For the past year, Mark Greenawald, M.D., associate dean for student affairs and chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has worked closely with the charter class, guiding them in their academic affairs as well as personal struggles and triumphs. “We just have a wonderful group of students here at VTC. They are bright and intelligent. They are energetic and creative,” said Greenawald. “They really want to make a difference, not only with the school, but in all aspects of their lives. It is very exciting to be part of that energy.”
Greenawald says the unique problem-based curriculum at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine requires students to work closely together and learn from each other, resulting in a tight-knit community. “There is almost a sibling-like relationship in how the students support each other, encourage each other, and even tease each other. It has been wonderful to observe.”
While Greenawald has enjoyed many of his duties involved in leading student affairs, the planning and execution of the White Coat Ceremony is a highlight for him. “White coat ceremonies did not exist when I was in medical school. Getting to help lead the process and being part of the event here was incredibly moving,” stated Greenawald. “It created a greater sense of connectedness between the faculty physicians and the students. I gained respect for what a ceremony like this can do.”
Now, Greenawald is looking forward to welcoming a new set of students to the school as the Class of 2015 is set to begin studies in August. “It will be interesting to see what kind of personality the second class brings in as well as witness the first class step in as leaders. The charter class will introduce the new students to VTC and to the culture they have so far created.”
While both classes still have plenty of time left at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, Greenawald is staying focused on ensuring that all of them get to graduation day successfully. “I remind myself that in three or four years, I am going to shake their hands at graduation, congratulate them, and send them on to the next step in their medical training. What is that going to be like? How are we creating an environment that will help get them there successfully? That motivates me.”
Greenawald helped shaped the learning environment during the school’s infancy, serving on the curriculum planning committee. The vision for Virginia Tech Carilion was very different from the medical education Greenawald experienced himself. “The curriculum that many of us went through in medical school was the same as it had been for years. To actually start a curriculum from scratch is a huge undertaking.” Despite the challenge, Greenawald said leadership and faculty members were motivated to work hard.
“The team had a lot of energy and went above and beyond because we thought that this would be a great thing for Carilion Clinic, Virginia Tech, the Roanoke region, and Southwest Virginia.” The community also responded. “To see how the community, particularly area leaders, has taken the school on as a personal project to make sure we succeed has been heartening for me. I did not expect such an outpouring of support.”
In addition to his leadership in student affairs and curriculum planning at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, Greenawald also serves as Chair of the Department of Family Medicine. “Forming the department and promoting the work of family physicians has been exciting for me,” said Greenawald. “The department is now looking at opportunities for research and developing faculty members’ teaching skills. In addition, we are providing training opportunities to develop skills as educators, clinicians, and administrators so the department’s faculty can continue to grow and advance in their own careers. Part of our role is to help them in that process.” The department is developing an innovative clerkship for third year medical students at VTC. “In addition to a concentrated experience in Family Medicine, we are working on the logistics of a longitudinal component so that students will get a sense of what it is like to follow a group of patients throughout their whole third year,” said Greenawald. Traditional clerkships run just four to eight weeks. “To stretch it across an entire year, students will get a better understanding of how health care works, how the system works, and how people navigate through it. They will also get a better understanding of how to manage chronic diseases.”
On top of his roles at the school, Greenawald also sees patients regularly. “Most doctors come into medicine because they want to care for people. To not do that disconnects me with the reason why I entered medicine,” explained Greenawald. “From a leadership perspective, I have realized how quickly one can lose touch with what the reality is for practicing physicians. The only way to remedy that is to keep my connection. Another reason is to be a role model for our students. I will have more credibility with them because they will see me on the wards and clinic.”
Greenawald said he realized he wanted to be involved in medical education as well after serving as chief resident during his final year of a family medicine residency at the University of Virginia. “During that year, I began to understand how much I enjoyed teaching and that I had some natural teaching skills. I had never really seen that before. It made me realize I could balance being an educator and a physician and that has carved out my path since then.”
In addition to teaching medical students and residents, Greenawald also regularly gives presentations to other health professionals and the public about several of his passions including medical professionalism, leadership, men’s health, and overall wellness. Greenawald says gaining and maintaining respect is an important issue for current and future physicians. “As the model of medicine has taken on more of a business interest, it has minimized the important aspects of professionalism.
Bringing it back to the forefront is essential if we are going to maintain the trust and respect of the public for whom we serve.” Greenawald says he hears complaints from patients as well. “The most common thing I hear from patients is, ‘my doctor does not listen to me.’ Listening is not just an important communication skill. It is how we demonstrate that we care for individuals. The best way you can show you care is to have patients feel like they have been heard.”
Greenawald says professionalism is not just for physicians who are practicing, but for those in training, like students at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “Having the opportunity to deliberately teach our students professionalism from the start is going to help them in the long run, to really understand this world that they have entered.”
Besides professionalism, Greenawald is also an advocate for holistic men’s health and overall wellness for his patients. “It is about all of the ways people can be healthy, not just the absence of disease.” For his own health and to maintain rapport with his patients, Greenawald strives to live the way he wants his patients to live. He enjoys swimming, cycling, and just recently began learning yoga. “For me to be physically healthy and present myself that way speaks volumes. When I talk to a patient about losing weight or exercising, I have the credibility to do that,” said Greenawald. “When people tell me they are too busy, I can share some things I have learned to keep exercise incorporated into my busy schedule.”
Greenawald’s professional resume also includes four years of service in the U.S. Navy. “The opportunity to serve in that capacity for our country is something I will carry with me forever. I considered it a privilege to have done so.” The Navy awarded Greenawald with a Navy Achievement Medal for overall service as well as the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for work in evacuating a naval base in the Philippines during a volcanic eruption. “Within hours, we had to evacuate the base,” Greenawald recalled. “People had to take what they could and they were never going back.” Greenawald and other doctors treated patients burned in the eruption as well as those dealing with psychological injuries. “Even though it has been years since I have been on active duty, I still have a connection with other people who have served in the military. There is something really powerful about that.”
Making a difference is the common thread that runs through all that Greenawald does. Whether with students at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, residents and physicians at Carilion Clinic, patients, or colleagues, the opportunity to do so is limitless. “The action is there in terms of being able to really have an impact on people’s lives. It is rewarding.”