Erin Yarbrough, associate vice president of Clinical Operations for UAB Medicine, has been named the recipient of the 2022 Dr. Will Ferniany Academic Medicine Leadership Award.
This award recognizes one administrative executive each year within UAB Medicine, the Ascension St. Vincent’s/UAB Alliance, or the UAB Health System who has provided significant support to the academic mission of UAB Medicine and whose commitment to that mission has been an inspiration to others. Named for Will Ferniany, Ph.D., the award was created in 2021 as Ferniany retired. It is exemplary of the service Ferniany bestowed upon UAB during his decades-long leadership.
When asked about the significance of this award, Erin stated, “Our academic mission is woven into the fiber of almost everything we do. I love my job because I get the opportunity to see clinical, teaching, and research work together daily, and with every passing year I learn more how interconnected it is.”
Erin said she feels humbled to be recognized for her hard work. “I meet with learners and early careerists all the time, and the advice I give is usually the same. I can only ever bring two things to my work: 1) positivity and 2) a willingness to do something. My personal philosophy is to take something away or give something forward as a result of every discussion I’m in.”
“UAB is a big place,” she said, “and sometimes it takes tiny acts to get momentum going for large initiatives. Even actions as small as taking notes, sending a follow-up email, chatting with a colleague to bring in more support, can have a cumulative impact.”
Erin attended Vanderbilt University for undergraduate school with a major in Human and Organizational Development and minors in Spanish and Management. She received her MBA from UAB in 2012 and joined the staff at UAB in May of 2013.
While she did not always see herself in a leadership role, she said she did always see herself in a role that would require teamwork. “And that’s really how I view my role now. The higher you rise in an organization, the more diffused the idea of what we consider ‘leadership’ becomes. Instead of decision-making and personnel management, it’s about the general spirit you bring to your work, the collaboration, collegiality, influence, and strategy.”
Erin believes that nothing gets produced because of her effort alone. She works to adapt her involvement, contribution, and guidance depending on what the topic and the teams need at that time.
“In 2017, I assumed administrative responsibility for our ACGME enterprise and that has been eye-opening. Our trainees drive so much clinical care, and we have a responsibility to give them the best learning experience we have to offer. I also have administrative responsibility for our Accountable Care Teams program, which supports front-line problem solving and has been the basis of a foundational layer of culture change and process improvement literature,” she stated. “We are now in an exciting time where we are getting trainees meaningfully and directly involved in institutional process improvement efforts. This really represents the spirit of academic medicine.”
Now, Erin spends most of her time working with others to improve the efficiency of operations of medical practice in the inpatient setting. “UAB is a huge hospital and we have so many diverse specialties, each with their own unique cultures and practice patterns. Getting ourselves organized and aligned in a way that improves the hospital’s operations is an incredible undertaking. These are often years-long projects that require a great deal of strategic planning and collaborative negotiations,” she said.
The purpose of the Dr. Will Ferniany Academic Medicine Leadership Award is to inspire others by highlighting a leader’s commitment to the academic medicine mission of UAB. Erin explained that even on hard days, she believes UAB is an incredible organization for a career. “I have three small children (a six- and three-year-old, and a one-year-old), and the fact that I’ve been able to grow my career and my family at the same time is something I feel so grateful for.”
She adds that UAB is a place that offers opportunities to follow your interests and skills. “You can leverage relationships and take on projects that turn into career opportunities all in the same organization. That’s an amazing asset that UAB has to offer its employees.”
In the same way, Erin said that sponsorship and mentorship are essential when it comes to growing a career at a large institution like UAB, which she has “had in spades.”
“I hope to provide the same level of support to anyone who is stalled or doesn’t know how to get to the next step. I invite anyone who is looking for support and sponsorship to feel comfortable reaching out to me.”