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Diana J. Durham, Ph.D., G’77

Diana J. Durham G’77 first found Saint Rose when she was looking for a graduate program in teaching school children with learning disabilities. From teaching, she discovered her penchant for school administration, and then her interest in evaluating and planning educational programs. She continues to push the envelope for continuing-education programs for medical professionals at Stanford University’s Center for Continuing Medical Education.

Describe your typical day.

As strategic advisor to the director for the Stanford Center for Continuing Medical Education, my role is that of an internal consultant. I provide support for the special projects that the director wants to do, particularly in building relationships outside of the Stanford University School of Medicine and exploring new areas to which we can expand serving physicians and other healthcare team members.

Mornings – I’m a voracious follower of the news, and anything on healthcare equity and social justice — so first news, then a Zoom yoga class with my favorite yoga teacher, who also has a degree in clinical psychology, and try to get in a walk by the Pacific Ocean.

Afternoons – My position is quarter time (sometimes more if we have a big project going), and I do my work in the afternoon. Much of the afternoon is taken up with developing ideas for educational outreach to other organizations, conferences, and pursuing new content areas, sometimes with other team members.

We just submitted a massive application for joint accreditation for continuing interprofessional education, which will include physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, psychologists, dentists, dieticians, physician’s assistants, and optometrists. I spearheaded earning this continuing education for healthcare team members on a national scale for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in my almost 10 years there.

I’m assisting the director in anticipating the questions the survey team will ask us for this application. I’m creating a mock survey to help prepare – this is something you do a lot in healthcare. One part of the document is identifying your weak spots. If the surveyors touch on the weak spots, you say, “We identified that, and created a plan, and here’s what we’re going to do.”

We also just finished a conference, CME Live. We started putting it together around Memorial Day, and the conference was August 19 to 20. I’m getting us started for next year’s conference, which gives us more time to plan instead of 10 weeks.

I also work with the regional organizations in our network for reaching out to continuing-education professionals in healthcare throughout the U.S. and Europe.

How did you find your career path?

I earned my bachelor’s degree in English at Middlebury College, and my MA in English at the University of Virginia (UVA). I had begun a Ph.D. in English there but realized I wanted more to work directly with learners than to be a scholar researching in the library stacks. My first teaching job working was in a residential school in the woodsy area outside Leesburg, Virginia, with children and teens who had been categorized as emotionally disturbed. I worked with the ones who also had learning disabilities and found that was my new calling. Then I moved to Upstate New York and discovered that New York didn’t have a teaching credential in learning disabilities. While I was teaching high school English and running the learning disabilities program at Burnt-Hills-Ballston Lake Senior High School, I found The College of Saint Rose!

Saint Rose had exactly the learning disabilities program I wanted! When I graduated from Saint Rose, I started my doctorate in learning disabilities at the University of Southern California. USC accepted every single course I had taken at Saint Rose.

At USC, I found I enjoyed the administrative side of things. One of the internships I did was with the California State Consultative Services Office for Special Education, which included field visits to both public and private schools. We assessed, studied, and gave pointers on the school districts’ programs for special education.

As my career progressed, I found that my experience with that internship, and in planning and evaluating programs, formed the basis of my professional toolkit. Continuing Medical Education (CME), which is the centerpiece of continuing education in healthcare, involves meeting and exceeding standards and criteria in the field. For the last 15 or so years, I have been a member of a cadre of surveyors for the national quality regulator that does that, the Accreditation Council for Continued Medical Education (ACCME). Further, I am in my sixth and final year as a member of the board of directors of my national professional association, the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions (ACEHP).

I worked in several types of leadership roles in my field, at a teaching hospital of USC in downtown Los Angeles, and at a CME audio publishing company with a national reach. From 2009 until 2019, I served as associate director, then senior advisor for the continuing education in healthcare function for Veterans Healthcare System, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Upon leaving government service at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, I conducted quality reviews as a CE in the health professions/interprofession CE consultant. When traveling to the Bay Area, I connected with a friend who is the director of continuing medical education, Stanford School of Medicine. We spent the whole afternoon talking, and he brought up a comment I had made when I retired about not being ready to fold up my tent. That’s how he and I came up with my serving as his quarter- to half-time strategic advisor.

