May 19, 2014 - By Mandy Erickson
The Stanford School of Medicine recently announced this year's winners of the Spirit Award and the Inspiring Change Leadership Award.
The Spirit Award, given to staff members who show outstanding performance, dedication and positive attitude, went to Christopher Dolph, Willed Body Program coordinator and lab coordinator in the Division of Clinical Anatomy, and to Anne Crowe, assistant director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics.
The Inspiring Change Leadership Award, for staff members who have implemented processes that improve the school, went to Aarti Porwal, manager of strategic initiatives for education in the Office of Institutional Planning, and to Usha Chhiba, manager of the Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine.
Each award winner received $3,000.
Every so often, when Stanford medical students are slicing open cadavers for anatomy class, a caped figure will swoop through the lab: It's Captain Dissector! He's here to make sure you're having fun.
"You never know when he's going to show up," said Dolph, the anatomy lab coordinator, who created Captain Dissector one summer when a group of high school students were learning about anatomy. He decided the crowd, surrounded by dead bodies, needed to lighten up.
"You have to have a little humor in this business or it'll chew you up," he said.
Dolph accepts cadavers that have been donated to the medical school. Because they need to arrive within 24 hours of death, he's on call 24/7, making sure the body is fit for dissecting and coordinating its arrival to the school. He then embalms the bodies so they're ready for students.
Sometimes he speaks directly to family members: "It can get pretty gut-wrenching," he said. "They start talking about how they met their loved ones, how many children they had. A lot of times I just have to listen for a while."
Sakti Srivastava, MD, associate professor of anatomy, said Dolph skillfully balances the need to inject fun into the dissecting room with respect for the deceased. "Chris has done that wonderfully well," he said. "He truly is the spirit of the lab."
Dolph, who has worked at the medical school for 21 years, began as a 12-year-old helping his father, John Dolph, in the cadaver lab. He took over the job after his father retired, about 10 years ago. When he earned the award, he said, "I took it as much as an honor to my father as to me. The first call I made was to Pops."
"Once Anne came on board, the amount of work I had to do as center director dropped by 90 percent because she manages everything so seamlessly," said Magnus, the center's director and the Thomas A. Raffin Professor in Medicine and Biomedical Ethics. "She is an absolute model of professionalism. She puts the center above everything else."
After earning an MBA at the University of San Francisco, Crowe held a similar job with the engineering department at UC-Berkeley before she came to the Stanford center to oversee finances and administration. On the financial side, she creates budgets, handles grants and oversees the operational expenses.
As for the administration, Crowe's job covers everything in running a center of two faculty members, 13 researchers and four administrative staff. She oversees procurement, facilities and human resources, including hiring and supervising administrative staff and helping with personnel evaluations.
"It's a dream job," Crowe said. "It's the perfect combination of a really interesting and diverse set of duties in a forward-thinking, scientific environment, working with brilliant people."
"This award is an honor. It means that how I've been performing at this job is appreciated," she added.
Crowe "loves the center," added Magnus. "She'll do anything for it. She's unflappable."
Soon after moving from Chicago to become the manager of strategic initiatives in education at the medical school, Porwal was handed a massive task: overseeing the school's accreditation renewal.
The two-year process required answering about 1,000 questions from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, coordinating with 300 people at the school for an institutional self-study, and days of interviews with LCME members. When it was complete, Stanford received only one citation — a stellar result, down from three issued after the previous accreditation.
"Aarti went through the last LCME review and the current LCME standards and constructed a dashboard of what LCME was looking for," said David O'Brien, director of institutional planning. "No one had done that before. She was very innovative in coming up with tools like that."
The dashboard allowed the school to pinpoint its weaknesses and fix some of them before accreditation started. "Through planning ahead, we were able to identify and correct issues before they became citations. We were almost harder on ourselves than they were," said Porwal, who had never taken on accreditation before. "We were very pleased with the outcome."
Porwal also designed the LCME process with a focus on continuous quality improvement, which has allowed the school to identify additional opportunities for improvement beyond accreditation.
Now that the school has been accredited for the next eight years, Porwal is back doing what she was hired to do: executing the dean's plans to improve the medical school. "She does it phenomenally well," O'Brien said.
Porwal said receiving the Inspiring Change Leadership Award is "probably the most meaningful thing that has happened to me in my career. I was pleased to receive it, but it really was a huge team effort."
Chhiba, manager of the Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, takes a systemic approach to problem solving.
"Usha isn't one to look at a problem and figure out a way to get it off her desk and off her mind," said William Benitz, MD, division chief and the Philip Sunshine, MD Endowed Professor in Neonatology. "She's always asking questions: 'What is the structure that's causing these problems to bubble up?' 'How can we change this?' She pays attention to the underlying process."
For example, after Chhiba moved into the division manager position two years ago, she noticed that the quarterly reports for grant expenditures lacked cohesion. So she came up with a template that provides a broad view of the grant's finances.
"It's an easy tool to use for projections," she said. "It's worked out quite well." The financial analysts now use the tool for monthly portfolio reviews with principal investigators — and the medical school later required every department to hold similar monthly meetings.
The Inspiring Change Leadership Award "validates the work we've been trying to do to make some improvements," Chhiba said. "It means a whole lot for the whole team."
Benitz said Chhiba is always willing to share her administrative expertise with other divisions within pediatrics, and even outside the department. "She does it in a really nice, unobtrusive way that can be really helpful without appearing superior," he said.
"She's just been a delightful partner for me," he added. "We work really well together."
Mandy Erickson is a freelance writer.
Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care, and Stanford Children's Health. For more information, please visit the Office of Communications website at http://mednews.stanford.edu.