility, realizing that you don’t know everything (but don’t worry, no one does), and that some days will be harder than others, where you might feel like you aren’t moving as quick or as far as you’d like. Just keep in mind that all we do is ultimately in service to our patients, whether that’s leading a Special Review to help a program succeed or cleaning off tables for an education session. We help serve our physician learners so they can serve our patients.

Learn more about the ACGME’s GME Institutional Coordinator Excellence Award and nominate a deserving individual for the 2024 award – nominations are due by March 15, 2023.