September 6, 2023

Interviewing Deborah Diercks, MD, MSc, MBA, FACEP

Josh Davis, MD, NASM-CPT interviews Deborah Diercks, MD, MSc, MBA, FACEP.


- Hello everyone. My name's Dr. Josh Davis. I'm an emergency medicine physician in Wichita, Kansas. We're here with our ACEP Research Committee Interviews with research experts to understand their career paths. I have here Dr. Deb Diercks. Dr. Diercks, do you wanna introduce yourself a little bit?

- Yeah, I'm Deb Diercks, I am Professor and Chair of Emergency Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

- Yeah and we're really happy to have you here. You're really one of the well-regarded experts kind of in the field. Can you maybe tell me a little bit, just kind of as an icebreaker, what is some stuff you do outside of medicine, or what do you like to do for fun?

- Yeah, so I really like sports. So when I was in California, for the first half of my career I was on the national ski patrol where I'd go up and ski patrol. Now I've kind of transitioned into CrossFit. There's really no mountains in Dallas. And then I always love spending time with my family which is really important to me.

- Really cool. Awesome. Yeah, I imagine you don't get a lot of skiing in Texas.

- Nope.

- So what would you say kind of is your, kind of how did you get involved in research and becoming such an expert? I mean, that's kind of a long path. What was kind of your start or your spark maybe?

- Yeah, so my first research project was when I was a resident and I had a great sponsor and the department chair who said, "Hey, we're doing some cardiovascular research on treadmill testing in the ED. Do you wanna take that on?" And so I did my first paper then on that. And then got a job at UC Davis, which was frankly the only place I interviewed. Don't tell them that now. But I really wanted to just go back home and got the opportunity to work with some great people who had great ideas but no knowledge on how to get data out of a computer. And so I bought a book called "Data for Dummies." Read it and really was the keeper of the data, which really opened a lot of opportunities. And then I had some great collaborators who could edit and do what I didn't like to do as much which was the kind of finishing the writing. And that really was a great partnership and a team that really kind of launched my career was really helpful.

- Really, really cool. Yeah, so if you own the data, I guess you make yourself a required entity, right?

- Yep. A little bit valuable on this, in that manner.

- What would you say like your kind of focuses are now or foci are now for kind of research? I know you do a lot of it and it's pretty broad but what's your kind of major focus?

- Yeah, I'm still really passionate about cardiovascular disease and trying to do early diagnosis and really trying to figure out how we can be efficient and safe and really do the best thing we can can for our patients kind of when they're right in front of us. And so I think that's really one of my main motivators is just improving care. And so I kind of try to stick in that realm kind of whatever I do.

- Really cool. Do you have any like mentorship advice or mentorship stories that you can kind of think of about somebody who was like a great mentor and either the great advice they gave or how you came into contact with them and stayed in contact with them?

- You know, I've been really fortunate and I didn't really have as many great, I mean I had great mentors, but really I think they probably served that mentor sponsor role and got me really engaged in some national kind of cardiovascular groups. And that really just was, had tangible benefits even down the road, especially when some of those people I met in those groups, were on the search committee for my current job. So I think I've just been really fortunate and I think why it's worked for me is I learned something really early on that I thought was common but it wasn't. And that's really getting things done that you say you're gonna do 'em. And I think that's really one of the keys is making deadlines and just producing when you say you're gonna make deadlines, I think was one of the things that allowed me to continue and was one of the reasons why people were willing to give me chances because I kind, they knew I would, I had done that before for them and I would continue to try to do that. And I think that really was one of the things that I was not the smartest person, didn't have the research background, wasn't a basic scientist at all, but I did what I said I was gonna do when they asked me to do it. And I think that was really kind of the key for one of the reasons why I was kept being asked to do things.

- Yeah, no, yeah, delivering results I think is important. You gotta talk the talk, we gotta walk the walk too, right?

- Yep.

- As far as networking, like what are some networking resources that you found maybe early on that you thought were pretty helpful or even things that you maybe do now?

- You know, I think the first time I networked I was a resident again presenting a poster at regional SAEM and I stood next to a guy, his name's Frank Peacock, we're really good friends there and I'm like started the conversation, probably doesn't remember it 'cause he completely blew me off. But I mean those environments where just going to national meetings, being on committees, getting to know people, one of the biggest sponsor kind of mentors and now great friend of mine, Judd Hollander, I met being on the program committee at SAEM. And so I think just engagement and just putting yourself out there so you are in a room with other people you don't know is a great way to meet collaborators and network because you never know, you never know who you're gonna be in a room with and so many people have things to offer. So I think that's been really helpful to me 'cause I'm a little more reluctant to just go up to people and say hi. So those are really safe ways for me to get engaged.

- Really cool. Do you have anything that you remember from like your early career that were like lessons learned or like biggest, like the biggest mistake that sticks out in your mind that you're like, oh I learned something big and never did that ever again? Kind of.

- Yeah, I think, I mean, I've stepped on a lot of the landmines I think in my career. I try not to do it more than once but I think one of the things that in my area which is acute cardiovascular care and trying to improve care, you really have to be careful to get the buy-in of your faculty, especially if you're doing a prospective study because they have to really believe in it. And so I think one of the things that I learned early on was just the importance of that, having some research coordinators, have to get a little scolded, which I felt really bad about. And then also not counting your chickens until it's done. You know, going into some registry funded research where you think if you enroll these people, they get tons of money and then they you put all this work in and it completely falls apart, never gets off the ground. And so I think those are kind of two important lessons I learned is nothing's ever done until it's dotted line, you have the money in your account and then really making sure you have some buy-in with your faculty even on issues you don't think are that controversial, people really view the patients we enroll in the ED as their own and respecting that and respecting their autonomy.

