Trio Honored for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education

Published October 8, 2021

story by dirk hoffman

Graduate Medical Education Awards of Excellence have been presented to the physician who directs the emergency medicine residency program and the administrator of the residency programs in internal medicine and internal medicine-preventive medicine.


Christian R. DeFazio, MD, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine, received a program director award.

Nathali Head was honored with a training program administrator (TPA) award.

Jennifer M. Schram, administrator of the neurosurgey residency program, received an honorable mention in the TPA category.

Daily Updates Helped Relieve Stress of Residents

Christian R. DeFazio, MD

DeFazio earned his medical degree from the University at Buffalo and completed a residency in emergency medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He became director of the emergency medicine residency program at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in 2008.

DeFazio “represents all of the qualities this award embodies,” according to Robert F. McCormack, MD, professor and chair of emergency medicine.

He points out that DeFazio is going into his 14th year as director of the emergency medicine residency program.

“The national average in our field is around seven years. His longevity alone shows his commitment to this program,” McCormack says.

McCormack says DeFazio is constantly striving to make the residency program better.

“He has done so much for the program during his tenure to improve the lives of his residents. A perfect example came during the COVID pandemic,” he says. “At the start of the pandemic, one of the biggest stressors for our residents was the influx of information and emails. Some days there were over 20 emails with updates on protocols, personal protective equipment, etc.”

During this time, DeFazio started a daily update for the residency and used WhatsApp because he spoke with the residents and found this was the best and easiest way for them to receive information.

“He sifted through the massive pile of emails to deliver a condensed version for his residents to alleviate stress,” McCormack says. “He ended each message with something positive — a story of a save, a funny story about his kids or some positive statistic. They became the backbone of communication during that difficult time and a highlight of everyone’s day.”

Seen as Generous, Compassionate Leader

A trio of emergency medicine chief residents — Andrew Knapp, MD, Kasarah Ackerman, DO, and Meredith Hurley, DO, — combined to write a letter of nomination for DeFazio.

“He stands out among his peers for his relatability and rapport among residents, his outstanding leadership, and his responsiveness to feedback, translating resident input into meaningful changes,” they say.

The chief residents say DeFazio continues to bring enthusiasm for progressive changes within the program.

“Most recently, he made diversity and inclusivity a top goal in the program. He established a DEI committee within the program and sponsors a scholarship to support visiting students from underrepresented backgrounds,” they say.

“Dr. DeFazio is a generous and compassionate leader. His emphasis on resident wellness, interpersonal relations and program camaraderie is evident from day one,” they add. “Interns spend their entire first month on team-building activities and educational workshops to not only sharpen their skills, but also become a cohesive group before starting clinical rotations.”

Training program administrator Dee McCarthy has worked directly with DeFazio in the emergency medicine residency program since 2008.

“Dr. DeFazio came into the director role full of energy and thirst for learning every detail of the program, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), our faculty, and the residents themselves,” she says. “That energy and enthusiasm has never wavered. It has remained constant and serves as an inspiration to others involved in the success of our training program.”

“Dr. DeFazio has been an exceptional and active leader. He has always made decisions based on the simple question of ‘how will this affect the residents and their training?’ He has listened to the voices of both faculty and residents over his tenure and made necessary changes to the curriculum and clinical rotations in an effort to better the training of our emergency medicine residents,” McCarthy says. “His priority has always been to produce the most competent, well-rounded and grounded physicians.”

Cited for Integrity and Organizational Skills

Smita Y. Bakhai, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine and director of the internal medicine-preventive medicine residency program, says Head is “highly reliable and has an excellent work ethic.”

“Nathali is extremely proactive and is able to identify issues early and address them immediately,” she says.

The internal medicine residency program is the largest training program at the Jacobs School, notes Michael J. Aronica, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine and director of the residency program, and Alysia V. Kwiatkowski, DO, assistant professor of medicine and senior associate program director.

“She has a keen understanding of our complex and evolving curricular structure and constantly seeks to enhance her own knowledge, showing commitment to personal development,” they note.

“Nathali has excellent written and verbal communication skills and her messages are clear, deliberate and well thought out. She manages and updates our program website, which requires attention to detail. Nathali’s organizational skills are superior and she exhibits the highest integrity and is always fair.”

Going Above and Beyond During Pandemic

Ellen Dubie, training program administrator for the internal medicine and pediatrics residency program, says this past year highlighted many of Head’s remarkable attributes.

“In the midst of a pandemic, with two young children at home, she managed two residency programs with more than 117 residents with an interim program director, implemented and coordinated virtual interviews, and prepared for two ACGME site visits without skipping a beat.”

“Nathali is smart, compassionate, and always willing to lend an ear,” Dubie says. “She is my go-to for just about everything residency-related and someone that I try to emulate.”

‘Steam Behind the Engine of Program’

Renee Reynolds, MD, clinical assistant professor of neurosurgery and director of the neurosurgery residency program, says Schram “is the steam behind the engine for our program development and compliance.”

Among Schram’s many skills, the most impressive is her problem solving, she says.

“It was most notable during this past interview season when needing to transition to a virtual platform. Jennifer successfully executed two virtual sessions using a new platform (RezRate) which she learned quickly,” Reynolds notes.

“Our interview process was so seamless we had feedback from multiple applicants that it was the most well executed they had participated in, playing a large role in us accomplishing one of our most successful match seasons to date, securing our three residents within our top five ranking positions,” she adds.

Jaims Lim, MD, a trainee in the neurosurgery residency program, says Schram was a fierce advocate for creating a new resident workspace that was “comfortable, spacious and in a well-supported environment.”

“She always makes sure we are taken care of, even making sure that her office is always stocked with snacks to make sure that we are never hungry or skipping meals given that we are busy as neurosurgical residents,” he notes.

Awards Presented at GMEC Meeting

The GME Awards of Excellence were presented Sept. 21 during the Graduation Medical Education Committee meeting. Roseanne C. Berger, MD, senior associate dean for graduate medical education, presided over the meeting.

The Office of Graduate Medical Education presents the awards to one program director and one administrator each year.