On July 1, 2020, Katherine Hiller, MD, MPH, joined Indiana University School of Medicine as the new director and associate dean for the Bloomington campus. Learn more about her diverse and collaborative experiences in medical education and her vision for preparing healers and transforming health in Bloomington and beyond.
Tell us about your journey into emergency medicine and medical education.
There are no physicians in my family, but lots of scientists. We all assumed I would do research in chemistry or biochemistry. Lifeguarding during the summer in college led me to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and I found I thrived on the interactions with people, so I applied to medical school. Entering my fourth year, I planned to specialize in family medicine or combined internal medicine/pediatrics—until I began my emergency medicine (EM) rotation. Within a shift, I knew…these are my people. I have always had a soft spot for students who do their EM rotation a little later and realize it’s what they were looking for all along.
After residency, I accepted a faculty position at the University of Arizona. Within my first year, the current clerkship director wanted to pursue other interests and asked me to take on the role. The Clerkship Directors in Emergency Medicine (CDEM) track of the Council of Residency Directors in Emergency Medicine (CORD) conference every spring was incredibly helpful. Every year, I felt like I was drinking from a firehose. Some years, I asked for time off after the conference just to mentally process what I had learned and develop a plan to implement it. It happened so gradually--I couldn’t even tell you when I noticed it--but eventually I was asked to collaborate with some of the amazing people I was learning from, and even to lead some initiatives. Medical education, and in particular, emergency medicine education, has changed rapidly in the last 10 years. I continue to soak it all up.
Why did you decide to add a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) to your medical degree, and how will your training and experience in public health help in your role as campus director?
As a new faculty member, I participated in a Clinical Scholars program which included coursework in basic biostatistics, epidemiology and grantsmanship at the College of Public Health. I loved the courses, and they aligned nicely with a research interest in influenza and vaccine preventable illness that I had been cultivating since medical school. The 2009 influenza pandemic happened just as I was finishing up my MPH, making me our department’s de facto expert (they called me the departmental “fluzie”). That pandemic calmed, and I packed my MPH in storage. Then 2020 happened. No cutesy name this time; it’s so much more serious. I have been following Indiana’s response and have been very impressed. I am eager to jump in, collaborate and help in any way I can.
You’ve served in many leadership roles with professional organizations and within university government, along with leading efforts in medical education and faculty development. With such a diverse career, which experiences/collaborations stand out and make you most proud?
One of the things I’m most proud of is the collaboration with fellow clerkship directors in creating the National Clinical Assessment Tool in Emergency Medicine (NCAT-EM). We organized and implemented a national consensus conference and created a multi-institutional research consortium to collect clinical assessment data from scratch. We’ve still got work to do, but we’re starting to see spinoff research initiated with this tool by medical education researchers, which is amazing!
What attracted you to this role at IU School of Medicine?
Now is a pivotal moment for Bloomington, IU School of Medicine, and IU Health. This position affords a huge opportunity to help shape and create the next iteration of health and medicine in south-central Indiana. There are already pockets of excellence and expertise, including respected and well-positioned leaders with whom I am excited to work. And there is huge potential. The missions of IU School of Medicine and IU Health resonate with me, and I am excited to help realize these missions in Bloomington.
What opportunities are you most excited about pursuing with faculty, learners and community health partners in Bloomington?
One of the things I’m most excited about is establishing a graduate medical education (GME) footprint in Bloomington. As the new Regional Academic Health Center is completed--providing a stable and state-of-the-art environment--growing GME will truly transform patient care in the region. In a system that already values medical education, adding residents will allow for expanded faculty development opportunities in both clinical and educational research, along with rich collaborations between IU School of Medicine and IU Health.
What is your leadership vision for the Bloomington campus?
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge and celebrate the excellent work that has been done before me. Even before COVID-19 tested the limits of what is possible regarding medical education, it was clear this campus has a strong, resilient and adaptable faculty. This spring has been a stress test for us all, and it has been reassuring and gratifying to see how the Bloomington campus has pulled through. We’re not done yet, but I am confident in continued success. As IU School of Medicine forges forward as a leader in the world in innovative, compassionate and excellent patient care, I am honored to have the opportunity to teach and mentor the next generation of physicians. They will serve not only this community, but become ambassadors to other communities as well. One of the unique attributes of the Bloomington campus is the potential for collaboration with other colleges at IU and with IU Health. Supporting and strengthening those ties is important, too.
Any fun facts you’d like to share about yourself?
Some less serious things about me: I am a happy wife and mother to two girls. We love to travel and take at least one international trip a year. Sadly, COVID-19 canceled our family trip to Japan in June 2020. I am a Visual Flight Rules (VFR-rated) pilot; most of my hours have been on a Cessna 172. My husband is an avid rock climber, and he is eager to join the community in Bloomington, and to road-trip to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. We have had chickens (but had to give them up), love to garden and are completely enchanted by water of all sorts.
What is your personal motto?
It’s not really a motto, but I am a huge believer in intellectual curiosity: continuously learning and growing. This is sometimes uncomfortable and inconvenient, but incredibly important. The world is a wide, complex and fascinating place, and there’s always more to know and experience.