VCU/VCUHS Leadership in Graduate Medical Education Award

Sometimes being a Fellowship Program Director can seem like an invisible job. Fellows are few in number, somewhere between trainee and faculty. While expected to take on increasing responsibility for their own professional development, fellows must meet ACGME competencies for education and training. It takes someone with truly exceptional skill to balance the educational and clinical skills needs of fellows, successfully meet accreditation requirements, and earn not only the respect of colleagues, but national recognition. Susan DiGiovanni, M.D., Nephrology Fellowship Program Director, Assistant Dean for Medical Education, and Professor and Eminent Scholar in Internal Medicine has achieved this and more since assuming leadership of the Nephrology Fellowship Program in 2004.

Since then, Dr. DiGiovanni has transformed the program, adding a board review program, journal club, and renal grand rounds to increase the focus on education. She is always accessible for teaching. “She met with the fellows on a weekly basis before their clinic to go over clinical cases and board type questions,” explains Todd W. B. Gehr, M.D., Chair of the Division of Nephrology and Professor of Internal Medicine. During her tenure, the fellowship has expanded to four competitive fellowship slots, remarkable in a time when some fellowships struggle to fill available vacancies.

Dr. DiGiovanni’s efforts have resulted in two successful accreditation cycles and her program has become a model for others. In 2007, Dr. DiGiovanni was asked to chair the VCUHS GME Accreditation Committee. As Stephanie Call, M.D., Internal Medicine Training Program Director says, “This is a tough role, requiring review of multiple documents and requiring strong leadership as the committee strives to keep programs in line with ever-changing accreditation requirements, yet still support the focus on education.” Evan Reiter, M.D., Associate Professor and Program Director, Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, the new chair, is thankful to have had Dr. DiGiovanni as his predecessor. “Dr. DiGiovanni provided outstanding leadership and insight … she helped to strengthen and streamline the role of the committee, which has helped me in assuming the reins of such an efficiently working body.”

Dr. DiGiovanni has achieved local and national recognition for her teaching skills, and serves on the American Society of Nephrology test item writing and test review committee for the Nephrology In-Training Exam. She has been granted designation as a VCU Eminent Scholar for achieving national eminence in a discipline as judged by her peers on the evidence of effective teaching and productive scholarship.

In 2010 Dr. DiGiovanni was named Assistant Dean for Medical Education, and is playing a key role in the ongoing undergraduate medical curriculum redesign. She also coordinates the M2 Renal Course and nephrology core lectures for internal medicine residents and “therefore she has been an influential educator and mentor for many physicians across the training spectrum,” says Dan Carl, M.D., Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, former fellow and current faculty member and current Nephrology Program Director.

Diane Biskobing, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine and Program Director, Endocrinology and Metabolism describes Dr. DiGiovanni’s influence: “For me, as an associate subspecialty program director, her strong advocacy for her fellows is inspiring. She has served as a strong model for new program directors and is an example to all of us.”

Colleague Anna Vinnikova, M.D., agrees. “I find Dr. DiGiovanni’s organizational abilities astounding. She is able to juggle an array of responsibilities with the appearance of effortless grace, which in reality requires unrelenting self-discipline, hard work, and sacrifice of personal time.”

We honor Dr. Susan DiGiovanni for being, in the words of her Chair, Dr. Gehr, “a great clinician and scientist, dedicated mentor, extraordinary teacher, the perfect person to direct the education of our young physicians to be.” Dr. DiGiovanni’s positive impact on her fellows, students, and colleagues is clearly visible to all of us.