Audio Insights: Chat with the Chair–An Interview with Amy Clayton, M.D.

William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and President of Mayo Medical Laboratories (MML), sits down with the new chair of the Mayo Clinic Division of Anatomic Pathology Amy Clayton, M.D. In this episode, Dr. Morice and Dr. Clayton discuss the role, leadership, and a shared history. Connect with Dr. Morice on Twitter @moricemdphd to let him know what you would like to hear next.


William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D.: Hi everybody, this is Bill Morice, your Department Chair of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology here at Mayo Clinic in Rochester in the Midwest, and with me today is Dr. Amy Clayton. Amy, hi.

Amy Clayton, M.D.: Hello.

WM: I just wanted to take a chance to talk to Amy about her new role as the Anatomic Pathology (AP) Division Chair. So Amy, when was it official that you started as the Chair?

AC: Well, I think it was about a month ago.

WM: As you know, you and I go way back. You remember me bopping around when I was a resident at the Frozen Section Lab, but can you tell us a little bit about your experience at Mayo, how long you’ve been here for those who don’t know you or haven’t seen you professionally grow up around Mayo Clinic? When did you start here and those sorts of things?

AC: So, I actually have been around for a long time. I started my residency in 1989, so I guess we’re coming up well over 25 years now. I spent five years doing that and came back on staff in 1997.

WM: Because you’re so young and you’re so energetic, I think that people might not realize just how long you’ve been here and how much experience you’ve had here. And, the other thing that people might not realize is that our paths have crossed in many ways because you spent some time in Indianapolis, which is of course, where I grew up. Right after residency, you spent a few years there in private practice. Is that correct?

AC: That’s right. Actually, I went to Indiana University for the first year, and then I was in private practice for one year after that. But, what you're talking about is that it was unusual for me to actually be at the Indianapolis 500 raceway, but even more unusual was when I was sitting there, all of the sudden, Billy Mo taps me on the back. So yes, your department chair may show up in unusual places.

WM: Yeah, I certainly was not in "department chair mode" when I was hanging out at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So, it’s great that you’ve come into the role now as AP Division Chair. Can you just talk a little bit about some things that you’re noticing, stepping into the role, and some of the things that you think you might want to try and accomplish in your time as division chair?

AC: Yeah, so certainly stepping into the role of the AP Division Chair comes with some challenges. It’s a large division. We have 57 consultants, and we represent a very large, diverse practice. I have been with this group around 20 years, so I know the culture, I know our practice, and I know a lot of the people quite well. We do know that some of the concerns that we face are not dissimilar to those of other consultants across our institution. Feelings of burnout and trying to find ways to be academically productive are concerns of our AP staff as well. So, those are areas of focus for me as I step into the role.

WM: And of course, I think many people know you in the role that you’ll be stepping out of as the Vice Chair of Practice and Quality for our department as well as running our Clinical Practice Committee. Are there experiences that you’ve had there as the Practice Chair that you think will help you as you go into the AP Division Chair role?

AC: Certainly. I think any time that you can step into roles that allow you to connect with a larger swath of people, it is going to be very helpful for a division or any organization that you’re at. At the department level, I had a chance to really understand more detail about what challenges face our institution, our department, and our Mayo Medical Laboratories business. With those challenges in mind, I think I can come back to the AP Division and have better insights on how we might be able to better meet those needs.

WM: It’s interesting that you say that because you and I have been here a long time, and I think one of the things at Mayo, I should say, that you tend to "lose" is that sense of connectedness. I think as Mayo has gotten bigger, as medicine has become more complex, just the sense that we all are facing everywhere at Mayo, everyone is working so hard, and there are certain common problems that it becomes harder and harder for us to appreciate just because we’re all so busy with our day-to-day work. So, that’s one of the reasons, one of the many reasons why I think the department is really fortunate to have you. And, just working with me as a colleague, but also AP, the perspective that you’ll bring as division chair is a unique one, so I think those are all great things.

AC: What I’m really trying to do is build a leadership team from within the division so that they are able to really manage, very effectively, some of the academic pressures and some of our practice and scheduling concerns, while I’m allowed to still maintain that outward view so that I can make sure to bring that back to the division.

WM: So I’ve got to ask you this question—because I've talked about in my podcast series: What was it that, after you know, you and I sit down in my office, and we say, "Yep, you’re the person that we’ve chosen, and we really want you to be in this role," and then you wake up—I mean, what is the feeling the next morning? Is it like, "Oh crap!" Or is it just pure excitement? Or is it some combination? What is it?

AC: I think the former is probably more apt. I don’t think I could think straight for 24 hours. You know, so much swirls in your mind. Where do you start? What have I done? What have I just stepped away from? As you know from many of our conversations, I loved my Practice and Quality roles in the department, and that was very hard to think about stepping away from that. With that said, I was really excited to spend more time within AP. That’s where my heart is. That’s where I learned my clinical practice. Those are my closest colleagues, and I was really excited to step back in and start to really understand what their issues were and how we could really pull AP forward, take it to where I think a lot of the consultants are saying they want it to go.

