Friend. Coach. Advocate. Mentor. Guide. Those are just a few of the many words that describe Shannon Scott-Vernaglia, MD, who, after 12 years, stepped down from her role as director of the Pediatric Residency Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC).
Scott-Vernaglia began her medical career at MGHfC as a resident from 1999-2002 before rising to chief resident from 2002-2003. Upon completing her chief residency, she served as an associate director of the Pediatric Residency Program until 2009, when she was promoted to program director.
“When I first joined the Pediatric Residency team, I wanted to give back to the program that I felt had given me a chance to learn to be the pediatrician I wanted to be,” said Scott-Vernaglia. “Residents have an infectious enthusiasm and curiosity. You always want to strive to be your best self when you’re around trainees, whether that’s as a person, physician or educator.”
For more than a decade, Scott-Vernaglia that strive to be her best set the tone for success in leading the Pediatric Residency Program. “Shannon defined the role and set the standard for what a program director should be,” said Ronald Kleinman, MD, Physician-in-Chief at MGHfC. “All of us, from trainees to faculty, have benefitted from her teaching, mentoring and leadership efforts. We owe her gratitude for all this and more.”
After stepping down from her director role, Scott-Vernaglia will serve as the associate chief for Clinical Faculty Development in the Department of Pediatrics, which will include working on programs to improve clinician wellbeing, physician promotions and faculty development programs, such as Grand Rounds. She will also continue to serve as a primary care pediatrician at MGHfC.
“I am still really excited to mentor and coach in other ways, like teaching in Pediatric Group Practice, running simulations and teaching in conferences,” said Scott-Vernaglia. “I also look forward to mentoring senior residents who are teaching and continuing to care for patients in my busy primary care practice.”
Stepping up into Scott-Vernaglia’s previous role on September 1, 2021, is Shaun Fitzgerald, MD, MPH, who is originally from Norfolk, Mass. He earned his medical degree from UMass Medical School and a master’s in Public Health from the University of California at Berkley. Fitzgerald most recently served as a pediatric hospitalist, assistant residency program director and assistant department chief at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif. Before moving across the country to work at Kaiser Permanente, Fitzgerald completed his residency training at MGHfC, where his years as a resident overlapped with Scott-Vernaglia’s first years as director of the Pediatric Residency Program.
“With Shannon, I remember the individual attention she gave to each and every one of us. She helped me discover what I wanted to do early on in my career,” said Fitzgerald. “Shannon inspired me to take a chance, see another coast and explore the field of hospital medicine, which was still in its infancy at the time.”
For Fitzgerald, starting his new role at MGHfC feels like coming home. “Not only do I have positive memories of MGHfC, but also an affinity for the Pediatric Residency Program,” he said. “It’s an honor to fill the position and to build on the amazing accomplishments in resident education led by Shannon and the MGHfC residency team.”
Throughout her years as director, Scott-Vernaglia cultivated a culture of family and community and stayed in touch with residents well beyond graduation. At meetings or events, Scott-Vernaglia would often provide updates on where residents lived and worked and significant life events, such as marriages or births.
“I will miss the privileged opportunity to mentor residents as closely as I have,” said Scott-Vernaglia. “Being welcomed into some of the most private moments of people’s lives is a real gift, and I hope Shaun finds as much joy in the program as I have.”
To many, Scott-Vernaglia embodies compassion, dedication and empathy – qualities that Fitzgerald also holds. “Shaun and I worked together as residents, and he shares the same core qualities of how to relate to people and has strong interpersonal skills,” said Dan Hall, MD, an associate director of the Pediatric Residency Program and a pediatric primary care provider at MGH Revere HealthCare Center. “Those are qualities you inherit from Shannon when you work under her wing. I am confident that Shaun will do a fantastic job.”
Scott-Vernaglia deeply understands that people’s personal and professional lives are intertwined and with that knowledge, led her team from the heart. “Shannon makes an effort to get to know you personally and professionally, and that speaks to her leadership style,” said Kate Sparger, MD, a neonatologist, an associate program director of the Pediatric Residency Program and the Mass General site director for the Harvard Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellowship Program at MGHfC. “She wants to know what’s important to you, what your story is and what your hopes and dreams are.”
When Carlina Maria, MBA, C-TAGME, first joined the Pediatric Residency team in 2015, she wanted to pursue a double master’s degree while working full-time as one of the medical education coordinators. Scott-Vernaglia was nothing but supportive. She showed the same support once Maria was promoted to senior medical education coordinator and decided to pursue a doctorate in health care administration not too long after.
“I was spread very thin during that time and that’s an understatement. When I was promoted, Shannon took on more of a mentor role for me, as well as being the lead for our department,” said Maria. “I am grateful for her and her leadership. She truly cares about what she does, and she gives 110% every day. She has inspired me to be more like that and to give more of myself to my role.”
As director, Scott-Vernaglia also made sure residents’ needs were heard and met. “A few years ago, when the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education made some big changes to the training curriculum, Shannon helped form a resident-run committee to explore what they wanted and honor their needs,” said Ariel Frey-Vogel, MD, MAT, associate program director of the Pediatric Residency Program and director of Child and Adolescent Services at the MGH Transgender Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Out of this came the Personal and Professional Development Curriculum, which focuses on acute and preventative self-care, creating positive culture changes and innovating system designs and workflows.
When Sparger was new to the Pediatric Residency Program, with encouragement and support from Scott-Vernaglia, she and Frey-Vogel created a simulation program for first-year residents, who would do six cases per year. Sparger and Hall helped expand the simulation program, which also includes a rigorous evaluation simulation, to all residency classes.
As the new director, Fitzgerald is looking forward to building upon the strong foundation laid by Scott-Vernaglia and the Pediatric Residency Program team.
“Recruitment is one of the big ventures I’ll be undertaking with this role. When I think about how I’ll present the program to future trainees, I always come back to the sense that MGHfC is a close-knit community,” said Fitzgerald. “I want both current and prospective residents to know that we are committed to their success.”
Fitzgerald also plans to focus on incorporating mental health into pediatric primary care training and build systems and structures that ensure more racially just and equitable care for patients and their families.
“Shaun values an antiracist culture where everyone is valued and their voices are heard,” said Frey-Vogel. “He understands the culture of the hospital, of MGHfC and of the residency program, and has outside experience that brings new ideas and new ways of thinking.”
As Fitzgerald begins his first weeks as director, the future of the Pediatric Residency Program is bright and everyone – from trainees to faculty – are in capable hands. “Shaun’s background, personality and accomplishments in teaching and clinical care make him superbly qualified to build on the accomplishments of the past decade and work with our associate residency program directors to take advantage of the newest training methods to optimally support the education of our outstanding residents,” said Kleinman. “I’d also like to thank [Dr.] Howard Weinstein and the members of the search committee for Shannon’s successor for bringing Shaun back to us.” Weinstein is the chief of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at MGHfC.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of preparedness for pandemics. Through his work in the Pediatric Antibiotic Stewardship Program at Kaiser Permanente, he developed an appreciation for the real threat to public health, and specifically children’s health, that multi-drug-resistant bacteria pose. The program, led by Fitzgerald, helped form a curriculum for residents on responsible use of antibiotics, which resulted in a substantial decrease in unnecessary antibiotic use among hospitalized children. One of his goals at MGHfC is to bring a similar curriculum to the hospital and empower residents to stem the tide of growing antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Fitzgerald will also be taking on a clinical role as a pediatric hospitalist at MGHfC and looks forward to the opportunity this role will afford him in working closely with residents in the rich learning environment that gave rise to his passion for pediatric medicine.