How Is a GME Director Like a Border Collie?

By Diane Farineau

Right before Christmas, I got a border collie puppy. Winter is a terrible time to get a puppy, but she needed a rescue, so here we are. Having been strictly a labrador kind of gal, my introduction to the unique qualities of the border collie breed has resulted in a number of personal epiphanies. The first revelation is that my pup and I share many of the same traits. The second revelation is that these traits are a crucial requirement for my professional role as director of a graduate medical education (GME) office; they have enabled me to be successful.

How so, you ask?

Border collies are herding dogs, bred for intelligence and obedience, known for their agility, stamina, and ability to focus on minute details without losing sight of the big picture. They’re often depicted in movies, crouched low with a laser focus on a herd of sheep, while they patiently await directions from the shepherd. It is the collie’s responsibility not to lose a single lamb, and to ensure the flock’s safe return home each evening. A successful herding team consists of a salty shepherd and dogs who can take cues that are almost imperceptible to the casual onlooker. Very much a team sport, the give-and-take is impressive to behold.

There are many similarities between the sheep herding team and the administrative team that oversees our very large “flock” of residents and fellows at the University of Virginia. With close to 800 GME trainees on our “farm,” there are a staggering number of details in constant motion, requiring oversight if not direct attention.  From credentialing to licensure, financing to compliance, resource management to education, the GME team, consisting of our Designated Institutional Official and her staff, rely on their ability to communicate crucial information quickly, and often from a distance, as they anticipate the needs of their trainees.

Based on personal experience, I would bet that in any successful GME office one would find a number of human border collie types: folks who can identify potential threats to the well-being of the herd and make anticipatory avoidance plans; who can get a large herd from point to point with a minimum amount of effort, day after day, without tiring; and for whom that successful achievement is sufficient reward.

The GME Office staff is in a unique position to identify issues early on, whether behavioral, evidenced in early interaction with a trainee during credentialing; or regulatory, identifying a gap in compliance training at a program level. Each individual trainee’s well-being warrants the same level of attention as the welfare of the entire group; what impacts one potentially affects them all. Keeping track of each individual sheep, without losing sight of where the flock is headed, is a perpetual but incredibly rewarding challenge.

The qualities for which the border collie is prized as a working dog might get the average person labeled as obsessive or highly strung. While not untrue, those characteristics have now moved to the top of my list when I interview potential new GME staff members.

DWF.photoDiane W. Farineau has been the Director of the GME Office at the University of Virginia Medical Center since 2011. She has worked in GME at UVA for nine years and can be reached at