Residency program director grateful for the past, excited about the future

Isaac Newton once said, “If I see further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is exactly how Lora Wichser, MD, feels as she takes on a new role as the Director of the Department’s Psychiatric Residency Program. Grateful for the strong foundation built by previous incumbent, Katharine (Kaz) Nelson, MD; and for the ongoing leadership of Department Head Sophia Vinogradov, MD, PhD, Dr. Wichser is well prepared to make her own mark on the future of the program.

She is in the right place at the right time to do so. While she loves working with her patients, what really gets Dr. Wichser out of bed in the morning is her interactions with residents and medical students. “We’re constantly learning from each other,” she said. “The iterative nature of that allows us to constantly be course correcting when we need to.”

Nimble pivoting
As a result, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Education Program was able to successfully – and quickly – transition to telehealth. “And when George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, we were able to prioritize our diversity and inclusion efforts,” Dr. Wichser noted. The pandemic has made that initiative challenging. “How can we create community when we’re all on Zoom,” she asks. “We have new learners who have never even been to our hospital. That’s new and it’s scary to a lot of people.”

Dr. Wichser believes her role is one of stewardship – protecting, maintaining, supporting, and growing the program. And there are plenty of hands to help her do that. “Our major strength is the people who are part of the program — the residents, faculty, and medical students — they all help us do, make, create and grow,” she said.

Focus on assessment
One of the program areas Dr. Wichser is focusing on is assessment. “It’s an area that’s ripe with opportunity, both in the frequency and the rigor of our assessment modality. I’m already working on improving in that area with the help of our Education staff.” She wants to assess all aspects of the curriculum, allowing learners to give feedback more rapidly and effectively about the program so everyone involved can learn and grow. “It’s crucial to assess everything – the faculty, our programs, rotations, and the hospital, as well as the learners,” she said.

There is a lot about the existing program that makes Dr. Wichser proud. Commitment to work/life balance, for instance, is a big part of its culture. “I love that wellness is one of our core values,” she said. “Because of it, people feel safe about taking on the extra work that helps build our program.”

New kind of resident
Another source of pride is the program’s first-ever military medical school resident, Valencia Rogan, MD, who just started her first year. “I’m excited about pursuing a long-term relationship with military medical schools to perhaps recruit residents from that pool every year,” said Dr. Wichser.

A quadruple Gopher, Dr. Wichser attended the University of Minnesota for undergraduate studies, medical school, psychiatry residency, and now as an Assistant Professor and Deputy Vice Chair of Education. In addition to teaching and seeing patients, her research focuses on how physicians learn, exploring different medical education techniques.

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