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Henri Ford embraces his role as a leader in academic medicine


He’s the dean of the University of Miami medical school and president of the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Ford talked with us about his desire to make a difference.

Dr. Henri Ford and his family left Haiti to come to America just before his 14th birthday.

Image: University of Miami

Dr. Henri Ford, dean of the University of Miami medical school, also serves as president of the American College of Surgeons.

When he arrived in the United States, he spoke no English. But as he recounts his journey to America, Ford says he couldn’t retreat behind a language barrier.

“I was brought up with a notion from my father that there isn't a satisfactory substitute for excellence,” Ford says.

But he says that afforded important lessons, both in overcoming the language barrier and pursuing higher education.

“It's about not giving up and not giving in, and working hard and persevering,” he says.

Ford is careful to credit the help of mentors and others who have helped him along the way, as he has enjoyed a remarkable career in academic medicine.

A pediatric surgeon, Ford serves as the dean and chief academic officer of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, and is the current president of the American College of Surgeons. He’s also a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

In a recent conversation with Chief Healthcare Executive®, Ford discusses his career in academic medicine, his role as president of the American College of Surgeons, and being a role model for medical students, physicians and aspiring leaders.

Noting those who have guided him, Ford says, "I became convinced that I needed to also be an effective mentor and sponsor to others."

(See part of our conversation with Dr. Ford in this video. The story continues below.)

Setting an example

Dr. Ford studied at elite institutions, getting a bachelor's degree in public and international affairs from Princeton University, and he earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He trained in surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

Throughout his training, he didn’t see too many Black professors. And he says that is a key reason he pursued a career in academic medicine.

“As I reflected on my own journey, I've been blessed to attend these fine institutions, I felt compelled to pursue academic medicine, so that I could be a positive influence on those … black, underrepresented, minority students who aspire to pursue the sciences, in particular medicine. And so it was important for me to go in that direction, because for whom, to whom much is given, much is required,” Ford says.

He recalls the long hours working as a practicing pediatric surgeon, while setting up a laboratory, trying to secure grants, and writing research papers.

“It took some sacrifice, but then again, we were used to the idea of sacrifice and the idea of tenacity, the idea of not giving up and fortunately, it all paid off,” Ford says. “It all paid off in the end.”

But he adds that he is grateful to have received help along the way.

“I don't view it as though I am this incredible human being,” Ford says. “I am just a product of my environment, of the mentors and sponsors, who really guided me, and opened doors for me.”

Ford says he feels fortunate to have served as an example for medical students, including Black students and members of other minority groups, to show them what is possible.

“I've been able to serve as a role model, mentor and really a source of inspiration to countless underrepresented minority students,” Ford says.

Since beginning his one-year term as president of the American College of Surgeons last fall, Ford has been traveling the globe. He’s flown from Africa to New Zealand

“Without question, it's a tremendous privilege to go around the world,” Ford says. “As the ambassador for the American College of Surgeons, the reception is usually amazing and simply overwhelming.”

Ford speaks at conferences worldwide to promote surgical excellence.

“Our motto is to heal all with skill and trust,” he says. “So it's about equipping surgeons across the globe with the tools necessary to heal all patients, all surgical patients with skill and trust.”

At the same time, Ford says he represents the orange and green of the University of Miami while flying around the globe.

“I also get to talk a little bit about what we're doing here, some of the innovative approaches that we have adopted to train the next generation of physicians and physician scientists,” Ford says. “So I get to talk a little bit about our own curriculum, and how it really ties in with the American College of Surgeons’ perspective on how we should train the surgeons of the future.”

Producing ‘transformational leaders’

The University of Miami medical school recently revamped its curriculum to better prepare aspiring physicians. Ford says the curriculum revisions have involved less time in the classroom, and the school shortened its pathophysiology program from two years to 12 months.

He says the curriculum now includes a greater emphasis on putting students in groups to solve a problem or come up with a diagnosis. Medical students are also getting on wards in their second year, Ford says.

“We want to produce transformational leaders who are going to shape the future of medicine, lead health systems to deliver value-based care, but also champion discovery, and its translation into clinical interventions that will improve the health of humanity. So to get there, you need to really produce leaders,” Ford says.

With the new curriculum, medical students are also getting more education on “medicine as a profession,” Ford says.

“This is the essentials of medical practice,” Ford says. “That's how to interview a patient. How to communicate. What does it mean, the professionalism associated with being a doctor?”

The Class of 2024 is Miami’s first class of medical students to obtain their degrees under the redesigned curriculum. The class fared better than predecessors, and outperformed national peers, on licensing exams, he says.

More importantly, Ford says students secured residencies in some of the top programs nationwide.

“This is one of the best matches in our history,” he says. “They go to the top residency programs across the country, which says that these other residency programs view our students, our graduates, as really being desirable. So that was great validation.”

Ford says he relishes the opportunities he has to help develop physicians.

“There is nothing more precious to me, than to be in a position where I can influence the development of the next generation of physicians, physician-scientists,” he says.

“Mentoring and serving as a source of inspiration or role model for others, has become part of my own DNA, my raison d'être. … That's where I find the greatest satisfaction,” Ford says.

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