February 21, 2017

David Fessell, MD: Learning leadership

Essential skills for future physicians who will impact health care begin with transformational education

Dr. Fessell conducting a radiology readout with a resident

David Fessell, M.D., is a clinical professor of radiology and co-director of our Medical Student Leadership Program. Dr. Fessell is also a faculty associate at the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business and a member of the newly formed Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care (MCIRCC), an innovative approach for bringing critical care solutions to the bedside faster.

Here he answers eight questions about his love for Michigan and why he cherishes his role as a leadership educator:

Why did you choose to come to the University of Michigan?

I grew up in Michigan, rooting for the Wolverines every Saturday. I was thrilled to attend the University of Michigan Medical School and even more proud to be on the faculty. The opportunity to help make a great institution, my alma mater, even better is energizing and inspiring. I love to see the great things our students do, and I am honored to be a part of their leadership journey.

How do you view your role in working with medical students as co-director of the Leadership Program?

I view it as a balance of challenge and support. Challenging them to become the very best by helping to create "stretch" experiences, new perspectives and growth at several levels. At the personal level, which is foundational, we are always leading ourselves. This is where leadership begins. At the group/team level, we create synergies and have fun accomplishing goals together. Working at a larger system level, our impact as agents of change can be enormous. I also love supporting our students to do the deep inner work of self-awareness and continual growth. I find myself feeling inspired right now just thinking about it!

Why is it important to include a formal leadership program in the curriculum?

Quite simply Doctor = Leader. As a doctor, you will lead in ways large and small every day, influencing health care teams, patients and families, and larger systems. This is especially true for U-M graduates who are highly sought after for the top residency programs. Knowing you are from U-M, people will naturally look to you to lead. We want our students to have the skills, knowledge and experience to lead at every level. Often leadership skills are learned painfully, by trial and error. Some of these painful experiences can be avoided, and higher success achieved, with training and well-crafted leadership experiences.

What are your most memorable moments?

Earlier this year I was doing an "escape room" challenge event with a group of our medical students. I was amazed at how relentlessly they worked the multitude of problems, puzzles and riddles to great success. I saw and felt their intellect, curiosity and willingness to embrace a challenge and be undaunted by setbacks. This has inspired me to help create even bigger and better challenges for them to embrace.

What do you like about working with our medical students?

The energy, curiosity and desire to "make a difference" that our students bring is inspiring! All of us who are fortunate enough to work with them, be challenged by them and take care of patients with them feel this. It's part of why we have chosen Michigan for our careers.

What do you like to do outside of the Medical School?

I love to learn, and travel is one of the most enjoyable ways to learn and grow. I'm also fascinated by creativity and the creative process. I enjoy comedy, including improv. Get ready: we do some improv with our students, too!

What do you like about Ann Arbor?

For me, Ann Arbor is one of the greatest cities on earth. We enjoy a very high quality of life without the downsides of a larger city. Great culture, cuisine, sports, people and an international airport just 30 minutes away. What could be better?

What is your advice to prospective Michigan medical students?

Be ready for friendly, down-to-earth people who love to work hard, play hard and will do amazing things in this world. I predict with great confidence that you'll have enduring pride and deep fondness for the time you spend at Michigan!