Get to Know Your Leaders: Alison Bailey

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Alison L. Bailey, MD, FACC, is governor-elect of ACC’s Tennessee Chapter and member of ACC’s Leadership Academy. Learn about her childhood growing up in Appalachia, her “winding” path to medicine dotted with important mentors, and why she believes member volunteerism in the ACC is critical, in this interview with Cardiology.

How did you decide to become a cardiologist?

My road to cardiology was more of a winding path. I grew up in a small town in Eastern Kentucky in the heart of Appalachia. Unlike many of the kids I grew up with, I knew I wanted to go to college. However, I wasn’t quite sure where I might go from there. I excelled in chemistry and math and started my college career as a chemistry major without a clear destination. I figured it would work itself out along the way and it certainly has!

I never considered medicine before college. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who was a physician, or even in health care. In fact, health care in my part of the world has historically been poor. We were lucky to have one or two physicians in the area; we certainly did not have subspecialists. In fact, I’m not even sure I knew what a cardiologist was at that time.

"I believe improving our lifestyle is key to the health care struggles we are dealing with in the U.S. … I see every day the difference dietary changes, exercise and social interaction makes with my patients … Prevention ties everything I do together. "

After moving to the University of Kentucky for my undergraduate studies, I realized there were a lot of career options in science. I began working in a newly formed lab with a botanist, Nicolas McLetchie, PhD, extracting DNA from bryophytes (small plants) and it was then that I realized that I loved science. I worked with McLetchie for several years, and ultimately finished a dual degree in biology and chemistry. During that time, my cousin was diagnosed with cancer, so I spent a lot of time at the hospital with my family. This experience shaped me a bit more, and led me to consider a career in medicine. Shortly thereafter, I began volunteering at a local acute rehabilitation hospital. It was at this point that I finally knew that this was the path I wanted to pursue.

I applied to medical school and was accepted and started down the path to becoming a physician. I ultimately chose internal medicine with a plan to pursue a sports medicine fellowship. Once I began residency, I realized cardiology was my passion. It’s such an amazing field that spans from prevention of disease to very advanced subspecialty care. I was fortunate enough to work with some amazing mentors that helped me navigate the route to fellowship, which ultimately led me to an academic position in medical education.

What is your primary interest area within cardiology and how did that interest arise?

I have many clinical interests in cardiology, but my true love is prevention and exercise. My practice covers a lot of cardiology, and I spend a good amount of time covering our inpatient cardiovascular service and treating heart failure patients in my clinic. I believe improving our lifestyle is key to the health care struggles we are dealing with in the U.S. Whether it is primary or secondary prevention, I see every day the difference dietary changes, exercise and social interaction makes with my patients – whether they are patients suffering from chronic heart failure or a young person who hopes to never experience this devastating disease. Prevention ties everything I do together.

I recall working with a critically ill patient after a heart attack, and spending hours in the CCU helping to ensure he made it out of the hospital. Weeks later, when he walked into the heart failure clinic and ultimately cardiovascular rehab, the whole thing made sense. My early love for sports medicine also plays an increasing role in my practice. Sports cardiology is a growing field, and incorporates my love of exercise and the field of cardiology into one package. I’m one of the team physicians for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and I’m working actively to improve the care of exercise enthusiasts and athletes in the region.

"… being a leader requires a desire to improve things around you and a willingness to be a harbinger of change … It’s important to know what you value, and why you are working toward a goal. Equally as important is being a member of the team, not just the leader."

The other large part of my practice is education. For me, education supersedes clinical medicine, as it remains a central component of everything I do. I moved to my current role at the Erlanger Heart and Lung Institute and the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga to help lead a new cardiovascular diseases fellowship. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and has been an amazing journey. With the help of my team, we have developed a new fellowship, while also improving education for the cardiovascular team in the region.

Who are your most influential mentors and why did they make such a big impact on you and your career?

My parents were my first role models, and have been my entire life. Growing up in Appalachia, there are not a lot of opportunities to consider. The sacrifices my parents made and challenges they overcame to make sure I wasn’t another statistic are never forgotten. Watching my dad transition from a coal miner to a successful attorney, while my mom supported him and sacrificed for our family, was a critical early lesson regarding the importance of education and goals. Beyond my family, I’ve had the good fortune to learn from amazing mentors along the way.

David Booth, MD, FACC, was my first role model during my residency. Booth seemed to know everything about everything, and embodied my idea of the “true bedside cardiologist.” He empowered me as a resident and encouraged me to apply to cardiology. During my fellowship, Steve Steinhubl, MD, challenged me to think beyond the cath lab, and always stressed the importance of medical education. This is when I began to think of a career outside of the acute presentation of disease and focus on the longer-term implications of chronic disease and prevention. David J. Moliterno, MD, FACC, came to the University of Kentucky around the time I started fellowship. He reinvigorated the program, and introduced me to the ACC. Moliterno encouraged my growth as a cardiologist and cultivated my interest in the ACC.

