The new physician-in-chief of the MGH Department of Medicine has experience as a physician and as a researcher of medical decision-making and quality of care.
Katrina Armstrong’s first day on the job as Massachusetts General Hospital’s physician-in-chief of the Department of Medicine was April 15. She was in a meeting when two bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line. As staff briefed her on the emergency plan, she was struck by the response — everyone knew what to do without being told. And everyone carried out their role with humility, acknowledging that their work was in service to the community.It was quite an introduction to Mass General.

“The experience demonstrated the extraordinary capabilities that exist at MGH,” Dr. Armstrong says. “It sets the charge for the Department of Medicine — to bring together the expertise, talent and commitment of our faculty, staff and trainees to care for our patients and communities now and in the future.”

“Now, we have the opportunity to bring the pieces back together to reassemble what it means to train a doctor, to move scientific discovery to patients and to take care of a patient across a lifespan,” Dr. Armstrong says.

Dr. Armstrong is leading the Department of Medicine, a department of 2,000 faculty members, making it the largest at Mass General. The department encompasses many clinical and research areas including cardiology, infectious diseases and primary care.

Lessons Learned in Leadership

She brings to the position her experiences as a physician and a researcher of medical decision-making and quality of care. She also arrives with lessons learned in previous leadership roles. Before coming to Mass General, Dr. Armstrong served as chief of the Division of General Medicine and professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She also led the Penn Center for Innovation in Personalized Breast Cancer Screening program.

Her goal is to “reassemble” medicine.

“Over the last several decades we have spent a lot of time taking medicine apart. We’ve disassembled science down to the smallest pieces of micro RNA or nanotechnology,” Dr. Armstrong says. “We’ve done the same, in many ways, in clinical care, with super subspecialists, and in education, with a focus on individual pieces of curriculum.”

As a result, she explains, academic medicine has learned more about human biology, clinical excellence and educational achievement. However, Dr. Armstrong says, society invests in academic medicine to reduce suffering and improve health. And, given the advances of the last several decades, there has never been a better time for academic medicine to deliver on that social contract.

Working to “Reassemble” Medicine

Dr. Armstrong joins an elite group of women who hold such appointments in the United States and is the first female to serve in this position at Mass General.

“Now, we have the opportunity to bring the pieces back together to reassemble what it means to train a doctor, to move scientific discovery to patients and to take care of a patient across a lifespan,” she says, adding that using resources more efficiently must happen at the same time.

Central to reassembling medicine is building trust. While finding ways to deliver medicine more efficiently is crucial, patients must know that medical decisions are made with their best interests in mind, Dr. Armstrong says. And the benefit of science must become evident at the bedside, so that the return on society’s investment is clear.

Dr. Armstrong joins an elite group of women who hold such appointments in the United States and is the first female to serve in this position at Mass General. After her appointment was announced, she received many emails from women and men, congratulating her on her accomplishments and sharing excitement about what they believe is a shift in opportunities in medical leadership for women.

“It was wonderful to receive that support,” Dr. Armstrong says.

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