Herbert T. Abelson Professor of Medicine, Section of General Internal Medicine
Dean for Medical Education of the Biological Sciences Division (eff July 1, 2021)
Dr. Arora received a BA from Johns Hopkins University and MD from Washington University Medical School. She completed her residency in internal medicine, a year as chief resident, and fellowship in general internal medicine at the University of Chicago, and received a master’s from the Harris School of Public Policy. In 2005, she joined the UChicago faculty. Dr. Arora is currently the Herbert T. Abelson Professor of Medicine, Assistant Dean for Scholarship and Discovery, and Associate Chief Medical Officer for Clinical Learning Environment. She is also an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and serves on the Board of Directors of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the Joint Commission.
Throughout her career, Dr. Arora has demonstrated profound personal and academic investment in the quality of medical education. With a particular focus on the learning environment for medical trainees, she works to simultaneously improve the quality of learning and clinical care delivered by trainees in academic hospitals. Dr. Arora led pioneering work on resident sleep, fatigue, and handoffs that have informed changes in residency duty hours. She is the principal investigator of an AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education grant to integrate health systems science into medical education and is a Josiah Macy Faculty Scholar for her work improving the interprofessional clinical learning environment at UChicago Medicine.
Dr. Arora’s dedication to the highest standard of medical care and training is deeply connected to her commitment to equal opportunity in medicine. She has received NIH R01 funding to study novel methods for using social media to expose minority youth to medical research careers, and leads an NIH grant funded by the Diversity Program Consortium to improve mentor training for women and minority medical students at eight medical schools. She is a member of many groups working for gender equity in medicine, including Women of Impact, and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Ending Sexual Harassment in Higher Education. Dr. Arora will succeed Halina Brukner, MD, who has held the position of Dean for Medical Education since 2018.
WF: What helped you develop leadership skills and be named to leadership positions throughout your career?
VA: Leadership is not something that you learn in a classroom, but rather it’s more about your experiences and the support and role modeling of other leaders. I have had many experiences in my life that have allowed me to both observe other great leaders and to develop my leadership skills.
My earliest major leadership position was high school band president. This leadership position along with being a representative in student government was an amazing experience in which I learned how to manage finances, coordinate travel, and manage peers with very diverse personalities, which can be a difficult skill to master. My next major leadership position was chief resident which was a high stakes position in which I expanded my skill set in managing peers as well as focused on fostering well–being and promoting professional education. On a national level, I gained significant leadership experience by serving as the chair of the American College of Physicians, Council of Resident/Fellow Members where I represented the voice of all internal medicine residents. I have been fortunate to be involved in Women of Impact which focuses on leadership development in women. I have learned that so much of leadership is advocacy: being an advocate for patients, trainees, and the community. As a leader, it is important to use your platform to advance change and rather than feeling inhibited by being a woman leader, use the fact that you are a woman as a platform for change.
WF: What have been your experiences with mentorship throughout your career?
VA: My main mentor in medical education was Dr. Holly Humphrey, the former Dean of Medical Education at UChicago. From Holly I learned the art of listening, and making people feel listened to. She taught me to make sure needs of most vulnerable patients and trainees are met. Holly would always say take the high road. Like Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high!” I learned to always taking the high road, look for the wins, and celebrate the wins. So much in our jobs stressful and painful, but highlighting the positive helps build community. I had many other mentors in my career as research investigator. Eve Van Cauter PhD was my primary research mentor and, taught me importance of communicating research questions in a way that reaches the public. I am also a big believer in reverse mentoring. I have had many mentees over the years, and have learned from each of them. One example is when a mentee taught me the importance of Instagram and social media to reach the high school students that we were working with to develop interest in careers in healthcare. Early in your career, we ask “How will I make impact?” Then later in your career, you focus on developing a legacy. For me that is the people I’ve mentored. That is why I am looking forward to the role of Dean for Medical Education, to have an impact on the physicians of future.
WF: What advice do you have for women faculty and trainees in the Department of Medicine?
VA: My advice for women faculty and trainees is to take the risk and go for it. Many times, women in particular worry about failure which may prevent them from taking a risk. However, it’s important to focus on the positives and the learning from experiences, including failures. While externally, people may see only my successes, I see both my successes and my failures and I use my failures to push forward and learn. It is easy to get co–opted by imposter syndrome, but women in medicine are uniquely positioned to use their skill set and multi–tasking ability to be successful.
WF: As we emerge from the pandemic, what would you like to see Pritzker School of Medicine focus on?
VA: Overall, in addition to building on the great traditions here at Pritzker in so many areas, two areas that come to the top of my mind from the last year, with the intersecting pandemics of COVID–19 and structural racism are the need to ensure learners are engaged in learning environments that promote training in health systems science and teamwork as well as social justice and health equity. I hope to build on the great work already being implemented at Pritzker in these areas, and accelerate that to catalyze change not only for Pritzker students, but also for the residents, faculty and staff. We need to recognize that our learners are members of the health system, and are able to make an impact during their training on improving teamwork and systems of care. We also need to evaluate what have we done to improve equity for our learners and our patients. These issues of racism, that have been entrenched in medicine since the Flexner report, can’t be fixed in a year but we can make great strides towards improving them as we work together.