After graduating from Harvard Medical School, Sandra Hearn, MD, started her residency training in PM&R at The MetroHealth System in 2010. When she reflects back on her time at MetroHealth, Dr. Hearn can’t help but consider the imprint it made on her—both professionally and personally.
“Being able to quietly observe the physician-provider relationships and witness how mentors artfully connected with their patients was a real privilege,” says Dr. Hearn, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of PM&R, Michigan Medicine. “Because the MetroHealth attendings welcomed me into their clinical spaces, I was able to learn how to navigate many real situations through observing how they practice—from setting expectations around prescription management, discussing a patient’s function, and even using personal experience and faith to connect with patients.”
In addition to MetroHealth being a safe place for Dr. Hearn to grow clinically, it was a place where she met lifelong friends.
“My co-residents were down to earth, smart, hard-working physicians, and we had a lot of fun and became quick friends, often enjoying board games, squash, tennis, or hiking Cleveland’s Metroparks on our weekends off.
Her First Medical Home
Dr. Hearn knew from her first visit that MetroHealth was a good fit. She found the attendings to be insightful and friendly people that she could envision herself working alongside. Dr. Hearn also believed the continuity between the clinical and research programs was thoughtfully designed and would enhance her educational experience. She was seeking a place to really grow as a clinician, and MetroHealth proved to be just the place for her.
“During my residency, I felt very much at home at MetroHealth,” she recalls. “I felt I could spread my wings, ask questions, and begin to develop myself as a PM&R professional.”
Finding Her Mission at the University of Michigan (UM)
Since completing her residency in 2014, she has more than established herself at UM as well as built a national reputation. Today, Dr. Hearn enjoys helping patients and clinicians gain a clearer understanding of nerve and muscle conditions through electrodiagnostic medicine. Her research focuses on electrodiagnostic strategies to evaluate peripheral neurologic conditions.
“My mission in the lab is to provide patients, families, and referring providers with an understanding of their nerve and muscle conditions, in a manner that can guide treatment decisions and how best to maximize their function,” she explains. “Toward this mission, I enjoy unraveling diagnoses and prognoses through electrodiagnostic medicine, challenging myself toward tailored study design and precise interpretation, while also acknowledging uncertainty.”
In addition to her lab work, Dr. Hearn spends a great deal of her time developing people and building medical education programming. As the PM&R residency program director and the PM&R educational faculty lead in electrodiagnostic and neuromuscular medicine at University of Michigan Medical School, she co-leads the preclinical musculoskeletal curriculum for first-year medical students. She was recognized with Department of PM&R’s Silver Crutch Teaching Award in 2016 and Michigan Medicine’s Program Director Excellence Award in 2020.
Closing the Education Gap
Dr. Hearn has taken her passion for teaching and shared it nationally. Since 2016, she’s taught with the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) and, more recently, with the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM) as well.
“As an educator, I seek to address a gap in traditional education by providing mentored interpretation of complex studies and real data, which often contain the noise of randomness and other medical conditions not routinely represented in textbooks or disease-specific academic presentations,” she says.
In 2021, she received the Surinderjit Singh Young Lectureship Award from the AANEM and delivered a plenary session at the annual meeting, focused on addressing how emerging disease-specific knowledge shapes how clinicians interpret electrophysiology at the borders of normal and abnormal. That same year, she received a Scientific Impact from AANEM.
On the Horizon
Her passion for education extends to herself as well. She’s a continual learner who is constantly challenging herself.
“I am beginning to learn neuromuscular ultrasound and look forward to integrating it more solidly into my practice,” she shares. “More broadly in academic physiatry, I hope to grow my own experiences so that I can start to open doors for others as a collaborator, mentor, and advocate. My stretch goal is to build a broad professional development program that harnesses others’ strengths and impacts faculty, residents, and perhaps even medical students through the community it fosters.”
Dr. Hearn has taken the confidence she gained from her time at MetroHealth and used it to develop in all areas of her profession. She strives to ask questions, listen, keep an open mind, and explore things that are new and different, even and sometimes especially when they challenge her.
“Clinically, it’s allowed me to continue to grow as an electrodiagnostician. Academically, I’ve been able to try new things like teaching nationally, reviewing manuscripts, and now serving on the Editorial Board of the journal Muscle and Nerve. And as an administrator and leader, it’s helped me guide our residency program. I’m very thankful for all that I gained at MetroHealth and the path it helped set for me.”