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A Tradition of Developing Women Leaders in Academic Health

Every year, women leaders from U.S. academic health centers apply to participate in the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program. Applicants are nominated by their institutions for an intensive one-year fellowship. Acceptance is highly competitive. Nominees often apply multiple times before being selected. 

University of Utah Health has a tradition of nominating highly qualified applicants for ELAM. We have maintained an unusually high acceptance rate. It’s rare for more than one nominee to be selected annually from a single institution. We have defied these odds, consistently having both of our nominees accepted.

Investing in Women Leaders 

It’s critical that more women acquire executive leadership skills from other women leaders. Women are still significantly underrepresented within the highest administrative ranks of academic health centers.

Erica Bisson, Molly Conroy, Michael Good
Erica Bisson, MD, MPH, Molly Conroy, MD, MPH, and Michael Good, MD, at the 2023 ELAM and ELH Leaders Forum.

ELAM prepares women for senior leadership roles in schools of medicine, dentistry, public health, and pharmacy. The program focuses on the unique challenges facing women in leadership positions. 

Fellows benefit from extensive coaching, networking, and mentoring opportunities. They hone the skills required to lead and manage in today's complex health care environment.   

U of U Health is invested in having as many women as possible participate in this prestigious national leadership development program for emerging women leaders. Dr. Michael Good, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, has been involved with ELAM for more than 15 years. 

“Academic medicine is finally making progress toward inclusive leadership,” Dr. Good says. “After decades with only one in six medical school dean positions filled by women leaders, today, nearly 30% of U.S. medical school deans are women. And the majority of them are ELAM graduates.”

Institutional Mentors and National Advisors   

The ELAM fellowship includes meeting with leaders in your own organization and broadening your understanding of the different missions of academic medicine. Fellows have access to the medical school dean along with other institutional mentors, a project mentor, and a group of national advisors who are part of the ELAM learning collaborative.   

The collaboration provides an outside perspective to help fellows navigate the internal issues at their institutions, both during their fellowship and after as ELAM alumnae.   

During the ELAM fellowship, each fellow designs, implements, and initiates evaluation of an Institutional Action Plan (IAP). The IAP integrates the curricular resources and peer support of the fellowship in a tangible leadership contribution to the fellow's institution.

Class of 2023 ELAM Fellows 

Once again, in 2023, we were fortunate to have both of our ELAM nominees selected as fellows. Molly Conroy, MD, MPH, was selected to the traditional ELAM program. Erica Bisson, MD, MPH, was selected to a new fellowship track for Executive Leadership in Health Care (ELH). ELH focuses on rising women at the equivalent of the associate or full professor level who are established experts in their domain. These fellows aspire to lead at the executive level in the next five years. 

Earlier this year, Bisson and Conroy presented their Institutional Action Plans (IAPs), successfully completing the fellowship program. Below, they share highlights from their ELAM experience.

Class of 2023 ELAM Fellow: Erica Bisson, MD, MPH   

“I’m incredibly honored to have been selected. It’s a recognition that you’ve been identified as someone with potential to grow into very specific leadership roles within our health care system. Being chosen by the ELAM leaders as someone who would thrive in this new path, which is congruent with my aspirations, was a privilege.   

“It was intense, but in a good way, that kept us engaged all year long. Over the course of the year, I had the opportunity to engage with leaders in one-on-one dialogues about meaningful steps in their own careers. This gave me perspective on the journey. 

“It’s valuable to connect with other leaders in similar roles across the country. We can use each other as springboards to discuss challenging topics about physician leadership, overcoming roadblocks, and navigating institutional change. 

Erica Bisson and Heal and Home partners
Erica Bisson, MD, MPH (middle), with Heal at Home team members Steven Hayworth (right) and Russell Hanson (left).

“Years ago, the University of Utah partnered with Community Nursing Services to develop home-based programs, initiated by the population health team. My team engaged with the CNS and population health teams and designed a protocol. Discharged patients had nurses come out for wound care and opioid education; patients had decreased returns to the ED and lower use of opioid medications. 

