Leader in medical education

DO and Ohio native became dean of LMU-DCOM in the midst of the pandemic

Christopher Loyke, DO, is a leader in medical education in Harrogate, Tennessee.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Christopher Loyke, DO, is an Ohio native who has become a leader in Appalachian medical education as dean of Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Medicine (LMU-DCOM) in Harrogate, Tennessee. His first exposure to this region was attending Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens. He returned to his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, to practice family medicine as part of a five-physician group.

In 2012, to the surprise of his colleagues and patients, he joined the United States Army Reserve and subsequently served multiple deployments—foreign and domestic. In 2014, after 23 years of clinical practice, Dr. Loyke became chief medical officer at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center (UHPMC) in Parma, Ohio. He was later appointed Director of Medical Education and developed the department of graduate medical education at UHPMC, transitioning that institution to a teaching facility that would become home to multiple residency programs.

Christopher Loyke, DO

Dr. Loyke joined LMU-DCOM in 2018 as assistant dean of clinical medicine. By March 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, he was promoted to Dean and Chief Academic Officer of the medical school.

In this edited Q&A, Dr. Loyke talks about leading a medical school through a pandemic, the physician mentor who changed his life and his advice for students interested in pursuing academic leadership.

What were some key elements that helped make your transition to dean mid-academic year in the midst of a pandemic a success?

There were three elements: First, my predecessor, Dr. Brian Kessler, did an outstanding job adapting LMU-DCOM’s curriculum to the pandemic. His leadership was crucial in building an academic framework that carried us forward and enabled us to navigate through an incredibly dynamic environment. Second, our extraordinary faculty and staff were very innovative in adapting our curriculum. Their efforts helped us achieve some of our best student outcomes on national exams, despite the pandemic. Third, and most important, was our students.  They adapted to a chaotic environment, demonstrating poise, resilience and a level of professionalism that I’m proud of.

What is one of the top COVID-19 changes the medical school implemented that will improve medical education for the better?

The most obvious one is remote learning and the continued, if not accelerated, use of technology in the academic environment. Our team excels at using a variety of IT platforms to administer curriculum and we have enjoyed remarkable success.

Some may not know you are a Colonel in the Army Reserve; how does your leadership in the military enhance your dean’s role?

Anything that gives you leadership experience helps in the role as dean. The Army has seven core values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. These are leadership characteristics and traits that never go out of style. You learn resilience and you learn that your operational environment is never a sure thing. In other words, you expect disruption.

Tell us about a physician who has impacted you as an educator and academic leader.

Many physicians, DOs and MDs, have impacted my career and continue to do so. I cannot list all of them here, but I remember every one. I can think of very few fields of endeavor where an individual can make a more substantial contribution to society than being an osteopathic physician/educator.

In 2014 I applied for the position of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at University Hospitals (UH) Parma Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. I reviewed the job description with Dr. Michael Anderson (who was,  at that time, the UH Health System CMO). I advised Dr. Anderson that I was not familiar with many of the job’s requirements, and it is unlikely I would be successful. He said, “Chris, I need two things from you: I need you to care about the quality of care patients are receiving, and I need you to play nice in the sand box. We can teach you the rest.”

I accepted the job, and thanks to the mentorship and support of many, I did learn to be a CMO. It proved  to be one of the most outstanding experiences of my career.

How are you going to ensure LMU-DCOM continues its goal of consistently attracting students who will practice medicine in rural and underserved areas?

Two ways: First, we put a great deal of emphasis on selecting the right students. Attributes such as compassion, empathy, integrity and commitment to service are more difficult to teach. These attributes may not be reflected in a science GPA or an MCAT score, but they are critical in developing osteopathic physicians with a mindset toward service. Selecting students with these attributes is vital to our mission and is why, I believe, osteopathic medical students tend to be more nontraditional and are more likely to pursue primary care.

Second, we focus on immersing our students in the rural training environment as much as possible. Practicing in a rural environment presents unique challenges and opportunities at the same time. Many students coming from more urban settings are unaware of how rewarding and enjoyable rural practice can be. Our students often get settled in the communities where they train and return to practice in these same communities after residency.

What advice would you give to DOs and students who are interested in pursuing academic leadership?

I advise students to focus on learning the practice of osteopathic medicine. Become an expert at patient care and gain as much clinical experience as possible before moving on to other associated careers. In my experience, the best leaders in our profession started as full-time physicians and practiced for years before entering the world of administration or academia. These physician leaders and educators were (are) active clinicians with a strong clinical background, and often continue clinical practice while serving in other roles. Clinical practice gives you the experience and perspective that is essential to being effective.

When you do transition to another career, find a mentor (or mentors) that can help you on your journey. Be curious, be a lifelong learner.

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