Posted by: Academy of Achievement | 04/12/2012

James Lee, M.D., Class of 1991
Chief of Endocrine Surgery,
Columbia University Medical Center

Since the wonderful weekend of the Academy of Achievement in 1991, I attended college at Yale University and medical school at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. After a general surgery residency at Columbia University, I did an Endocrine Surgery fellowship at the University of California San Francisco. I’m now back at the Columbia University Medical Center and serve as the Chief of Endocrine Surgery, Co-Director of the New York Thyroid-Parathyroid Center, and Co-Director of the Adrenal Center.

In addition to my clinical practice taking care of patients with thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, and pancreatic diseases, I’ve had the great fortune of working on a number of educational projects aimed at making medical training more efficient and ultimately safer for patients by shifting the current training paradigm from one of on-the-job training to one of pretraining — i.e. allowing trainees to practice their skills and craft prior to interacting with patients. Early in my career I created a multimedia online educational platform called COACH. COACH is the Wikipedia for medicine but with oversight. COACH combines the power of community-authored work with the safety of expert review to create a knowledebase that evolves with the needs for the user-community. This knowledgebase then forms the basis for a system of cognitive pretraining that allows trainees to learn everything they need to know about a disease or procedure ahead of time. COACH is currently used in over 95 percent of general surgery training programs in the United States. I also serve as the Associate Medical Director of the Simulation Center of Columbia University and New York Presbyterian Hospital. The goal of the Simulation Center is to allow nurses, residents, medical students, and seasoned physicians a simulated physical environment in which to practice and perfect the art of medicine. Combined, COACH and simulation allow the trainee to first learn the relevant information and then practice a skill in a safe, conducive learning environment prior to treating patients.

I will always be grateful to the Academy of Achievement for all of the opportunities they afforded to us. My first post high school job at the FBI came as a result of contacts I made that weekend. I met two of my very good friends over late, late night discussions that weekend. Perhaps the most valuable thing I came away with was that talent, while critical, is a small part of success. Whether it was Norman Schwarzkopf or Clyde Tombaugh, or Herschel Walker, almost all of the luminaries stressed that success is not easy, it requires a dogged work ethic and dedication. This lesson more than any other has shaped my life.

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