Dr. Anne Curtis: Ready for a change
Being a professor and chair of the department of medicine at a school like the University at Buffalo is as big a job as it sounds. It means supervising 130 faculty members who are responsible for the education of students, residents, and fellows, clinical research, and clinical, primary, and specialty care. It means endless meetings, planning, and crises management. But it’s also, according to Dr. Anne Curtis—the woman who’s held the position for the past two years—full of energy and excitement that she’s thrilled to be a part of.
Accepting the job was a big change for Curtis, both geographically and professionally. Though she completed her undergrad and medical education in temperate climates—at Rutgers and Columbia, respectively—she spent the twenty-four years prior to her UB appointment in Florida at various university positions, most recently professor of medicine, chief of the division of cardiology, and director of cardiovascular services at the University of South Florida, Tampa.
“It was a big change in climate, but I really like Buffalo as a city,” says Curtis, who bought a house in the Delaware district (“I need to know where I’m going to run”) with husband Alexander Domijan, a UB electrical engineering professor. “It’s small, easy to get around, and I’ve made a lot of connections in the two years I’ve been here, so I’ve always got something to do. And with respect to work, there is so much going on.”
In addition to the aforementioned busy-ness, Curtis still consults on an outpatient basis, but accepting this position means she no longer performs surgery. As a cardiologist specializing in clinical cardiac electrophysiology, Curtis studies electrical problems of the heart and its rhythms which, in the surgical arena, meant many years implanting defibrillators and pacemakers, and doing catheter ablation procedures.
“I was good at it, but after twenty years of it, it wasn’t challenging to me anymore,” says Curtis. “I like the idea of being more responsible for programmatic development, and I found it to be a natural progression. Some people like administration and some can’t stand it, and the worst thing you can do is take a job like this because it’s the next rung even if you’re not suited for it. But I happen to like it. It’s busy, but fun, and I feel like I’m making things happen. In order to do that, I had to leave behind doing procedures, but that’s okay. I felt like I wanted to evolve, take on new challenges.”
And she has. One big part of the job over the past two years has been recruiting new leadership in the department, and Curtis has seen firsthand the “work that goes into national searches and creating a package that will allow [the recruits] to be successful here, because I want excellent people in the divisions.” Curtis finds it gratifying that she has been able to use these newly acquired skills to help her professional organization, the Heart Rhythm Society—of which she was president 2005–2006—find a new editor for its journal. “One of the things I love about learning new things is that you never know where else they’re going to be useful,” Curtis says.
Curtis’s other major focus is working to develop programs with UB’s hospital partners, Kaleida Health, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Erie County Medical Center, and the Veterans Administration. “There were some missed opportunities in past years where we could have worked together better, and some of what I’ve been doing is approaching different entities to revitalize the working relationship,” she explains. “That’s challenging, but it’s moving in the right direction.”
Juggling so many responsibilities, Curtis says it helps both to be flexible and “maniacally organized,” and to know when to take time to recharge. “My breaks are a lot of physical activity,” says the doc, who plays club tennis in addition to running. “If I don’t exercise, I feel bad; it reenergizes me and allows me to come back. And miniweekends; they’ve got to be fit in. I’ve got a pretty good tolerance for working, but no human being can go nonstop.”
Even at semi-nonstop, Curtis estimates it will take at least five years for her to really make an impact on the department, and that is her number one priority. “My goal is to get enough leadership at the divisional level so that I could easily be replaced,” she says. “We’re working on that, and if we have new leadership, and an infrastructure for research, then somebody just needs to maintain it, and then I will know I have been successful here and open to further leadership opportunities.”