WM: It’s interesting. First of all, you did such a fantastic job as the Vice Chair of Practice for the department, and I think one of the things that, you know, during your tenure, I was asked to transition that role into something that was more visible and tangible to the department. You’ve done a lot of that in working with Lynn Padley (department administrator) and really putting together a highly effective DLMP Clinical Practice Committee (CPC) with subcommittees. You know, I think that the job that you’ve done of creating an infrastructure for someone else to step into that role is going to really serve him or her well, and you too. I won’t ask you to reflect on that, but I will say that one of the things that I think for all the division chairs, something that I probably could have done better during my tenure as Heme-Path Division Chair, is to think about what the complexity of our practice and the three-shield mission of Mayo is today. The work that you’re doing to put together a team is really important. Like when you and I started, I always thought the division chair was the "all-knowing being" who ran everything in the division. I don’t know that divisions can really work that way anymore. I don't know what you think.

AC: No, I agree with you, and I think, at the department level, I couldn’t have done it on my own. You mentioned one of our department administrators, Lynn Padley. She’s been a phenomenal partner, but also, as you know, I like structure, and sometimes that makes people nervous. For me, it just meant spreading the joy around. I’ve had, within our subcommittee, chairs of the CPC and their administrative partners, they’ve done phenomenal work. I couldn’t have done it on my own. The other thing is actually just learning where you go to get help. So, I would want to apply those same sort of principles within the division, pulling together a leadership team with a structure that really addresses some of the issues as we know them and then stepping back and allowing the team members to actually "grab the bull by the horns "and start to try to make improvements as they have passion to do so. I’ve always said, I want to get out of the way of good work. And as you said, you can’t do it alone.

WM: Yeah, well first of all, I think with me in the Department Chair role, we’re certainly dispelling the myth of the "omniscient leader" who is the master of everything. I need a lot of help just like all of us do, and I just, again, everything that you say here really reaffirms why we chose you for the role of AP Division Chair. I think it’s very exciting for the division that you’ve agreed to take on this role. I mean, leadership is a mantle that one has to wear that sometimes can be pretty heavy on your shoulders, so I really appreciate you taking on the role. Hopefully, everyone in the division will as well, and I’m just really excited. I think it’s great for the department, and the institution as well, that you’re doing this. And maybe now, people will look at you differently. I think people will look at you and say, "Gosh, what did Dr. Clayton do to help prepare her to take on something like the AP Division Chair?", such a prestigious and large division in our department and institution. Could you just speak a little bit about some of the other opportunities that you’ve had to get to know other leaders around Mayo through some of the programs, and if you found those worthwhile and things like Accelerate and some of those things?

AC: Yes, actually Mayo does a great job, I think, of preparing leaders. If you’re interested, Mayo offers many opportunities for you to understand a little bit more, and you know, sometimes leadership is not entirely intuitive. Many times, it is, but sometimes, it really helps to connect with other people who know how to guide you through some of the challenging situations. So, you mentioned Accelerate—that was a phenomenal program. I did that last year. It’s a year-long leadership course in which they really guide you through some of the challenges. We had a personal leadership coach who worked with me on some of the issues that I felt like I wanted to have or I needed some help with. We had a number of webinars and seminars and a chance to connect with other aspiring leaders across the institution. I can’t say enough about how positive that experience was. I continue to pull out my notes from that, even in the short month that I’ve stepped into this role. They’re serving me well.

WM: That’s interesting. I mean, because the two things that I think about: 1. For anyone who is listening to this, you know, again one of the great things about taking a leadership role is you get to learn a lot about yourself, and you get to continue to improve, which I think is the font of eternal youth if you’re always trying to get better, and 2. The other thing is that you realize there really is a science to leadership. You watch it from the outside and, you know, we don’t talk a lot about that in medicine, in general, but there really is a science to management, just like there is with anything else. And the more you learn it, the more you understand how to manage groups of people and some of the challenges that come with being in a leadership role. So, I guess we’ll stop there because it’s Monday morning when we’re doing this, and we all have busy workdays ahead of us. So, I just really want to thank you for taking the time to just chat a little bit, and I’m sure everyone who listens to this will get to know a little bit more about you, which is a great thing.

AC: Thank you. I appreciate being here, and I look forward to my new role.

William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D. (@moricemdphd)

William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D.

William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D., is the Chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (DLMP) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and President of Mayo Medical Laboratories. Dr. Morice received his M.D./Ph.D. degrees from the Mayo Graduate School in 1993 and completed his subsequent pathology residency and hematopathology fellowship at Mayo Clinic.