"The ELH program opened my mind to new possibilities: Why aren’t we doing this more broadly for post-acute care? I identified a growing opportunity to leverage our CNS partnership to increase these programs institution-wide. This became the focus of my Institutional Action Plan. 

“I learned so much about myself throughout this experience. This year taught me grace and humility to better define my strengths and opportunities. I learned to stretch outside my comfort zone and engage with an empathetic and curious voice.” 

I’ve known Dr. Bisson for more than 15 years as an incredibly skilled and successful neurosurgeon. She possesses an incredible ability to make a connection. Her interpersonal skills and authenticity make her a great physician, colleague, and leader. It has been a pleasure to see her further develop as an extraordinary leader, especially over this past year in the ELAM/ELH program. Dr. Bisson has a remarkable capacity to find common understanding through empathy and active listening. I’ve witnessed her adeptly acknowledge and respect other positions, while providing clarity on her own stance in difficult conversations. When faced with challenges, she has a unique way of synthesizing complex problems into an understandable, actionable solution. 
– Dan Lundergan, MHA, Project Mentor

Class of 2023 ELAM Fellow: Molly Conroy, MD, MPH

“This was my first experience in a learning environment with all women. It was incredibly supportive—a place where you could be vulnerable and transparent, even in a large group.   

“Everyone was assigned to a learning community that you met with throughout the program. I think they’re very intentional about putting together people from different backgrounds. Hearing from women in different disciplines who are dealing with similar issues was incredibly helpful.   

Kristina Callis Duffin, Neli Ulrich, Molly Conroy
Molly Conroy, MD, MPH (right), with other U of U Health ELAM alumni Kristina Callis Duffin, MD, MS, 2022 (left), and Neli Ulrich, PhD, MS, 2020 (middle).

“ELAM allowed me to lean into areas that I already felt were strengths as a leader and be honest about areas where I needed to grow, in a very safe environment. 

“For my Institutional Action Plan, I picked a topic close to my heart: Making sure that faculty in primary care groups at the University of Utah have the support they need. Since the pandemic, we have more demand for our services. We have patients who put off care, and we’re feeling the impact of people leaving medicine. To give patients access to holistic, high-quality care, we need adequate care teams. I focused on creating a common platform for care-team support. 

“When you finish ELAM, you have a community that you continue to draw upon. My learning community is a new peer group that I’ll grow with for the rest of my career. Our intention is to continue offering each other personal and professional support, which is crucial. So many women leaders are missing a cohort of peer mentors.” 

Dr. Conroy has done an amazing job leading the critical effort to better integrate and coordinate primary care services for University of Utah Health. She exemplifies inclusivity and ably navigates complexity. Her leadership has been invaluable. – Sam Finlayson, MD, MPH, MBA, Project Mentor

Class of 2024 ELAM Fellows 

To accommodate a strong pool of applicants, ELAM added a second cohort of fellows. For the first time ever, ELAM accepted four more women leaders from U of U Health into the Class of 2024 fellows: Erin Clark, MD, MSCI (ELH track); Amy Locke, MD; Caroline Milne, MD (ELH track); and Alana Welm, PhD.

2024 ELAM Fellows

Maintaining a Legacy of Leadership   

We congratulate Erica Bisson and Molly Conroy for dedicating a year to invest in themselves as leaders and in the success of U of U Health. We will continue to expand the vibrant ELAM community on our campus and develop other leadership programs for women faculty. 

Wendy Hobson-Rohrer, MD, MSPH

Wendy Hobson-Rohrer, MD, MSPH

Wendy Hobson-Rohrer is Associate Vice President for Health Sciences education at University of Utah Health. Hobson-Rohrer identifies and leverages the university’s distinct strengths, builds engagement and educational integration among colleges and schools, and maintains a culture of educational excellence. She is a member of the Class of 2015 ELAM Fellows.  

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