The Father of Graduate Medical Education at Our Lady of the Lake

Oct 27, 2023 | About Us

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Education is a way of life at Our Lady of the Lake Health, and we have a robust graduate medical education program to train the next generation of physicians.

John Clifford, MD, was instrumental in establishing GME at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, along with Laurinda Calongne, Erin Wheeler, Alison Walker and Roberta Vicari, MD. Calongne was a consultant before joining the team as Dr. Clifford’s administrative partner to lead the GME work.

Dr. Clifford first came to Louisiana in 1962 for medical school at Tulane University and has been living in Louisiana since. After finishing his training in 1976 he moved to Baton Rouge to practice neurosurgery with Dr. Thomas Flynn. He had a busy neurosurgical practice and was one of the principal founders of The NeuroMedical Center.

After Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the Tulane and LSU medical schools needed somewhere for their students to continue training, and Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge was the logical choice.

“The late Robert Davidge, then CEO of Our Lady of the Lake, talked to me about the problem and asked for my help getting the educational program started,” Dr. Clifford says. 

In 2006, the partnership with LSU and Tulane schools of medicine began, initially with students rotating through the medical center. 

Answering the Call to Serve

As the designated institutional official (DIO) for the graduate medical education program, Dr. Clifford, with strong support from the administration and medical staff, established the pediatric residency program at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in 2010.

This took time, and with a lot of learning about the accreditation process and learning the ins and outs of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). There were meetings with Louisiana’s congressional delegation, and state House members garnered additional support for the project.

How Academic Medicine Contributes to Our Community

As an academic medical center, Our Lady of the Lake strives to provide the best clinical care while staying current on the advances taking place in medicine. “Residents are empathetic to patients, particularly pediatric residents,” Dr. Clifford says. “They provide a wonderful, wonderful benefit for both the hospital and the patient.”

Our pediatric residency has grown into a strong program, and Dr. Clifford says a big part of that is how Our Lady of the Lake treats its residents. “The Lake is good to them. They work in comfortable surroundings having nice places to sleep when on call, good food, places to study and relax when off duty.”

Launching the next residency program in psychiatry was much easier. “When we did that, it worked very well and was much, much easier as we learned so much from the pediatrics start up.”

Nurturing Empathy and Professional Growth

Residents offer an opportunity for faculty and other team members to provide mentorship and support through their educational journey.

“By the time you graduate from medical school, you realize you are just at the beginning of a long journey and the row you have to hoe is very long and full of roots,” Dr. Clifford says.

He fondly recalls his interactions with residents. “Getting to meet these young, enthusiastic people was one of the more enjoyable parts of my career. You become a combination of mentor and parent.”

Our GME faculty have a heart for teaching. “It was nice to see that dedication,” Dr. Clifford says. “I’m not sure the public knows what is involved and how complex and demanding a medical education is. It continually evolves as you progress through its corridors.”

Dr. Clifford retired in 2012, and his role with Our Lady of the Lake’s GME program was a priority in those final years of full-time work. “It was a great way to end my career.” 

What Sets Us Apart

When asked what makes Our Lady of the Lake stand out when it comes to healthcare in Baton Rouge, Dr. Clifford mentions the dedication to the Blessed Mother and the example of St. Francis of Assisi.

He said there is a certain kindness with our team’s approach to helping patients. “The Lake wrote the book, and they walk the walk and talk the talk much more than any other hospital,” Dr. Clifford says. “There’s a certain kindness to the spirit of the Lake. You just have to see it in action to really appreciate it.”

Reflecting on a Remarkable Career

“I’ve been a physician for over 50 years and have come to learn in so many ways that the Great Physician is always there to lend a helping hand,” Dr. Clifford says.

When asked if he would do it all over again, Dr. Clifford says, “Unhesitatingly, yes.” He sees his 40+ year career in neurosurgery as an honor to care for the sick and injured, and he enjoyed being on the cutting-edge of the wonderful field of medicine. “It was never routine for me. I never really knew what each day might bring. I was blessed beyond measure!”

Commitment to the community remains our driving force as we look to the future of healthcare. Learn more about Our Lady of the Lake’s first 100 years.

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