In a field that remains under-represented by women, Susan Smyth, MD, PhD, FACC, remains a mentor and hero to me. She defied the odds to run a basic science lab, be an excellent bedside physician and now chief of a large academic cardiology department. All the while, maintaining her important role as mentor to medical students, residents and fellows. She also supported me and other young physicians to be more than we think we can. Debra K. Moser, DNSc, MN, FAAN, has also been a great mentor and research partner. She introduced me to clinical research in the field of prevention, and taught me so many things about heading a successful multidisciplinary research team.

Among all these important mentors, Charles L. Campbell, MD, FACC, is at the top. I was fortunate enough to meet him during my fellowship when he became the program director, and have worked (and learned!) alongside Campbell for the past 10 years. He serves as the chief of cardiology at Erlanger Heart and Lung Institute and is the consummate clinician. He models compassionate care for our patients every day, and focuses on improving quality around us all. He has helped foster my career in countless ways by being supportive, while always making it possible for me to do the important academic things that don’t always generate an RVU, but remain key to our profession. Things like empowering me to provide medical education in our region, focusing on prevention efforts and participating in many ACC leadership opportunities. I consider myself lucky to have been mentored by such amazing people!

Rising to the role of governor-elect of ACC’s Tennessee Chapter is an exciting leadership accomplishment. How did you become involved with the ACC and your state chapter – and what keeps you involved?

I’ve always been interested in improving care for our patients. During the early years of my fellowship, Moliterno was serving as the governor of the ACC’s Kentucky Chapter and invited me to become involved as a FIT as we were working on legislative issues important to the health of patients in our state. There I saw firsthand the importance of advocacy, and how critical advocacy is in changing health care policy. Through the chapter, I met Juan Villafane, MD, FACC, and Jesse E. Adams III, MD, FACC, who were also members of the leadership team, and would ultimately be future governors of the chapter. They welcomed me into the chapter and together we were able to grow our annual meeting from a small event of less than 50 people to a large regional attraction of over 250 attendees.

We tackled many important topics in the local Kentucky health care environment. We led advocacy efforts, and focused on educating not only the cardiovascular professionals in the region but also expanding to the health care team and administrators. I felt we could improve the education of our constituents and ultimately health care on a more global scale via the chapter. This was motivating and powerful. So much so, that the experience prompted me to run for governor of the chapter. I became governor-elect, but moved to a new career opportunity in Tennessee before becoming governor.

Within my first few weeks in Tennessee, I met Douglas Pearce, MD, FACC, George H. Crossley III, MD, FACC, and Gerald Blackwell, MD, FACC, at the ACC Legislative Conference. As a brand-new Tennessean, they welcomed me into their chapter and we were quickly able to resurrect our annual meeting with a special focus on education and practice management. We worked very well as a leadership team, and they supported my desire to run for governor-elect of the chapter - and so here we are! We have many plans for this chapter in the upcoming months and working with a team of like-minded individuals is very motivating.

Medicine is at a crossroads of change and the ACC is working hard for the cardiovascular team. This coupled with my interest to improve educational offerings for the FITs and cardiovascular team are significant drivers of my interest in chapter leadership.

You are a member of the first cohort of ACC’s Leadership Academy. How has the experience impacted your leadership journey?

The Leadership Academy was an amazing experience! I was part of the inaugural class and wasn’t sure what I was signing up for, but am so glad I did. The program consisted of a two-year series of interactive sessions that culminated with a capstone project regarding my own leadership journey. Along the way, I learned about many topics including my leadership style, different personality types in the workplace, emotional intelligence and how to address those uncomfortable situations we are all forced to encounter. I feel this experience has made me vastly more successful in my many roles both at home and in the College. The journey was incredible and I met a lot of other like-minded individuals along the way who form my professional support network now. The leadership skills learned are not exclusive to cardiology or even medicine, but work within any environment.

What do you feel makes a great leader and how can others hone those skills as cardiovascular professionals?

Fundamentally, being a leader requires a desire to improve things around you and a willingness to be a harbinger of change and team player. It’s important to know what you value, and why you are working toward a goal. Equally as important is being a member of the team, not just the leader.

Why is it important to be an active member of the ACC?

We are cardiovascular professionals, not just health care providers. The ACC is our professional home. The College works tirelessly each day to ensure our unique contributions to the care of our patients are recognized, while also empowering us to continue improving health care for our patients. This happens in many venues from the development of practice guidelines, to leading educational meetings, to advocacy efforts, to leadership development of the members. These types of things don’t just happen. They require a dedicated team focused on advancing cardiovascular care and improving patient outcomes. I am so proud, and immensely grateful, to be a member of this team.

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Clinical Topics: Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathies, Prevention, Acute Heart Failure

Keywords: ACC Publications, Cardiology Magazine, Fellowships and Scholarships, Secondary Prevention, Mentors, Critical Illness, Internal Medicine, Internship and Residency, Sports Medicine, Heart Failure, Myocardial Infarction, Cardiovascular Diseases, Interpersonal Relations, Neoplasms


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