Member Profile | Educators in Cardiology: Shaping the Future of Medicine

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Linda D. Gillam, MD, MPH, FACC, is one of the many the educators in cardiology devoted to helping cardiovascular professionals reach their full potential. The author of over 100 peer-reviewed published articles in the fields of echocardiography, heart disease in women and valvular heart disease, Gillam has given lectures both nationally and internationally on these topics. She is the chair of the department of cardiovascular medicine at Morristown Medical Center and medical director of the cardiovascular service line for Atlantic Health System in Morristown, NJ.

At ACC.18, the Gifted Educator award was bestowed on Gillam for her outstanding teaching characteristics, mentorship and contributions to education in the field of cardiovascular medicine. Previously she was recognized by the ACC with the Gifted Teacher award, the first woman to receive the award. Gillam shares with Cardiology how she began her career in cardiology, her approaches to education and how the ACC has helped her achieve professional success.

How did you become interested in cardiology, specifically education?

I became hooked on cardiology in the early days of medical school. I simply loved the logic of it. If you understood the pathophysiology, you could deduce the signs and symptoms, natural history and rationale for treatment approaches. This logic is something that I try to impart when I teach – you just need to know basic facts and then ask yourself: If this happens, what will the patient feel and what will testing show?

Describe your approach to education.

I use elements of the Socratic method. I ask people what they infer from certain facts and why they think something occurred. However, I never make people feel bad if they cannot figure out the answers. In a formal lecture, I always start by providing clinical vignettes where the correct approach to diagnosis and management lies in knowing and learning the material that I’ll be covering. I also create pre-presentation self quizzes that go to areas where I think there are knowledge gaps and then point out the correct answers as I go along. I try to keep the material that I am teaching relevant.

What are the settings where you teach? And what topics?

I teach one-on-one with everything – from reading and performing echos to bedside physical exams to writing and reviewing papers. I’ve also taught to larger audiences at national and international meetings such as ACC’s Scientific Session and everything in between. I particularly enjoy focused multi-day courses where I can get to the know the attendees.

As I’ve have gotten older, I’m committed to mentoring – arguably a form of teaching – from medical students to fellows to faculty. Although I continue to teach on echocardiography topics, I also now teach about valvular heart disease and health care policy. Furthermore, I’m involved in community outreach, which largely has to do with healthy lifestyles and risk factor modification.

What are current challenges in education?

One challenge with education is that ready access to online information – while a lifesaver for all of us – makes it easier for people to rely on knowing isolated facts rather than truly understanding the material. For example, anyone can Google the differential diagnosis of a particular set of symptom. But, it does not provide a quick sense of the most likely diagnosis or what can be done to clarify the diagnosis.

In addition, what happens when there is an emergency and there is no time to look things up? The quality of the material being used may also be questionable, which is one reason that is such a great resource. I also worry when I encounter someone who has little or no deductive ability as they will never be able to compensate for this with memorizing or looking up facts.

Has being a female educator encouraged you to bring women and under-represented minorities into cardiology?

I’m definitely committed to bringing more women and other under-represented groups into cardiology and to understanding and trying to remove barriers. This is in part because it has provided me with such a wonderful profession and I’d like others to be able to have equally rewarding careers.

Also, as a mother of a young female physician, I want to ensure she and her peers have a full range of career choices. I’m pleased that the College has identified diversification of the cardiovascular workforce as a priority and has provided strong support for its Women in Cardiology Council.

How has being an ACC member helped to develop your skills as an educator?

Over the years, I’ve learned from master clinicians and educators through frequent ACC events. I remember participating in live programs at ACC’s original Heart House in Bethesda, which were ahead of their time in using technology to teach and create live programs at off-site locations. Of course now technology makes it possible to seamlessly embed moving images into presentations and even “textbooks,” particularly important since the heart is constantly moving.

Web-based interactive education means you can learn from the best teachers on your own time. Audience response systems on the phone facilitate Q and A and allow instant feedback on how well a point has come across. ACC’s Annual Scientific Session, which I’ve attended every year since I became a fellow in 1980, is an amazing source of information as well as ideas on making challenging concepts understandable.

Cardiology is such a dynamic field and it’s imperative to keep learning. However, the same rapid changes are what keeps the field exciting. Knowing we have good solutions now for conditions that were untreatable even a decade ago underscores the relevance of career-long learning and education.

Keywords: ACC Publications, Cardiology Magazine, Physician Executives, Heart Valve Diseases, Echocardiography

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