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Erik A. Wallace, MD, FACP
Associate Dean for Colorado Springs Branch Department of Internal
Medicine University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, CO
Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO
Primary Care Internal Medicine, University of Alabama Hospital,
When medical students fall in love, compromise becomes part of
the equation, as decisions about where to do medical residencies
and where to begin careers are delicately discussed and carefully
negotiated. For ACP Fellow Dr. Erik Wallace and his future wife,
Dr. Nichole Wallace, the first hurdle they faced was managing a
long-distance relationship for 3 years.
The two medical students met during the summer following their
first year of medical school while both were working for the
National Youth Leadership Forum in Boston. He was a student at
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri,
and Nichole was attending Brown University Medical School in Rhode
Island. The couple agreed to do their residencies-he, in Internal
Medicine, she, in Pediatrics-in Alabama, so Nichole could be close
to her family. When the couple's next move took them to Tulsa,
Oklahoma because Nichole chose to pursue a Fellowship in Child
Abuse Pediatrics, she promised, or perhaps predicted, "You get to
select our next move, Erik."
Life beyond California
Dr. Wallace laughs as he recalls his wife's promise. Born and
raised outside of San Francisco, he readily admits he never
imagined life beyond the west coast, but says, "I had wonderful
experiences and exceptional mentors in both Alabama and Oklahoma."
The physician-couple remained in Tulsa for 10 years, managing busy
careers and adopting two little girls, who are now ages 10 and 7.
Dr. Wallace says that outside of his career, his life completely
revolves around his family and their daughters' activities.
Dr. Wallace joined the teaching staff of the University of
Oklahoma College of Medicine as an Assistant Professor, was later
promoted to Associate Professor, and by 2012, was appointed
Vice-Chair for Education in the Department of Internal Medicine.
During his tenure, he also served as Associate Program Director for
the Internal Medicine Residency Program, and later became the
Internal Medicine Clerkship Director. In addition to his teaching
and administrative responsibilities, he saw patients in his primary
care practice and supervised medical residents in clinic and at two
hospitals in Tulsa.
As recent as several months ago, however, the prospect of that
"next move" began to emerge after Dr. Wallace learned that the
University of Colorado School of Medicine was preparing to open its
first branch in Colorado Springs and would be hiring an Associate
Dean to oversee the branch. Dr. Wallace's goal was to someday
become a Dean of Education, and he especially liked the idea of
helping to establish something that would be brand new. He applied
for the position, and after months of a rigorous interview process,
was hired in January 2014 to be Associate Dean for Colorado Springs
Branch at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Dr. Wallace refers to his new post as "the opportunity of a
lifetime," and says, "My goal at Colorado Springs is to create a
superior medical education experience for the students, so they
will become outstanding physician leaders, especially in the area
of reducing health care disparities."
Dr. Wallace's dual desire to create physician leaders and reduce
health care disparities began taking shape in 2005 when he was
recruited by his department chair in Oklahoma to participate in the
Professionalism in Contemporary Practice program at the Stanford
University Faculty Development Center. The Stanford program was a
one-month facilitator training program designed to address issues
relevant to contemporary medicine-issues like cross-cultural
communication and team-based care.
Following that experience, in 2007, Dr. Wallace and the other
physician leaders at the University of Oklahoma began focusing on
the need to help address the 14-year difference in life expectancy
within Tulsa County. The university renamed its Tulsa branch
campus, the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine and
began developing curriculum to train physicians how to best serve
the health care needs of underserved populations. In 2009, Dr.
Wallace participated in the university's Summer Institute, a
week-long community immersion program that required faculty to work
across disciplines, alongside students in the Tulsa community to
learn firsthand the struggles patients face that affect their
health-things like getting and keeping a job, paying bills, and
"My experiences at Stanford and with the Summer Institute
completely changed the focus of my career," says Dr. Wallace.
"Medical school and residency taught me how to diagnose and treat
illness," he says, "but my time in Tulsa's Summer Institute is
where I learned about barriers to healthcare." "And the experience
of working with disadvantaged patients," says Dr. Wallace, "taught
me how to be a better doctor."
The path of leadership
Growing up, Dr. Wallace recalls being goal-oriented from an
early age. He was passionate about playing baseball and was picked
for all-star teams during his Little League years, and in his
junior year of high school, his team captured the North Coast
Section title. Off the field, he was a good student. "I was always
a serious child and loved to learn," says Dr. Wallace, "If I was
not outside playing sports, I would read my World Book encyclopedia
or almanac just so I could learn stuff."
As an undergraduate at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma,
Washington, Dr. Wallace discovered he not only loved learning, but
also enjoyed helping others learn. "I have always loved teaching,"
he says, "in college I would fill my days with classes and in my
free time serve as a teaching assistant." His passion for teaching
never wavered and when he entered medical school classmates noticed
his enthusiasm for helping others and elected him class president
all four years.
Dr. Wallace says he was not "born a leader," but over the course
of his academic and professional career he has certainly been
recognized as one. He has done research on the topic of leadership
and his curriculum vitae is full of articles, presentations, and
courses he has developed on the subject. Not surprisingly, he is
the recipient of numerous teaching and service awards, including
ACP's 2011 Walter J. McDonald Award for Young Physicians.
Dr. Wallace served as both a member and Chair of ACP's Council
of Young Physicians (CYP) as well as pre-course director of ACP's
LEAD program. As Chair of the CYP, he was also an ex-officio member
of ACP's Board of Regents. The knowledge he gained from the
Stanford program and his service to ACP helped him realize that
teaching medical students to be good leaders was a niche that
needed to be filled. "Leadership was not formally taught in medical
school or residency programs," he says, "and yet medicine is a
stressful profession, full of strong personalities, where there can
be lots of conflict."
The power of listening
Dr. Wallace acknowledges that in addition to his experience and
interest in the field of leadership, he has learned a great deal
from "dozens" of mentors during his lifetime. "I chose internal
medicine because the best clinicians and the best medical educators
I was exposed to were internists and I thought, 'Wow, that's who I
want to be like. I want to do what they do, be as smart, as
engaging and as passionate as they are.'"
In particular, he cites his former Dean from the University of
Oklahoma and ACP Master, Dr. Dan Duffy, MACP, as "an exceptional
leader" who greatly influenced his career. "Dan Duffy has such a
passion for medical education," says Dr. Wallace, "and he is
incredibly personable. He listens to others and truly cares about
what they have to say."
Dr. Wallace believes the art of listening to others is an aspect
of the physician-patient relationship and a quality of leadership
that cannot be minimized. "Listening to patients and really hearing
the obstacles they face sheds light on why they may not take
medications as prescribed or why they miss appointments," says Dr.
Wallace. "It is vital for students to understand the problems their
patients face if they truly want to help."
Dr. Wallace is optimistic about the future of medicine. "In ten
years, medicine may look dramatically different," he says, "but it
will always need outstanding physicians." And so it follows, it
will always need outstanding medical educators and leaders, doctors
like Dr. Erik Wallace, who will view conflict not as a threat, but
as an opportunity for dialogue, and who will work hard to create a
culture of listening in the halls of medicine.
April 2014 Issue of IMpact
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