From High School to High Tech
Dr. Barry Issenberg built a summer job into a global leadership role in medical training
By Hannele Rubin
Photograph by Tom Salyer
Photograph by Tom Salyer
S. Barry Issenberg, M.D.
When S. Barry Issenberg, M.D. ’95, was in middle school in the early 1980s, his father fell ill and his stay-at-home mother went back to work. Her job: running Dr. Michael S. Gordon’s office at the Miller School of Medicine and raising funds for his efforts to develop simulators for medical training. Diane Issenberg told her son about Dr. Gordon’s work.
“I was a computer geek,” Dr. Issenberg said. “I had a programmable Atari 800, and I was interested in medicine. My mother said, ‘Barry, this combines all the things you think you’re interested in.’”
That summer, Dr. Issenberg, who grew up in North Miami Beach, began volunteering for Dr. Gordon. Because he played piano and had a good ear, he was assigned to record the heart sounds of Harvey, the world’s first cardiopulmonary patient simulator, which was created by Dr. Gordon.
Maintaining the Connection
The lure of that summer job stayed strong, and Dr. Issenberg maintained the connection throughout his education at the Miller School. “I could see that medical simulation was going to become a fundamental part of how people were trained,” he said.
After completing residencies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1997 and at UM/Jackson Memorial Hospital in 1998, Dr. Issenberg joined the medical school faculty and was named director of the Division of Research and Technology at what is now known as the Gordon Center for Simulation and Innovation in Medical Education. He became overall director in 2012, overseeing the development, implementation and evaluation of all of the center’s simulation and computer-based teaching systems.
Dr. Gordon died in 2017, but the center named for him continues to train first responders, medical students, physicians, nurses and military personnel — even members of the White House Medical Unit — in a wide range of skills, from routine inpatient treatment to dealing with battlefield trauma and active-shooter situations. Last year, the Gordon Center’s faculty and staff trained more than 20,000 people in hundreds of simulation-enhanced courses at the Miller School and throughout the world.
Practicing Medical Skills
Changes in education, health care delivery, patients’ rights and technology have meant that simulators increasingly allow people to practice skills they might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn. Future tools may involve virtual and augmented reality.
Dr. Issenberg is also a professor of medicine, senior associate dean for research in medical education and senior associate dean for continuing medical education, and he has a secondary appointment as clinical professor at the School of Nursing and Health Studies. How does he juggle it all?
“I only get about three hours of sleep a night,” he said, laughing. “But I love what I do.”