Des Moines University: Dean Robert Yoho

Interviewing with Dean Robert Yoho

Starting his academic career at Des Moines University in 1993, it has not been Dr. Yoho’s intention to carry out his current role as Dean of College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS) for almost 24 years. What challenges does he have to deal with? What did he learn from his time at Des Moines University (DMU)? Hallux Magazine Scholarship Director, William Bui Tran sat down with Dean Yoho to get to know more about his professional career as well as his endless contributions towards the program and Podiatric Medicine in general.

Q1.Can you briefly tell me and Hallux Magazine readers about your background and how you became dean?

After finishing residency, I entered private practice in Pennsylvania. I really enjoyed private practice. But, before podiatric medicine, after receiving my Master’s Degree in Biology/Microbiology from Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, PA), I worked as a research assistant at University of Pittsburgh Schools of Medicine and Public Health in the area of non-small cell lung cancer. This experience provided me with a set of research skills. After seven years of private practice, I reached a point that I would be disappointed in myself if I did not use those skillsets I had developed at the University of Pittsburgh. So I made the decision to go into academic medicine.

There were several openings for faculty positions at a number of colleges. I liked the idea where podiatric medical students take the same basic science curriculum as osteopathic medical students. I thought that was the future model for podiatric medical education. Turns out it was. That is what attracted me to Des Moines University. In 1993, I started as a faculty member. Through  a number of opportunities and circumstances, I was appointed dean in 1997 by Dr. Richard Ryan, President of Des Moines University (DMU) at that time. I consider Dr. Ryan to be one my most influential mentors. Everyone needs mentors in their development.

Q2.How is DMU-CPMS 20 years ago vs. DMU-CPMS now?

When I arrived at DMU, the College had graduated only eight classes. The College was still trying to find its place and make its mark as a contributing academic program to the DMU. I think a much to do with outcomes such as graduation rates, board pass rates, residency placement, becoming integrated into the governance of the University and being sure the needs of the College were met. I’m a believer you need to prove to your colleagues that you have an exceptional academic program through academic performance, exceptional outcomes and assimilating into the organization’s systems. That takes time, but the opportunity was there.

Early on I noticed there was a clear distinction made between the osteopathic and the podiatric medical students at the basic science faculty level. The podiatric students were an afterthought. I understood the faculty’s position as the podiatric students were just thrown in without much discussion.  Fast forward to where we are today, the basic science faculty view the first-year class as medical students that include both DO and DPM students. I think that is a strong indicator of our progress. Our basic science faculty, whose primary appointment at DMU is in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, are fantastic. They take great pride in the academic success of the podiatric medical students.

Q3.What is the most important achievement of the program that you are proud of as the Dean?

To me, it comes down to hearing about the successes of our graduates. Alums have assumed leadership positions in our state and national professional organizations, and as officers in the medical systems where they are on staff. There are many more. Another area I feel very strongly about is contributing to the profession’s body of knowledge. Open our peer-reviewed journals and there are many CPMS alums publishing excellent clinical studies. It’s gratifying when looking at DMU Magazine and learning about the achievements of our alumni.

I am very proud of the collaborative effort that resulted in starting the residency program at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, a change in the bylaws of the county medical society to offer membership to podiatric physicians and the gift from Bako Diagnostics in establishing the Bako Classroom and Clinical Skills Lab. From a curricular perspective, we added clinical rotations including internal medicine, vascular surgery, and an Emergency Medicine Simulation rotation to year three. We have also expanded our third-year Community-Based Podiatric Rotation beyond Des Moines and release students earlier to start fourth-year clerkships. Expanding the types and quality of the rotations has enhanced the education of our students.

Q4.When was the toughest time for you as the Dean? And how did you get through that?

When a student matriculates at DMU, our intention to have 100% of our students graduate. It’s always disappointing when students for a number of reasons separate from the College.  Having those conversations with students has always been difficult for them and for me. The other area is when a student experiences the loss or illness of a loved one. Something I have experienced through the loss of my daughter-in-law. I realize students have a life outside of academics. They may experience a life changing event. It’s important to provide a balance of support and keeping the student on track. When I first became dean, I was young enough that I probably approached the students as a big brother. As I have got older, and students younger (as least to me) they are more receptive to my thoughts and advice. It’s always a real challenge when students are facing difficult circumstances in their lives. Hopefully, I have been there for them.

Q5.Where do you see the future of podiatric medicine? Will it be merged with allopathic or osteopathic medicine and become a specialist branch of medicine?

When you look at podiatric medicine, it’s relatively a small profession. The number of graduates from podiatric medical schools going to the residency programs is about the same number of DO and MD graduates going to orthopedic or dermatology residency programs. There’s an ongoing debate as to  whether podiatric medicine should be integrated into allopathic or osteopathic medicine as a residency program under the umbrella of orthopedics.

I don’t think that’s likely. I would prefer we retain our own professional identify. That said, if we are to advance as a profession, it is terribly critical to make advancements in the quality of our education across the continuum of our educational process (podiatric medical school, residency, fellowship and CME).

As a profession, we keep trying to compare ourselves to MDs and DOs. Hoping those professions acknowledge we are like them is most likely not going to happen. Even those professions cite differences with each other. I don’t know that making that comparison will have the anticipated yield. If you deliver an excellent education and podiatric physicians provide the highest quality of care, that’s all the public, other health professions and legislators care about. That is where our focus should be.

Q6.Who is your favorite student of all time?

I can tell you my favorite class – Class of 2010. My nephew was in that class. At the start of his first year he asked me,  “Should I tell them you are my uncle?” I let him know, as hard as it is to believe, sometimes students’ make comments about me that may not be so complimentary. It won’t be fair to them if you hear those remarks and you haven’t disclosed. I think it was through my nephew that they were respectful of that relationship. I enjoyed working with my nephew and members of that class, but the circumstances were unique.

To me, each class develops its own personality and character. No class seems to be the same and that’s the fun part of serving as dean. I have enjoyed all my classes. There have been some terrific students over the years. I tease current faculty members Drs. Sean Grambart and Ashley Dikis they are in my top 5 and leave it at that.

Q7.How will you celebrate the holidays this year? Are there any traditions in Yoho family?

I have a small family in Iowa. Most of our family is located in Pennsylvania. This year it’s going to be my wife, my son, and our granddaughter. We typically head home (still PA) but with COVID-19 we are having to put a hold on that trip. So it will be just the four of us. We have become accustomed to being on this island in Midwest when it comes to family events. We will certainly miss everyone, but I am sure we will Zoom them.

Q8.After having generations of students graduated from the program, what would you want your students to remember you as?

As the dean, there is so much going on in the background. It’s a very consuming role. You are in the thick of it. You are dealing with students, faculty, administration, residency directors, alumni, and leaders in the medical  and local communities. You hear from all directions. I think the dean position is very special in terms of number stakeholders you interact with on a continuous basis.

In the end, I hope the current students and graduates considered me to be fair, caring, reasonable and approachable. I have one speed, full. It’s time to tap the brakes.

Special Edition – The Pod 9

Interview by William Bui Tran