New Leader Charts Course to World-Class Education at St. Joseph's 

Dr. Jeffrey Sugimoto

When Jeffrey Sugimoto, MD, thinks about the challenge he has taken on at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, he envisions a fleet of boats. All are seaworthy, but some are faster and nimbler than others. His goal: “to raise the fleet, boat by boat.”

The fleet consists of St. Joseph’s residency and fellowship programs. In his newly created position as vice president of academic affairs, Dr. Sugimoto directs these programs and is actively engaged in developing the hospital’s partnerships with Creighton University and other healthcare training programs.

“My dream is to have the best and brightest students come to our medical schools, our residency programs, and then stay to take care of our patients,” says Dr. Sugimoto.

After medical school, doctors must complete a residency program before they can practice medicine in a specialty. About 200 physicians are participating in St. Joseph’s 16 residency and fellowship programs at any given time, and another 100 from other residency programs are doing rotations at the hospital.

“Our training programs have done a very good job of bringing residents in, graduating them, and achieving a high board pass rate. On average, more than 90 percent of our residents pass their boards the first time,” says Dr. Sugimoto.

That said, the status quo is no longer good enough. “My job is to push everyone to excel,” he adds.

Raising all of St. Joseph’s residency programs to the next level will require a change in culture, he says—getting buy-in from all constituents; recruiting faculty members who are outstanding clinicians and mentors committed to teaching, research and scholarly activity; and obtaining external funding from individuals, foundations and other entities. It’s a big job, but one that Dr.Sugimoto is willing and able to do.

“Medical education is important because, ultimately, it benefits patients, it benefits healthcare, and it pushes all of us to be better at what we do,” says Dr. Sugimoto.

On the horizon

While medical education has long been part of St.Joseph’s mission, Dr. Sugimoto’s new role signals the hospital’s increased emphasis on attracting and retaining top medical talent through physician training programs.“Improvements to medical education will pay big dividends for our patients, our hospital and thecommunity,” says Patty White, president and CEO of St.Joseph’s. “By attracting top medical school graduates and giving them a first-rate education, we hope to increase the number and quality of physicians here and throughout Arizona.”

Arizona—like most states—needs more physicians. Ironically, there are not enough residency positions nationwide for the medical school graduates seeking them.The National Residency Matching Program reported that 42,370 doctors across the country competed for 30,750 residency spots in 2016—a deficit of more than 11,000 spots. By expanding the hospital’s residency and fellowship programs and creating new ones, St. Joseph’s hopes to address this problem.

“Dr. Sugimoto is ideally suited to grow and improve our medical education programs. Not only is he a seasoned heart surgeon, but he has also led residency programs for many years. He understands where we want to go and how to get there,” says White.

A deep love of medical education

Dr. Sugimoto grew up in Chicago and received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in New York City. He earned his medical degree from the University of Chicago in 1979 and completed a surgery residency and thoracic surgery fellowship at University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics.

In 1986—at the urging of his mentor, Tom Demeester,MD—Dr. Sugimoto joined the faculty of Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha. Over the years, he has performed more than 5,500 open heart surgeries while also serving in various administrative roles, including professor and chairman of the department of surgery and chief of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery.

Taking the St. Joseph’s position required Dr. Sugimototo cut back on surgery—not easy for a man who loves getting to know patients and families, and being part of a surgery team.

Fortunately, Dr. Sugimoto also finds deep satisfaction in mentoring new physicians. “There’s nothing better than to see a graduating medical student who is all thumbs enter a surgery training program and, after five years, come out skilled, competent and mature. My success is the residents who finish, and whatever success I get elsewhere is just gravy on top.”

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