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Looking Forward, Looking Back: An Exit Interview with Dr. Hueston

Dr. William “Bill” Hueston has served as Senior Associate Dean at MCW since 2013. In anticipation of his upcoming retirement, we interviewed Dr. Hueston about his time at our institution and his hopes for MCW’s future.

What originally interested you in coming to the Medical College of Wisconsin?

Interviewing a candidate for a position at his former institution, Dr. Hueston heard words of wisdom that struck a chord in him. Comparing his career as an Anesthesia Chair to the process of winemaking, the candidate said the first five years you grow the grapes, the second five years you make and age the wine, and the next five years you enjoy the wine. The implication was that, after 15 years, the wine may grow bitter and it is time to make something else. You come into a role with an idea, see it mature, and then become happy with where you are. You stop being an agent for change and become an impediment to it.

Having recently stepped down as a department chair after 15 years, Dr. Hueston was looking for his next opportunity to make a difference. Dr. John Raymond, a colleague he greatly respected, asked him to consult at MCW on the development of new regional campuses. Dr. Hueston worked with Dr. Cheryl Maurana on developing the pro forma for the campuses and got to know some of the people at our institution. When the opportunity to apply for the Senior Associate Dean position became available, it felt like a natural career move.

What goals did you have when you joined MCW?

Joining MCW during a period of transition, Dr. Hueston’s initial goals were clear: finish implementing the Discovery Curriculum and open the regional campuses. In anticipation of national physician shortages, medical schools had been asked by the AAMC to expand enrollment by 30%. However, evidence showed that the workforce wasn’t distributed properly, requiring a look at where physicians were needed and what types of physicians were needed in those areas. Rather than simply add 30% more slots to the Milwaukee campus, MCW sought to develop campuses that reflected the regions they were in and recruit students who wanted to serve in those regions. MCW’s philosophy for the regional campuses resonated with Dr. Hueston: training future physicians in underserved areas to address current and anticipated shortages in a meaningful way.

Implementing the new campuses consumed a lot of Dr. Hueston’s time during his first few years at MCW. Part of his work was working to address local skepticism about the new campuses. Would they offer the robust curriculum known at the Milwaukee campus? Would the medical students at those campuses be considered and treated as part of the MCW community? Dr. Hueston is happy to report that initial concerns have been replaced with general support, with the regional campuses being viewed and treated as part of MCW and the students receiving the same, high quality level of education and training. “I think we’ve come a long way in establishing those, getting credibility in those communities and, just as importantly, getting credibility in Milwaukee for having them and serving our mission,” he said.

Dr Hueston also noted other things in the curriculum he wanted to change, such as the need to be more student-centered, inquiry driven, and competency driven. He notes that MCW does a very good job of assessing and ensuring Knowledge for Practice and Patient Care, but we don’t do as well on the other competencies: Practice-Based Learning and Improvement, Interpersonal and Communication Skills, Professionalism, Systems-Based Practice, Interprofessional Collaboration, and Personal and Professional Development. He said, “We just assume they have them, unless they prove us otherwise, rather than actually teaching them those and sitting down and assessing and making sure they really know that stuff and can carry them forward in their career.”

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment during your tenure as the Senior Associate Dean for Education?

Dr. Hueston is most proud of the work done to move MCW toward becoming a health sciences university. When he was a candidate for his role and asked by Faculty Council to talk about his vision for the future of Academic Affairs, he presented on MCW becoming a heath sciences university with multiple campuses. He notes that we aren’t all the way there yet but there have been definite advances in us behaving more like a university. Infrastructure changes have been made, and mindsets have begun to shift to begin thinking more globally beyond being a medical school that offers other programs. He would like to see that mindset become more pervasive and a culture built around being a university that trains future healthcare professionals in an interprofessional, collaborative manner.

When he first joined MCW, people often talked about the fast pace of the changes that were happening. In fact, it took until his fifth July at our institution for a new academic year to begin without MCW opening a new program. Dr. Hueston’s message was to remind everyone that change isn’t a short burst of activity, it is a new reality. Change is going to continue to happen at a rapid pace, and we must be able to navigate it effectively to be successful.

What kind of work have you done to change the culture of our institution?

Dr. Hueston states, “Leaders don’t make change happen, they inspire people to change things.” A leader must have a vision, express that vision of what you can be, and inspire people to do the right things. He hopes a lot of what he has been doing is talking about what MCW can be and what we can contribute to the community, the state, and our students.

A leaders’ role is to identify the wins and make sure to accent the positive – but not be afraid to fail. “What we hear from the tech world is ‘fail often and fail early,’” he says. When he joined MCW, he found a culture that was often afraid to change due to fear of failure. There was an ‘it’s always better to be safe’ mentality that is finally changing. Dr. Hueston feels you have to be able to say “That didn’t work and it’s okay. We will find something that does.”

What is your biggest regret?

Institutionally, Dr. Hueston would have liked to make more progress toward becoming a health sciences university. In practice, he finds that people tend to say we are one when we want to be but often fall back into behaving like a medical school that a. “We stick our toe in the water, and we are up to our knee, but really haven’t jumped all in,” he says.

His reasoning behind this vision is simple – just as diversity in backgrounds and ethnicities enriches environments, so does diversity in training and educational experiences. Right now, MCW is rather homogenous; we don’t have a lot of leaders without an MD. Dr. Hueston would like to see MCW grow and become a more heterogenous environment, once in which trainees from various disciplines work with and learn from one another. He asserts we need leaders with a depth and breadth of different experiences to guide us there.

What recommendations/guidance do you have for the next Senior Associate Dean for Education?

One the medical school side, Dr. Hueston feels strongly that the Interim Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs needs to push hard on the curriculum reformation design process currently underway. He feels the next few months will be critical to that effort. Dr. Hueston says, “We’ve moved that rock up the hill along way. We are not quite at the top. And once you get to the top and push it over the top, it will succeed by its own momentum.” You need everyone behind that rock to keep pushing if we are going to be successful.

What hopes do you have for MCW in the future?

Dr. Hueston truly hopes MCW’s future includes being a health sciences university. He would also like to see us develop closer ties to create an integrated health network with other care providers, becoming an integral part of the community so we can represent and care for all the people in our regions. He feels we need to get our services and trainees into the right areas to make sure we are promoting and protecting the health of everyone in Milwaukee. To do that, we need to reach them in their own neighborhoods.

Thank you, Dr. Hueston, for your years of service to the Medical College of Wisconsin. We wish you the best in your retirement!