Stacey Pierce-Talsma, DO
Career Paths

Academic medicine: This DO found her calling in the classroom

Stacey Pierce-Talsma, DO, is changing the practice of medicine one student at a time.

As Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine graduate Stacey Pierce-Talsma, DO, was finishing up her residency in neuromusculoskeletal medicine and osteopathic manipulative medicine (NMM/OMM), she found herself drawn back to academia.

In fact, she was so inspired by her medical school instructors that she decided to forge a career in academic medicine.

Dr. Pierce-Talsma began her career at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNECOM), where she was a full-time assistant professor and program director of the NMM/OMM residency program.

“I chose a position in academic medicine immediately upon finishing residency,” says Dr. Pierce-Talsma, who is now chair of the OMM department at Touro University California College of Osteopathic Medicine (TUCOM). “I admired my teachers and mentors so much that I wanted to work to inspire others as they had inspired me.”

In this edited interview, she reflects on her move to academic medicine and gives us a look at this career path.

Can you explain a bit about your former and current work schedules?

When I first began in academic medicine I saw my own patients approximately 12 hours per week, precepted residents seeing patients about 8 hours per week, and the rest of my time was spent either with administrative duties or teaching students. I worked 40-60 hours per week, with a considerable amount of flexibility in the summer when there are no classes.

At TUCOM, I’m a full-time associate professor and chair of the department, so my role is much more administrative.

Otherwise I am providing lectures, conducing research, teaching in the OMM lab, innovating curricular changes and completing committee tasks. It’s 40-60 hours per week, with about seven hours of direct patient care.

What made you decide to move away from a traditional work schedule? What have the benefits been both personally and professionally?

Though I spend less time providing patient care in academia, I contribute daily to the growth and development of 270 first- and second-year medical students. These students will go on to provide care and wellness for many more people than I could care for myself.

Each day is a different opportunity. I truly look forward to each clinic session, each OMM lab teaching session.

I’m constantly inspired by my colleagues, the research and scholarly activity. It’s engaging to work with a team of colleagues to advance the mission of the school, implement curricular changes and have the opportunity to innovate and improve learning methods and models.

Students keep you constantly on your toes, asking questions you don’t know the answer to, pushing you to keep up-to-date on the most current literature.

What advice would you offer to physicians interested in shifting to a part-time schedule? What types of positions should they look for?

You can start in academic medicine slowly. At Touro, we have adjunct professors who teach the doctoring skills and osteopathic medicine labs from a half day to several half days per week. You could also connect with a medical institution and volunteer to give a lecture or a series of lectures.

Some medical institutions, including residency programs and medical schools, have part-time positions where you may precept residents in clinic or spend time teaching on campus.

The most important thing is to realize that teaching doesn’t mean just showing up. Working with students often means diving into the intricacies and details of a subject, and they love to hear about how things work in the real clinical world.

What should physicians consider regarding finances, malpractice insurance and career impact when making this switch?

For academic medicine this varies depending on how much time you spend at the institution. Our adjunct (part-time) faculty are paid hourly and receive CME time for many of the hours they spend teaching.

Full-time assistant and associate professors receive a salary and other benefits including CME stipends, malpractice insurance, licensing fees, professional memberships and board recertification costs.

What I most appreciate about being an academic physician is the focus on personal development. Through my institutions, I have completed a master’s degree in medical education and leadership as well as a health policy fellowship through the American Osteopathic Association. There are also stipends for travel for presentations or lectures. These opportunities have allowed me to develop as a physician, educator and role model to students.

From the outside looking in, sometimes it appears that anything less than 80-90 hours per week is frowned upon. Do you see a trend where physicians accepting part-time employment becomes more acceptable?

I see many physicians, who serve as our adjuncts, running their own practice and spending time with the students in lab. I think they do this for many of the same reasons as I do–to avoid burnout, stay inspired, and contribute to the future of medicine.

I think there is increasing awareness of physician burnout. Many of my physician friends have started to decrease their hours. This has made it more acceptable to move to a part-time position, where you can still be engaged with patient care and your own passion for the practice of medicine, while remaining cognizant of your own health and wellness needs.

Anything else you would like to add?

As an osteopathic physician, I’m committed to the mind, body, spirit connection, seeing each person as an individual and fostering connection through touch and the application of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT).

Having the ability to contribute and inspire future generations of osteopathic physicians who may one day change the health care landscape is what keeps me coming back to work each day. Being an academic physician isn’t what I had planned when I first started medical school, but I’m so grateful to have found this path.

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