In high school, Lois Margaret Nora, MD, JD, MBA, had sketched for her guidance counselor a near-exact representation of her current career path. Only she doesn't remember doing this — “Someone showed me my guidance counselor notes from high school a number of years ago, and I had written that I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher.”
Raised in a family of physicians, Dr. Nora was always interested in medicine, but it's intriguing that her career is now a “constellation of the three areas” described — education, law, and medicine, she said.
On June 29, Dr. Nora took office as president and chief executive of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) — a non-profit organization comprised of 24 medical professional member boards, including the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. “Board certification and Maintenance of Certification from an ABMS member board is focused on continuous education and assessment to help physicians serve patients and provide them with the quality of health care that we want patients to be receiving,” Dr. Nora said.
Her current role as president of the ABMS, she said, is a natural transition because of the mentors who taught her to always put patients first — “caring for the patient as a person while being very astute diagnosticians and treating the disease process.”
As a student at Rush Medical College in Chicago, Dr. Nora fell in love with neuroscience. She was exposed to extraordinary neurologists — clinicians and scientists, she said, naming Caroline Tanner, MD, PhD; Chris Goetz, MD; Bill Weiner, MD; Harold L. Klawans, MD; and Jordan L. Topel, MD. “My interest in neuroscience was further developed by looking at them and saying, ‘That's the kind of doctor I want to be.’” Earning her medical degree in 1979, Dr. Nora finished both her neurology residency and her fellowship in electromyography and neuromuscular disease at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.
After training, Dr. Nora entered into private practice neurology, but also acted as a volunteer and eventually part-time clinical faculty member at Rush Medical College. “Ultimately I was invited to be part-time assistant dean at Rush and was responsible for their third and fourth years of medical school. Although I enjoyed the clinical practice very much, I also enjoyed the administrative aspects of medical education — and over time that slowly came to encompass more of my professional activities,” she said. From this time, Dr. Nora became increasingly interested in medical education as a whole, as well as the improvement of neurological and medical practice.
In 1987, Dr. Nora received a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. She was drawn to law as a resident during the early 1980s — soon after some of the first publicized brain death cases. “There was a great deal of attention on neurology then, and its overlap with ethics and medical/legal issues. I think this tapped into the interest that I had [in high school], and I had the strong encouragement of Harold Klawans, who was then my chair, to pursue a legal degree.” Combining this knowledge, Dr. Nora's research interests have since included the intersection of law and medicine, gender discrimination in medical education, and biomedical ethics.
The University of Kentucky College of Medicine appointed Dr. Nora associate dean for academic affairs and a professor of neurology in 1995. And in 2002, she became the first woman neurologist to serve as dean and president of an American medical school, when she was named president and dean of the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown, OH.
Despite being only the ninth woman dean at 120 medical schools nationwide at that time, Dr. Nora told Neurology Today that she does not attribute major career challenges to her gender. “Most of the challenges that I faced are faced by men and women equally: They include becoming familiar with new protocols, new areas of knowledge, financial skill sets, and so on.” She said that leadership development programs as well as supportive mentors have been extremely helpful in overcoming these hurdles.
In May 2011, she also served as interim president and dean of The Commonwealth Medical College, a new medical school in Scranton, PA.
Over the years, Dr. Nora has received multiple honors, including an American Council on Education Fellowship, American Association of University Women Research Scholar-in-Residence award, American Medical Women's Association President's Recognition award, and an honorary doctorate from Youngstown State University. In 2002, Dr. Nora received her MBA degree at the University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics.
“I am very passionate about the ABMS mission,” Dr. Nora said. “I think that what the ABMS, the member board, and the physicians who choose to become involved in Maintenance of Certification (MOC), are doing is an exceptionally important part of the professional self-regulation that we do on behalf of patients,” she told Neurology Today. (Visit abms.org for more information.)
There are over 800,000 ABMS-member-board certified physicians and almost 15,000 board-certified neurologists from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, she added. In the MOC program, which is only over a decade old, she continued, there are more than 375,000 physicians who participate across all 24 member boards.
Much of the work we do is related to supporting the medical profession and looking out for the care of patients, their families, and the community — and so some things are very easy, she said. However, since “the MOC program is relatively new and as we work with our diplomats and with our board,” one challenge we face is in showing and reinforcing the added value of MOC to our profession, as well as educating the public on what these terms may mean for their care.
“We are also currently working to align the MOC program with other initiatives throughout this country.” So, for example, Dr. Nora said, as there is increased discussion on quality indicators within our health care system, “we believe that if MOC is adopted as equivalent to these indicators, this will help board-certified, participating neurologists be engaged in a process that's recognized not only by the boards, not only by the public, but also by the appropriate organizations.”
Dr. Nora added that she is honored to serve the ABMS, and to help “our member boards and the American Board of Psychology and Neurology, in particular, succeed and meet their missions during this time of change in the health care system.”
For neurologists looking to move into leadership roles, Dr. Nora offered this advice: One of the most important things is to find what you are passionate about. “When you are passionate about something, you will be called into leadership positions.”
For young neurologists, she added, it's important to get involved — “both within the practice in which they work or the institution at which they serve. Also, get involved with the Academy or with other organizations in neurology and in organized medicine.”
In neurology and in medicine, Dr. Nora said, we have a lot of discussions about personal versus professional lives. “I think as an organizing principle that [distinction] has value — but we have one integrated life.” So, Dr. Nora said she advises young neurologists that “truly living in a way that integrates our professional life and our personal life to the advantage of both, I think is incredibly important.”
Listen here as Lois Margaret Nora, MD, JD, MBA, discusses the trajectory of her career — and leadership — to her current position as president and chief executive of the American Board of Medical Specialties: http://bit.ly/dy2KLx
©2012 American Academy of Neurology
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