The View Ahead: Strategic Plan Q&A with Dean Page

December 16, 2020 by Ed Neuert

As "Vision 2025: A Unified Strategic Plan for the Larner College of Medicine" is officially rolled out, Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., sat down for a conversation exploring the goals of the plan, and the wide-reaching examination of the institution that went into its formulation.

As "Vision 2025: A Unified Strategic Plan for the Larner College of Medicine" is officially rolled out, Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., sat down for a conversation exploring the goals of the plan, and the wide-reaching examination of the institution that went into its formulation.  

Q: What are the most important reasons for any institution to make a strategic plan?

Dean Page: I think that a lot of people, when they hear the term strategic plan, think of the business perspective of this. It's something that medicine and other organizations have borrowed from the business world. It's a process to use to bring people together to sort out who you are, what you care about, what your core values are -- to agree where your organization is going to go, and how it's going to get there. That's the fundamental process of strategic planning.

I've learned from medical management training that your effort goes beyond the strategic plan, you have to broaden it to strategic management. Once you establish those priorities, you know better who you are as an institution, and you then proceed in a way that's consistent with who you are, what you believe in, where you're going, and how you're going to get there. Beyond the development of a plan, you have to act on it.

That's one of the reasons why we've condensed the strategic plan to a single card that we can carry with us. And if we ever have the opportunity to tell somebody about who we are and what we care about, it's all there, in summary, and we can even hand it to them, and say "this is who we are."

But beyond that, if we're at a juncture where we have to make a major decision, we can always step back and ask "is this consistent with our strategic plan?" This doesn't mean you can't take advantage of unforeseen opportunities, but you at least acknowledge that they aren't part of the plan, and then you examine the balance to see, does this make sense now? Or is this going to distract us from the direction that we've already as a group decided we need to go? That's the value of strategic planning.

Q: On the front of that card that you mentioned, our College's mission statement appears. Can you speak about the relationship between a mission statement and a strategic plan?

Dean Page: You can't know where you're going as an institution unless you know who you are. And that's why every strategic plan starts with mission, vision, and values. We are part of the University of Vermont, and the vision for the College of Medicine traditionally has aligned exactly with the vision of UVM, which makes a specific point about health as being one of the commitments of the University. 

Q: Why revamp our plan now? 

Dean Page: There are a few good reasons. First, our last strategic plan was completed five years ago, and generally a five-year cycle is what makes sense. Second, I'm a relatively new dean. And from the very beginning, with fresh eyes, I recognized that the Larner College of Medicine needed a revamped strategic plan. And the third reason is that we are now conducting our LCME self-study in anticipation of our every-eight-year site visit for reaccreditation, and part of accreditation is to have an up-to-date strategic plan.

When I arrived, my plan was to have our strategic plan done within a year. But the fact of the matter is to do it right, we needed more time. Then COVID hit, and that pushed the process back a little bit further. Now, while I had envisioned establishing our strategic plan before we started our self-study, in point of fact, that would have been premature. What I like about the timing of my arrival, and then 12 months later starting our eighteen-month self-study process, is that as we've gone through this self-study, we've had the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, to complete our work with stakeholders, to develop a plan that includes mission, vision, values, and strategic priorities, all on a strategic foundation that allows us to roll this out as we're in the countdown to our site visit in April.

Q: Has the experience of the pandemic influenced the plan?

Dean Page: I think it's interesting that one of our strategic priorities all along was to develop telemedicine. It's part of our focus on equity. One of the things we've certainly learned this year is that telemedicine is here to stay, and we really went 0 to 60 in telemedicine in the first few months of the pandemic. And we've seen even stronger than ever our need to focus on equity.  The pandemic has affected the underserved worse than others. It shown in stark relief the inequity of our healthcare system.

We want to be looking to the future. We focus on "MD 2030," not just a five-year strategic plan, but the process of asking: what is the physician of 2030, the newly minted physician? What does that person need to know? What does that person need to be doing? The fundamentals apply: professionalism, first do no harm, the joy of caring, wellness, but also interprofessional education, personalized medicine, communication through telemedicine and digital health devices, and incorporating public health and health services research, big data, informatics, and even artificial intelligence. With what I just listed you'll find four of our strategic priorities in education, and all of those are even more important now than they were 12 months ago.

Q: How important was that SWOT analysis The College went through in forming the plan?

Dean Page: Yes -- strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, the SWOT analysis building blocks. I likes that format to get people talking about what's good? What's bad? What's difficult? What's going to be more of an opportunity? To do that, you need to have groups getting together that are diverse, but also in some ways concordant. What do I mean by that? Well, to have staff get together and give us input, to have students get together and give us input, to have faculty in basic science clinical science contribute. It's key to get as much input as possible, find the themes, and then do the work of really looking at mission, vision, values, and strategic priorities with a strategic foundation underlying those. That's what it took.

Three foundational themes came through. These are caring for our people, our students, our faculty, and our staff; commitment to a culture of continuous quality improvement in all we do, which is the basis for our new committee for continuous quality improvement;  and finally, getting the word out. We have a lot to be proud of. Even within our college, we don't share enough with each other the good things that are going on.

We need to tell our good stories and get the word out about what we're doing. This is consistent with President Garimella's commitment to the land grant mission, to inform and engage and serve the community. 

Q: As you mentioned before, many people came together in various forums across the College to build "Vision 2025," but are there any people in particular who helped form this plan that you'd like to recognize?

Dean Page: There are really too many to list here, but I do need to acknowledge Associate Dean Jan Carney, who agreed to undertake leading this effort even as we started getting going with our LCME effort. She kept this on track even while the pandemic put her in the "hot seat" as our public health leader. I have great respect and appreciation for what she's done.

In addition, the various faculty and staff of the College of Medicine Advisory Committee who saw different drafts of the plan and provided their input. And finally, all the students, faculty, and staff who participated in the various SWOT analysis groups, who gave feedback on this as we transmitted it out, who attended the town hall when this was rolled out -- this is all their document.

I'm tremendously grateful to people for being so engaged, but our job is not done yet. The work continues, and the exciting part now is ahead of us. Now we strategically manage, develop tactics, and address the issues at hand to meet our missions going forward.

Download a copy of the Vision 2025 card here.