- Okay, interesting. And you had mentioned funding, do you have anything that you could think of for like an early career person physician who wants to get involved and what would be a good path to get funding? 'Cause that seems to be like one of the major limitations that a lot of people face.

- Yeah, I think one of it is you have to be willing to be rejected and I think that's really hard, especially when you're a junior in your career and you're balancing family, being a new attending, and life in general, and putting a ton of time into a grant that has a 10% chance of funding, it's tough, right? It's tough to get up every day and continue to do it but you have to 'cause you'll never get funded if you don't submit something and you have to just kind of get over yourself and realize that everyone gets rejected and you will get rejected too. And it's not because you are bad, it's just the process and the pain associated with it. But I think giving it your best shot which is really relying on institutional resources for grant review. Have people read your grant, have not only people read your grant, but pick the hardest reviewers ever to read your grant so you get honest and sometime painful criticism and critique so you can make it better and then buy 'em a bottle of wine or some chocolates or whatever you need to do or give 'em a Starbucks card and thank 'em for doing that and being honest. But I don't give my grants to my best friends , the ones that always say, "You're great, it's awesome." Those are not the people I want to review 'em, I want my critics and people that just are really good about at that to really review.

- Oh, that's wonderful advice. Where do you see, like what is your, and I know you've probably been doing this a while so you've probably realized some of these, but what was your vision or what is your vision for your kind of research career? Like what would be the ideal if you had done your career and you'd be like, yes, I accomplished that.

- I think at this time I think it would be ideal if all the people I'm working with and hiring to do research become federally funded and independent researchers. And so I think, I've transitioned a little bit that I would really, I would feel like I've succeeded in my research career if the people that I have hired to do that have gotten to where they wanna be. And I think that would be really important. And I think that's kind of consistent. You know, I've participated in a lot of the education for research along the way and I think that making sure that the next generation does even better would be a big success and I'd be really happy about.

- Really cool. Have you experienced any like pitfalls or maybe setbacks as far as being like a woman in medicine or a woman in research? Has that come up as anything along the way that you've experienced?

- I don't think it necessarily has come up. I can say that early on when I had my oldest daughter right at the end of residency and my youngest about a year and a half later when I started my faculty job. And so I had somebody in my, that I work with who kind of the same path and his career was much more, he didn't have kids, he could get his master's and do all that, and it just took me a lot longer to get there. I got my master's for my eight years sabbatical, and so I just, it was just a different trajectory and you know, I think we both got where we wanted to be. It's just, I think being comfortable with the fact that just because I had different priorities, that trajectory differs, and it's hard not to be caught up in that at the time and it's easy for me to reflect on many years later. But I think that is something that I had to, I think I struggled with that I was failing early on just 'cause I wasn't keeping up with him and I just had to get, it's one of those things you struggle with, and again, I can reflect back on and see what I learned but at the time I think I was, I had a little bit of kind of imposter syndrome. Like I would never be good enough because I wasn't doing things the same way.

- Yeah, and maybe everyone takes their own kind of path to get to the destination and now that you're there you can look back and see that your path was just as valid as someone else's.

- Yep, yep.

- And like I said, I mean you're kind of a well-respected expert and very successful now. So I mean, apparently your path worked.

- I think I'm real happy with it that I didn't have to give up on anything and you know pretty confident my family didn't suffer and all those things.

- That's good and that's an important point too, right? The balance kind of as well 'cause you can get sucked into writing grants all the time and writing papers all the time but have to have a life outside of medicine and research and academics as well. What would you say, you've given a lot of good advice, what would you say would be some of the top advice you'd give for people who are kind of up and coming maybe in residency or medical students or kind of junior faculty for getting involved in kind of emergency medicine research? I mean we talked about a couple of points, but what do you think are some of the big ones?

- I think really being passionate about the topic you're gonna do research on, again, everything, there's only 24 hours a day. Everything is a choice, right? And it's a balance. And when you spend more time doing something, you gotta give up something else. And so you gotta spend, you gotta do research on something that you are willing to not go work out a day if you have to do something. You know, that's that important to you. I also think just have a curiosity, keep asking the why's and that will continue to keep your career going and be unapologetic about it. It's kind of fun to say, well why do we do this, you know? And if you have a curiosity on why things work, why things don't, you can come up with those questions that really matter to patients, which is what this is all about.

- Yeah, absolutely. So we'll wrap it up there. Do you have any closing remarks or anything else you'd wanna add on or anything important that you think about your career that you wish others could know or learn from?

- Yeah, I think the biggest thing is that research is fun, right? The colleagues I've met, the collaborators I've met have really been great to work with and enriched my career and research is not as tough and scary as people make it. It's just about having a question you wanna answer and you can always find someone to help you with the stats or something. The big key is being curious and really wanting to improve and I think I wish more people would understand that and jump into it because I think we've got a lot of things we can still work on.

- Yeah, I agree. Well, thank you so much for your time taking time out of your busy day to do this kind of interview with us. This is our kind of ACEP Research Committee Interview series and I appreciate you taking time to do that.

- Oh, thank you for having me.

- [Josh] All right.

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