Pensak to step away from leadership positions in 2021

Myles Pensak, MD, recently announced that at the end of this academic year he will step down from his numerous leadership responsibilities at the College of Medicine and UC Physicians. Currently the longest serving chair in the college, he became the Helen Bernice Broidy Chair in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery on Jan. 1, 2005. Six years later, he was named chief executive officer of UC Physicians and senior associate dean for clinical affairs in the College of Medicine. He also has served as chief of physician services and senior vice president at UC Health. In 2019 Pensak received the Daniel Drake Medal for his service to the College of Medicine and renown as an international authority on diseases of the ear and skull base

Pensak, who will remain on faculty to focus his efforts on clinical and educational activities, addresses his decision to step away on June 30, 2021, from his administrative responsibilities and reflects on his career as an administrator, neurotologist and educator.

Are you considering this a retirement?

No, I’m not retiring. I’ll continue to see patients. I’ll continue to mentor and work in the dissection lab with residents and fellows. What I plan to do is completely and totally separate myself from any formal administrative and leadership roles.

Why are you stepping away from your leadership responsibilities?

With my tenure as CEO of UCP and senior associate dean concluding in June of 2021, it seemed most reasonable for me to also step down as a department chair. There are several variables that go into the decision-making process; however, my wife, Penny has articulated and educated our family to embrace two philosophical guideposts to live by: 1) “If not now, when?” and 2) “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”

Addressing the latter, I’ve always believed that it is the foundational element to servant leadership. You can foment, instigate and propagate thoughts and, by way of action, advocate ideas and champion individuals and causes; but at some point, you pass it on to another group to complete the task, whatever that task is.

I’ve been exceedingly blessed and fortunate to be surrounded and educated by colleagues and supported by my friends in my department and in the College of Medicine. I’ve enjoyed a robust clinical and academic career because of opportunities that have come my way. It’s now time for the next generation to address lingering and new challenges. Moreover; heretofore unseen circumstances and opportunities will present needing a fresh lens, different skills and a collective passion to undertake and reshape the department’s trajectory.

What are your plans come July 1, 2021?

It has been quite a while since I’ve focused on meaningful academic or scholarly work in the Goodyear Microsurgical Lab. With my neurosurgical and ENT colleagues, fellows and residents I am looking forward to rethinking some old questions, as well as exploring contemporary challenges in cranial base surgery. I have always garnered great intellectual and emotional pleasure working in that privileged environment, sharing thoughts and ideas, learning and getting to know our trainees personally. I’m not disappearing; so that if anyone from students/residents, my faculty colleagues to CoM/UCP leadership seeks me out for mentoring or just conversation, I will be most responsive. I still feel like I have something to contribute. It will be done in a different forum and different venue and it will be done with no official title.

What’s your secret to being the longest serving chair in the college?

There are a couple of rules of surviving. Like Kenny Rogers said, “You gotta know when to hold ’em and you gotta know when to fold ’em.” I have always made the assumption that I have far more to learn from my faculty than I have to give my faculty. I’ve always been a very good listener to issues that they’ve brought up, even if they’re contrary to my own thoughts. Finally, I’ve never had issues with making decisions. That being said, if I’ve made the wrong decision, I’m perfectly comfortable acknowledging I’ve made the wrong decision and turning around and redirecting our efforts. Respectfully, but directly engaging people the way I want to be treated is elemental. Moreover, I’ve tried to be fair. It has never been my intention or needed necessity for everyone to like me, I just want colleagues and co-workers to appreciate my perspectives, feeling free to challenge and being comfortable in doing so if they felt so inclined.

Since it’s football season, I use the operational analogy that I’m an offensive tackle; my job is to protect the quarterbacks and open up running lanes for the running backs. I’ve always believed in servant leadership. I work for my department members and I’m Incredibly proud of them. We get the cream of the crop of residents. I have always tried to surround myself with individuals a little more curious, brighter and passionate than I am. I rarely fail to acknowledge how much I appreciate all the work they do. I’ve tried by action and deed, not hollow words, to earn the trust of those with whom I work.

Dr. Myles Pensak sitting on bench in the College of Medicine

Myles Pensak, MD. Photo credit: Bruce Crippen.

What are some of the things you’re most proud of during your leadership of the department and UCP?

I derive great satisfaction knowing that I have had the opportunity and privilege to mentor faculty, resident and students, as well as other institutional leaders, to push themselves a little bit more, to demand a little bit more of themselves and to appreciate themselves a little bit more. I’m an old-fashioned teacher. As I reflect on our current CoM chairs, a number of whom I’ve mentored, as I look at the careers of former residents, I take pride in knowing that they have natural gifts, talents, curiosities and energy that, in some small way, I’ve nurtured, influenced and shaped what they have themselves accomplished and achieved. Self-esteem is personal; it has nothing to do with external validations: research and scholarly publications or a successful clinical practice. For me, it’s how you impact the lives of others because its exponential; they go on to impact the lives of many, the long-term impact of a physician, teacher or leader is often reflected in the successful relationships, partnerships and alignments that one has the opportunity to foment.

Any closing thoughts?

When I arrived at UC in the summer of 1984 I had a number of career goals. Some have come fully to fruition, others modified by the intrusions of life, circumstances and reality. The University of Cincinnati College of Medicine has provided a platform and my colleagues the support, enabling me to succeed as I was personally capable of doing. That’s a remarkable gift. I’m not retiring; it’s a change. I like working. It doesn’t feel like work. It just feels like what I do, and I’m actually really happy.

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