Katrina Armstrong, MD, MSCE, physician-in-chief of the MGH Department of Medicine, has a lot to celebrate. Next month marks her one-year anniversary at the MGH and recently she was elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine, recognizing individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service. Armstrong reflects on her first year at the hospital and shares her plans for the future of the MGH Department of Medicine.
Q. You began at the MGH on April 15, 2013, the day of the Boston Marathon attacks. How did that tragedy set your expectations?
The tragedy was such a formative event for my year in many ways. In a few short days, I learned what it means to be a part of this community, how the people of the MGH came together to take care of each other and to respond to our community. It also showed what the medical service could do for the hospital. I am incredibly proud that the medical residents and hospital medicine attendings cleared the emergency room of medical patients almost instantly after we learned of the bombing. I am certain I would have come to understand the values that underlie this institution over time, but that event served to crystallize what we hold to be important.
Q. Has your career at the MGH thus far met your expectations?
I realize now that my expectations were high and they have been exceeded on so many levels. Our leadership has the strongest sense of purpose and the clearest moral compass that I have ever seen in health care. Academic medicine operates under a social contract to improve health and reduce suffering, both for our patients now and for all those who will come in the future. I had a sense that we were at an important time for redefining and strengthening that social contract but I never imagined the potential that exists here to do just that. So many of our scientists are at the brink of translating their research into direct benefits for patients and communities. Our trainees are passionate, brilliant and committed to changing the world, and our clinical care is unparalleled.
Q. What are your greatest challenges?
We face a number of challenges as we move into this next era of academic medicine. Supporting our best young people to ask the important questions, take risks, and pursue their passion is increasingly difficult. They need time to think, to dive deep into what they care about most, and that requires a substantial investment. MGH doctors understand the importance of the relationship between a doctor and a patient. That has always been fundamental to what it means to be a patient at the MGH. Of course, that relationship is threatened by many of the current changes in health care. Figuring out how we can keep and even strengthen that defining part of what it means to practice medicine at the MGH is critical. The list of challenges is long; nevertheless, at the end of each week, I am convinced that the incredible talent in the department is up to those challenges and that working together to take them on will make us a better place.
Q. What are your plans to lead the Department of Medicine into the future?
Over the past year, we have been working on the roadmap for the Department of Medicine for the next decade. Although that process is still ongoing, there are some areas of focus that are clear for us already. The department is committed to developing new ways to support the best talent, particularly at the beginning of their career. That support means finding financial resources but also linking them to the best science, innovative tools, technology, and a community that will really push them to reach their potential. We are also going to focus on how we can better combine our strengths in patient care with our strengths in investigation by linking clinical observations to scientific infrastructure to understand better what drives disease and disease outcomes. At the same time, we are increasingly asking how we can hold ourselves accountable for bringing this knowledge to improve outcomes for all the patients and even for entire communities that we serve – striving to set standards for the quality and affordability of care.
Read more articles from the 03/28/14 Hotline issue.