Lunch with Alumnus Jeffrey Balser, M.D., Ph.D.

Nick Harris (G4)
December 14, 2017
Posted in Alumni Profiles

In early October, a group of MSTP students ranging from new M1s to seasoned M4s got a chance to meet with Dr. Jeffrey Balser, Dean of the School of Medicine and President and CEO of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. For the students, this was an excellent opportunity to speak with someone who has followed the academic physician-scientist pathway to its apex. For Dr. Balser, in his own words, this was an opportunity to get away from another desk lunch but also to help guide the future leaders in medicine that we all strive to be.

Topics covered throughout the lunch were many and varied. Three that stick with me include the path that Dr. Balser took to get where he is, what it takes to be an effective leader, and where he sees the future going with respect to the healthcare system and Vanderbilt’s role in it.

First, when Dr. Balser was asked whether he had ever imagined that he would have this position while he was rising up through the ranks, he said that he hadn’t and that you would have to be a narcissist to do so. All ironies of meeting with students who have had that thought aside, he elaborated to tell that what he saw as important along the way was to just be the best at whatever you are doing at that time. This means getting the high impact science done while you are in the lab, delivering high quality patient care while in the clinic, and managing people effectively while you are in an academic position. All of these factors give you the “street cred” that you need as a leader to effectively do your job and then also to ascend to new positions and responsibilities.

When asked about what other factors make an effective leader, Dr. Balser instead turned the table around and asked the students what they thought made an effective leader. Answers varied from passion and hard work, to adaptability and effective communication, all of which were necessary but not sufficient according to Dr. Balser. The key instead is to focus on what you are good at and surround yourself with those that fill in the gaps that you are missing. A specific example of this is a member of Dr. Balser’s leadership team who has the ability to see patterns in large amounts of data that effectively allows him to see where large trends are headed, specifically in the healthcare field at large. This led to an interesting conversation about where we are headed, which was useful for us students to hear since we are all just getting started on our journey in medicine.

In all, this was an extremely motivating and insightful lunch conversation with a great role model. Many thanks are due to Dr. Balser for taking the time out of his schedule for this great opportunity and to the MSTP Leadership Team for making this happen for the students.