March 30, 2016

Nichols leads in training the next generation of pediatricians

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RS13229 Michele Nichols 3RT scrFrom an early age Michele Nichols valued the privilege of education. A single mother raising two daughters, Nichols’ mother instilled one thing in her children: consider education a privilege, not an entitlement. These words still resonate with Nichols as she has dedicated nearly her entire career with the UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama as not only an educator, but a leader in educating the generations of future pediatricians.

After several moves, her education journey began in Mobile, Ala., where she attended junior high and high school. She then traveled to Florida State University to pursue a dance major. After just one year, she realized she missed academics. Nichols transferred to Auburn University as a pre-med chemistry major and was reunited with all aspects of academics she treasured.

“I loved science, math and people,” Nichols said. “Medicine was the best way to combine them all.”

Nichols graduated from Auburn University and continued to UAB School of Medicine for medical school. After completing her medical degree, Nichols completed her pediatric residency and pediatric emergency medicine fellowship at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Shortly after finishing, Nichols returned to UAB as an assistant professor in Pediatric Emergency Medicine. Although she was fortunate to have the chance to continue her career path at several different academic institutions across the country, “Ultimately, the people and the opportunities brought me back to Birmingham,” Nichols said.

She immediately got involved in the Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellowship Program. Nichols worked with her division’s fellowship program for several years then transitioned her focus to residency. Beginning in 1995, she began her 20-year involvement with the Department of Pediatrics Residency Program. She served as co-director for 13 years and has served as director for seven years. She now holds the titles of professor of Pediatrics in Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Frederick Renneker III Endowed Chair in Pediatric Education, and Department of Pediatrics vice chair of education.

Nichols was recognized earlier this year as the senior faculty recipient of the 2015 Dean’s Excellence Award for Education. The Dean’s Excellence Awards are annual honors to recognize outstanding contributions made by faculty across the School of Medicine. Nichols was honored in regards to the significant contributions she has made within the Department of Pediatrics, serving the Pediatric Residency Program for the past two decades.  Nominated by her Division Director who serves as one her role models, she feels indebted to her whole Pediatric Emergency Medicine Division for their excellence in all they do and their support for each other. Although the award was granted to Nichols, she accredits all her success to those surrounding her.

“I honestly do not feel like this is my award. I think it’s a statement of the quality of our Pediatric Residency Program, which is our faculty, residents, fellows and staff.”
“It’s not my work in education, but the residency program in its entirety,” Nichols continued. “It is the people, the support, the enthusiasm and the opportunity that makes this residency program so amazing.”

It is obvious the faith that colleagues have in Nichols from the beginning of her career. Carden Johnston, M.D., asked her to be involved in the Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellowship and Sergio Stagno, M.D., the Pediatric Residency, early in her career at UAB.

“They helped pave my career path. I’ve always had a passion for teaching and education, and they recognized that,” Nichols said. “I’m forever indebted to them, because it wasn’t something I initially set out to do.”

Had it not been for her mentors and faculty that had faith in her, she may not have had the same experiences. Faculty like Johnston and Stagno are the reason she values the importance of mentorships in the residency program. “Role models that have come before definitely serve as the biggest inspiration.”

According to Nichols, one of the biggest highlights of being so involved in education is watching the resident’s gain confidence and their passion grow. 

“Watching residents grow from when they come here day one until the day they walk out the door… I would put our residents up against any in the nation finishing their programs. They learn how to make decisions, take care of patients, have autonomy and work together,” Nichols said.

With all her involvement, Nichols gets to interview from college to medical school, from medical school to residency, from residency to fellowship, and from fellowship to faculty. She offers her expertise with work on the Dean’s Council on Graduate Medical Education, Admissions Interview Committee and the Admission Executive Interview Committee.

Much of her teaching comes from a focus in toxicity. She is co-medical director for the Regional Poison Control Center, which is housed at Children’s of Alabama and the only center in the state.  She is Co-PI of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids, which Children’s is one of 40 centers across the nation. She also serves as a faculty advisor for the Coat of Arms, which is the Pediatric Residency community outreach and advocacy organization.

In the future, she is looking forward to seeing how the Pediatric Residency Program grows and which direction it heads in. “The program is in a great place, but we don’t need to be complacent. There are a lot of opportunities for growth in so many different areas.”

Her broad contributions continue to make a lasting impact on education. As for now her enthusiasm for education has not be squelched. “The residents keep me going. Being around them is truly an inspiration.”