Gordon’s contributions to benefit CHPE long after her retirement
By By Bruce Coleman
Perched on the eve of retirement, Ann Gordon is excited about her department’s future.
Perhaps that’s to be expected from someone who has spent 33 years making sure faculty at the University of Mississippi Medical Center remain on the cutting edge of health-professional education. According to her, continuing education is never boring because it’s always changing.
“This is not the kind of department where, after you’ve been here for six months, you know what you’re doing,” said Gordon, who stepped down from her position as associate director of continuing health professional education on April 30. “There’s always something new and different to learn.”
Gordon has always seemed up to the task. Dr. Mitzi Norris, director of accreditation, credits her for helping CHPE upgrade its antiquated software system with a more streamlined product that is expected to expand continuing education offerings for years to come.
“Today’s health-care professionals are accustomed to receiving their education at all levels via multiple sources, and I believe that eLearning will continue to be the direction for the future,” Gordon said. “These are exciting times, and I will follow the CE division after I retire to see what the next innovative phase will be.”
And recently, Gordon helped lead CHPE on a reaccreditation effort so successful that the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education awarded the Medical Center an Accreditation with Commendation citation.
“This achievement will provide those who succeed her with room to maximize the changes and enhancements Ann has initiated prior to the next accreditation period,” said Norris, interim director of CHPE.
After 33 years, Gordon is saying ‘cheerio’ to her CHPE team.
Gordon’s legacy isn’t defined by the many accomplishments she’s achieved on behalf of the department, however. Norris said Gordon will always be treasured for her humanity.
“Anyone who knows Ann can attest that she exhibits exceptional leadership qualities,” Norris said. “She has a gentle and encouraging way of interacting with each member of her staff and takes an active role in each individual’s development.
“She strives always to be a catalyst for learning and achievement.”
Indeed, Gordon has served as CHPE’s primary instigator, and the growth of continuing health during her tenure has rivaled that of any other department at the Medical Center.
“As the health care professions grow, so do we,” Gordon said. “What each discipline asks of us grows each year, especially for physicians. We have to keep up with what’s going on.
“We’re now able to do more activities online. The future of continuing health in all disciplines is going to be technologically driven. I definitely think we’re moving forward in the 21st century.”
It’s a far cry from when Gordon first came to the Medical Center in August 1979. A veteran of the United Kingdom’s Women’s Royal Naval Service, she joined a staff of four that was housed in a trailer on the grounds where the Arthur Guyton Research Center is now located.
Under the direction of Dr. Wallace Conerly – who would become vice chancellor for health affairs in 1994 – the tiny department quickly blossomed into a vital resource for faculty in every department and school on campus. Now housed at the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center, CHPE boasts a conference center with room for 600 attendees.
“Dr. Conerly had the vision to help all of us working with him at the time to do research and look constantly at what is out there that we need to teach the doctors, the nurses, the dentists, the other health professionals,” Gordon said.
She said she was thrilled when CHPE began offering Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) classes – a course devised by the American College of Surgeons to train physicians on the front lines of trauma.
“We have a lot of physicians from around the state who come in and teach for us,” Gordon said. “We don’t pay them to do this; they say it’s for their peers. It really has been a wonderful program.”
But the CHPE activity of which Gordon has been most proud in recent years has been the Schwartz Center Rounds,“Schwartz Rounds gets the health-care professionals together to review an interesting case, and then everybody discusses it,” she said. “The health-care professionals have a chance to voice their feelings. It’s a very touchy-feely thing and I’m proud of that, just like I’m proud to have served on the Ethics Committee.”
She said financing the department’s activities has always been a challenge. CHPE is responsible for part of its own funding, which makes it heavily dependent on educational grants.
“Every activity we consider starts with a zero balance and should at minimum break even.
“All of the furniture I have in my office was once Dr. Conerly’s, from before he even came to CE,” she laughed. “We’ve never had a whole lot of money around here.”
Gordon has worked for a number of CHPE directors who have moved on to more high-profile administrative positions at the Medical Center, from Conerly and Dr. Roland Robertson to Dr. Dan Jones and Dr. Shirley Schlessinger. And she has worked with a variety of educators, many of whom are considered legendary in their respective disciplines, all of whom left an indelible impression on her.
There was the CE conference on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where Dr. Arthur Guyton, ignoring the discomfort of polio, stood up to give a 40-minute presentation.
“Dr. Guyton would always drop whatever he was doing and give a talk for us,” Gordon said. “I had never known him to turn us down. Following his talk, I will never forget the people who flocked around him to ask his advice.”
There were the surgical forums hosted by Dr. James Hardy, who had no reservations about putting his residents on the spot.
“At the luncheon Q-and-A session, someone would ask him a question, and he would point to one of his residents and say, ‘Answer that, please.’ They were quaking in their shoes. But they knew they were expected to have the answer.”
There was the time Dr. Bob Smith was entertaining a group of visiting physicians from Russia. When introduced to one of the visitors, Gordon reached out to shake hands, only to be intercepted by his interpreter.
“At the end of the day, he handed me a nice pen that was very intricately designed,” she said, “but we could never get it to write.”
And she has many other stories from her association with Dr. John Bower in nephrology, Dr. Ching-Jygh Chen in ophthalmology, Dr. Bunny Gillis in family medicine, Dr. Judson Farmer in communicative disorders, Dr. Carl Evers in pathology and his wife, Jan Evers in nursing, Dr. Tom Freeland, dean of the School of Health Related Professions, Dr. James Hughes in orthopedics, and a whole host of others.
Her memories of her compatriots are rich enough to fill a large book. Fitting, since the first thing she plans to do upon her retirement is to spend a full day doing nothing but reading.
“I’ve got a few plans: spend more time with my grandchildren, going back to England to visit family. I’m looking forward to whatever brings me to the next part of my life.”
She said she’ll miss her coworkers the most, of course, especially since they have become such a part of her life during the last three decades.
“Everybody that has worked in this department, we’ve been like family,” Gordon said. “A lot of times, the only way a person leaves is through retirement.
“My 13-year-old granddaughter recently asked me, ‘Nanny, can we come by your office one more time and see all your friends?’”
She expects to keep CHPE in mind even well into retirement, especially on certain nights when she has trouble getting to sleep.
“When I told Mitzi, she said, ‘You just pick up the phone and tell us what to do.’”