How has your Saint Rose experience helped you?

Saint Rose was in the forefront of education, having a master’s in learning disabilities, my chosen field. I was offered a substantial scholarship at SUNY Albany, but they wanted me to switch to working with the emotionally disturbed learners. I had already worked with ED students, and it’s hard to ensure that any progress you’ve made is there the next day. Students may have an upsetting experience with their family or group home, and the progress is all gone.
With my LD learners, yes, there are slips, they forget things, but you can create structures to support them. That Saint Rose even had a program in learning disabilities was very important, and it meant I didn’t have to compromise and could pursue my M.S.Ed. while teaching full time.

Nearly all my professors were women – dedicated female professionals and complete role models.

I am passionate about women in leadership and having equal opportunities for work and pay, equal representation in all levels of government. I’m active with a number of groups related to that. I feel that women as a group have some unique skills. I support causes and people and issues that feel the same way.

At one point, all four of the schools from which I earned degrees had women presidents, and I thought, I LOVE that picture. For any young woman or mid-career woman thinking of going into the academic world, seeing leaders who are strong, passionate, committed women – it’s amazing.

What fond memories do you have of Saint Rose?

I met Sister Lucina Hayes when I went in for advisement for my fall semester. She wasn’t very big, but she was a powerhouse. If someone had said she’d been an Olympic rower, you’d believe it. She had that energy, that presence, and that command. In addition, she earned her Ph.D. under some of the best scholars in learning disabilities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Another important person was the dean of the graduate school, Sister Kitty Hanley. One day, I had come to campus from my Burnt Hills- Ballston Lake teaching job and saw a sign for coffee and cookies: I followed signs to a coffee break set up for undergraduates. Sister Kitty stopped in, and we got talking. I said, “This is a wonderful idea to make your learners feel welcome and included.” It’s hard to become a part of the community as a commuter student.

I said, “It would be nice if you were to do this for the grad students. This little coffee gathering resonated with me because I don’t know anyone here, and I’m brand new to the Saint Rose area.”

She said, “That’s a great idea, Diana. Will you handle it?”

She knew how to delegate, and she could tell I wanted to belong and do things for other people. Thus, we set it up, we had coffee and cookies for the first week of midterms and each semester for a while. I got to meet fellow graduate students in all areas of the grad program in education, and I got to have a role that said, “I’m part of The College of Saint Rose.”

Later, I read about the Education Council at Saint Rose, and there was an undergrad to represent students, but there was no grad student. I told Sister Kitty, “The graduate school is a growing part of Saint Rose, and it really fills a need for returning students, mid-career students in the Capital Region.” She appointed me as the first representative for graduate students to the council.

Seeing Sister Kitty sit at the head of a table, facilitate the conversation, and listen intently to the stakeholders around the table, is a learning experience a lot of students never have. I had continuing education classes later about facilitating and group dynamics, but the experience of being dropped into that was a great opportunity. I will always be grateful to her for helping me see, through her positive example, what a leader does through how she relates to people.

What do you do for fun?

I do a lot of yoga and meditation. I go walking when the air quality is better. I love to travel. My daughter and I went on a cruise to Greek Isles and Athens. I am a passionate museum-goer! My mother was an art professor, and my daughter, who is a teacher, has her bachelor of fine arts in photography. When she wrote her application to the San Francisco Art Institute, she wrote her narrative application about going to museums with her mother. That’s an honor to me and to my mother.

Recently I was introducing myself at some event, and I mentioned Saint Rose – not everyone has heard of it. Then I said, “I’m the other famous Saint Rose graduate.” They all looked at me, and I said, “You don’t know Jimmy Fallon?”

By Irene Kim