On July 1, Theodore “Ted” Sanford, Jr., M.D. stepped down from his 22-year position as Program Director of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan (UM). Leading one of the largest anesthesiology residency programs in the country, Dr. Sanford has always had a passion for educating students.
Dr. Sanford credits this passion to his role model, Lawrence J. Saidman, M.D., professor emeriti, Department of Anesthesiology, University of California, San Diego. Dr. Saidman taught that “it’s okay to be wrong, just don’t stay wrong.” Dr. Sanford used this advice to help steer him through his tenure at UM, making constant adjustments to best meet the needs of his students.
“A juggler,” is how Dr. Sanford best describes the role of a program director. In addition to developing curriculum, program directors give lectures and tutorials as well as find speakers to address students. Recruiting residents also is a major component of the job. Each year, Dr. Sanford ensured 30 top prospects enrolled in the UM residency program.
ASA President-Elect Jane C.K. Fitch, M.D. has worked with Dr. Sanford for much of her career and stressed the important role he played as a program director in the specialty.
“The Society of Academic Anesthesiology Associations (SAAA) owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Sanford, particularly as a core program director leader during the formal transition from SAAC/AAPD to SAAA,” said Dr. Fitch. “Dr. Sanford was one of the founding leaders of the Association of Anesthesiology Core Program Directors. His wisdom and guidance during the creation of this new, formal group is greatly appreciated by all with whom he worked and is likewise appreciated by those leaders following in his footsteps.”
Eight years spent in the Navy and 11 years on the faculty at UC San Diego helped shape Dr. Sanford into a stellar program director. In addition to managing curriculum, he spent a lot of time preparing residents to take exams and determining their O.R. schedules. While many do not set out to be a program director, if one has the natural skills and interest in medical education, it can be a very rewarding path, as illustrated by Dr. Sanford’s successful career.
Dr. Sanford stresses one of the most important aspects of a strong residency program is to have support from the institution’s anesthesiology chair and faculty. Together, these leaders must “walk the walk.” “Students see your commitment and you have to always show you have their best interests in mind,” said Dr. Sanford, who was grateful to have the full support of UM Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology Kevin K. Tremper, M.D., Ph.D.
Today, there is a different generation of residents who are much more connected to the world through technology. While this can create additional distractions, information is now readily available, recognizes Dr. Sanford. In fact, at UM, textbooks are ancient history and have been replaced with iPads entirely.
Reflecting upon his career, Dr. Sanford realizes he never looked back on his decision to leave sunny San Diego for a much colder Michigan. He said that going into academics was one of the best decisions he ever made, as he loved every minute spent at UM. Academics and residents have been very good to him, he recounted.
Always happy to provide career advice, I leave you with Dr. Sanford’s departing words to the future leaders of the specialty: “Love what you do. And no matter what, don’t be afraid to shoot high. I urge you to keep up with the profession and be active in committees. It is important that you are at the table so your voice is heard. Be a good citizen of your practice.”
Ted Sanford has been a guiding light for countless anesthesiology residents in his storied career. I am honored to, in turn, shine a spotlight on this good citizen, great teacher and unsung hero of academic anesthesiology.
Kenneth Elmassian, D.O. is Clinical Professor, Michigan State University, Lansing. He is ASA Director for Michigan, and President, Michigan State Medical Society.