The Hedwig von Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program, sponsored by Drexel University, started in 1995. Since then, it has helped build the leadership skills of more than 600 women in medicine, science and dentistry. Ten participants have been from Cincinnati Children's.

With the appointment of Evie Alessandrini, MD, the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program this year, Cincinnati Children’s will send its 10th participant through a program designed to help women in medicine prepare for leadership roles.

Alessandrini is one of 54 women chosen from around the country to be part of the 2011–12 ELAM class. She already has an impressive list of credentials – assistant vice president of outcome systems in the James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence at Cincinnati Children’s, director of Cincinnati Children’s Quality Scholars Program, which trains new clinical and research leaders in healthcare quality improvement, and professor of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. And she continues to do clinical work in our Division of Emergency Medicine.

As an ELAM participant, she will spend hundreds of hours on independent reading and assignments, attend several multiple day sessions with her class and complete a leadership project at Cincinnati Children’s. Alessandrini believes it will be well worth it.

“It will be an amazing opportunity to learn not only from the program’s curriculum, but from the other women who will be participating,” she says.

She plans to design her leadership project around some aspect of what is already her life’s work – improving processes in our clinical areas and measuring how and whether they result in better outcomes.

Sandra Degen, PhD, one of ELAM’s early alumnae, participated in the program’s third year, 1997– 98. She was the first woman from the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s to be part of the program and has been a strong advocate for our continued participation, sponsoring many of the women who have followed.

She agrees that being part of a group of talented, accomplished women is one of the program’s greatest strengths.

“I learned that in my cohort of 40 or so women, I had the same skills they did,” Degen says. “It was empowering to know I had the ability to be a leader. I needed training, but I felt empowered to do whatever I wanted to do.”

She has gone on to do just that, using what she learned to progress into roles of increasing responsibility and leadership at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s. The skills she learned in the ELAM program gave Degen the confidence to network with leaders at the university and to be noticed when opportunities for advancement arose. She has served in a dual role as vice president of research at the University of Cincinnati and associate chair for academic affairs in Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation.

Lori Stark, PhD, director of the Division of Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, still uses a book she was assigned to read during her ELAM fellowship in 2000–2001. The book was Difficult Conversations.

“I keep a steady supply in my office to share with my faculty,” she says. “It offers great insight into how to work with other people when you have strong differing opinions and need to find a mutually agreeable solution.”

Maria Britto was part of the ELAM class of 2005–2006. As a researcher interested in healthcare quality improvement, she knew that strong persuasive skills would be crucial to her career.

“The work I do is all about leading by encouragement and persuasion,” Britto says. “I felt that optimizing my skills in those areas would be important to moving the work forward and becoming more effective.”

She believes the ELAM program helped her acquire those skills through its approach to assessing participants’ strengths and weaknesses, from the practical skills she learned in her class sessions, and from observing and learning from her peers in the program. Britto, an assistant vice president for chronic care quality, now directs Cincinnati Children’s Center for Innovation in Chronic Disease.

Alessandrini is also focusing her career on healthcare quality improvement. She hopes to use what she learns from her ELAM fellowship to forge a new path in academic medicine.

“In academic health centers, we tend to judge success on how many research dollars we bring in and how many publications we have in high-impact journals. We don’t think as much about outcomes, experience, or value of care for patients,” she says. “Here at Cincinnati Children’s, we are thinking about it. We are getting much better at measuring and improving these things. We continually discover new and innovative ways to deliver high quality care to patients. Now we have to come full circle and disseminate our work through publications and other venues to advance the scholarship of healthcare improvement.”

Leading that kind of change requires skills that are built over a lifetime, says Britto. She credits ELAM with providing a good foundation.

“I learned a great deal in the ELAM program, but leadership skills are a collection of experiences, of incremental learning and practicing,” she says. “It still continues today.”

For Lori Stark, one of the most important lessons from her ELAM experience as well as from the years since is that leadership has little to do with title.

“Just having a title doesn’t make you a leader. The key is how you work with people to make your common vision come through and keep everyone going in the same direction,” Stark says.