Joanne K. Baker, DO, FACOI, ACOI 2023 Teacher of the Year, Reflects on her Career as an Education Pioneer


December 11, 2023

In 2003, when Joanne Baker, DO, FACOI, joined the Michigan State University Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies (MSU/KCMS), she was eager to play a bigger role in working with students and residents. She had previously worked as a Hospitalist at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo working with residents as they rotated through their service. But she missed being more active in teaching and mentoring.

She not only yearned to be a leader of a residency program, but with her unbridled enthusiasm, Dr. Baker began contemplating how she could start the organization’s first osteopathic internship program. What resulted was much bigger and would eventually come to define her life’s work.  

Dr. Baker went on to pioneer dually accredited internship and internal medicine residency programs at MSU/KCMS. She later discovered that the programs were an answer to the University’s five-year search for just the right person to lead the effort. At that time, only a few programs in the country had the distinction of offering both an osteopathic internal medicine residency and an ACGME internal medicine residency, and none were in Michigan.  “We wanted to give our residents a distinct career advantage by ensuring that they could pursue as many opportunities as possible with the ability to apply to both AOA and ACGME fellowships,” she recalls.  

Her love for teaching began when she was a resident and was paired with a student to mentor. That feeling never left her. “I can't imagine not being surrounded by students and residents and getting to work with them. It is the meaning of medicine for me.”

Today she is still the Director of Osteopathic Medical Education and Internal Medicine Residency Program Director at what is now Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (formerly MSU/KCMS).  She says the excitement of working with residents never wears thin. Her joy is motivated by the fascination and wonder her residents experience as they learn and make discoveries.  “When you see a young student and their eyes are wide with excitement when they get to hear something they've never heard before, it centers you.”  

In her roles as Clinical Professor at the Department of Osteopathic Medical Specialties at MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine and Professor of Internal Medicine at the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, her residents are clearly motivated by her. One of her residents, who nominated her for the ACOI 2023 Teacher of the Year Award praised her ability to inspire and detailed how her teaching style has strengthened his confidence in his clinical skills and passion for patient care.

He wrote, “…she has equipped learners with essential tools for navigating dilemmas that arise when managing issues of patient access, physician-patient relationship, interactions with other health professionals and many other complex situations. This initiative inspired me to develop the first Emerging Physician Leadership Series to provide osteopathic residents and fellows with the tools needed to advance their careers and to influence change in their organizations.”

When she found out she had won the award, she said she was reduced to tears. Recognized and celebrated recently at ACOI 2023 which was recently held in Tampa, Dr. Baker admits that she is not one who seeks recognition or is comfortable with the attention.  

“It really took me back when I when I found out I was getting this; it was so humbling,” she says. “My entire career has been about teaching, and I've been involved with students and residents since I was a resident. That's when I fell in love with teaching. I don't do it for awards or accolades. So, it caught me off guard to even think that one of my residents would even think to nominate me because it's just part of what I do every day and I get such joy out of it”.

She believes that teaching is a natural part of every physician’s job. “I remind my students that as physicians we are all teachers and that they're going to be teaching for their entire career as they guide their patients and patients’ families through diagnoses and treatments. It is core to being a physician and is part of everything that we do. Whether they choose to teach in an academic setting, become a hospitalist, or launch a career in private practice, they will always be making an impact as a teacher.”  

Dr. Baker continually shares with students the importance of being part of an organization like the ACOI. “This generation doesn't always get the idea of belonging, but I tell my residents that it is important to find their niche and to find an organization that they can be a part of. It's important to stay connected to your profession and to have an organization that lifts you up, gives you leadership opportunities, and provides you with a chance to spread your wings. I can't stress it enough that the ACOI is one of those organizations that has had a huge impact on my career and where I am now.”  

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