20 Years, 20 Leaders: Deborah German, MD

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'Success is having an opportunity...and every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow.'

Our connection to the experiences of those who came before helps to define the present and future of medicine. The Foundation is celebrating 20 years by joining in conversation with 20 women leaders in all aspects of medicine to understand their stories and how their experiences will shape the next generation.

Our first leader to be featured in this series is Dr. Deborah German, Vice President for Medical Affairs and Founding Dean of the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. We are pleased to name Dr. German among our Alma Dea Morani Award winners and a continuing member of the award committee. 

As an educator, she has the unique experience of learning not only from pioneers, but tomorrow’s leaders.

What roles have you held in the past?

Faculty at Duke University; Director of the Duke Gout Clinics and Associate Dean of Medical Education; Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education at Vanderbilt University; National Chair for the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) Group on Student Affairs; President and CEO, Thomas Hospital, Nashville and Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer for Saint Thomas Health Services; Petersdorf Scholar in Residence at AAMC.

What awards or honors have you achieved?

Alma Dea Morani Renaissance Award recipient; City of Nashville Athena Award; YWCA Academy for Women of Achievement; AAMC Women in Medicine Leadership Development Award; named a Local Legend of Medicine in the National Library of Medicine.

Why did you choose to go into medicine?

I wanted to help people.

What’s your core philosophy as a woman in medicine?

I don’t believe I have a different philosophy because I’m a woman. I think all of us in medicine strive for excellence in all we do. Whether it is research, patient care or education, we want to serve others.

What motivates you?

Since we get only one chance at life, I want to know I give my best in all I do.

How do you motivate others?

I don’t intentionally try to motivate others. I recognize that they, just like me, want to be part of something greater and make their own contributions. Each one of us has unique talents to contribute. I think people are motivated when they see a way they can contribute to a meaningful effort.

What challenges have you had to overcome?

I don’t think of challenges as things that must be overcome, but as opportunities to excel. Having a great challenge is a great gift. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow that would not occur if the challenge did not exist.

Humans fail. Please share a time when you failed and what you did next to move forward.

Every failure in my life has been an opportunity to achieve something better than I would have achieved had I not failed. I graduated high school as valedictorian and “most likely to succeed.” But while about 20 of my classmates were accepted into Ivy League colleges, I was rejected. So I went to Boston University and worked hard because I had learned I was not the smartest person in the room. From there, I received a full scholarship to Harvard Medical School. That high school experience taught me that failure is an opportunity. Failure gives you an opportunity to learn. And if you learn that lesson, failure really becomes an opportunity to succeed.   

Who was your most important mentor(s) and why?

Everyone I meet is my mentor. I believe everyone has something to teach me, and my job is to discover what that is.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?

One of my most important lessons is that I often find knowledge, talent, inspiration and guidance in the most unlikely places. I believe that we must embrace diversity in all of its forms in order to accomplish our goals. Persistence in the face of adversity is a critical element to every success.

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?

Success is having an opportunity. I am fortunate to have many opportunities.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women in medicine?

Everybody has positive and negative experiences in life. Embrace the positive. Learn from the negative—but don’t fixate on the negative. Look on the negative as a gift, not an obstacle.

20Years20LeadersAlicia Lazzaro