Joan Aylor works as a study coordinator in the Sleep and Epidemiology Research Center (SERC) located within the Center for Clinical Investigation at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. It is a national sleep research interpretation center for a number of large-scale studies funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by principal investigator Susan Redline.
When asked to describe her work, Aylor says she's a "Jane of all trades," handling all aspects of office management, grants, research reports and documentation, blood collection and tracking, finances and budget.
"I enjoy the diversity of the job and the challenge of working in a medical environment. The faculty are great to work with," Aylor says. "They encourage me to strive to do my best. It is a great place to work."
Her efforts to create an efficient research environment for faculty and colleagues as well as the host of sleep study participants has not gone unnoticed.
Going beyond the call of duty. Willingness to work with and train others. Master of efficiency. Highly detail-oriented. Problem solver. Responsive. Superb organizational skills. Sensitivity to coworkers. Responsible. Resourceful.
Nearly 30 coworkers and supervisors repeatedly used those words to describe Aylor on nomination forms for a department award. As a result, Aylor became this year's recipient of the Joan Harris Staff Development Award, given annually to a non-faculty staff member at the medical school who most exemplifies Harris's characteristics of leadership and commitment. It also recognizes excellence in job performance, significant achievements in leadership, a humanistic approach to work and exemplary service to the School of Medicine. Harris began work at the medical school as the graduate physical therapy curriculum secretary in 1968. She became associate dean for faculty affairs in 1989, retiring in 1992.
Redline, professor of pediatrics, medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics at the School of Medicine and chief of the Division of Clinical Epidemiology in the Department of Pediatrics at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, hired Aylor part time 13 years ago, and eventually secured her a full-time post as the demands and work of the center increased. She calls Aylor the "pivotal node around which numerous staff and faculty in our group intersect and depend."
Says Redline, "Her work ethic sets the bar at the highest level. Her responsiveness and organizational skills create a productive, efficient and rewarding work environment. There is no task too large or small that Joan would not hesitate to undertake if that is what the job called for."
Aylor shares a recent example of a task that went beyond the call of duty -- into the early morning hours. An alarm activated at the center in the area where freezers are situated that store blood and other patient samples used in research. This in turn set off the text messaging system linked to cell phones of team members with access to the freezers. Aylor called everyone and decided she would come to campus to investigate.
She met campus security at about 1 a.m. The freezers were intact and the temperature was normal, thereby posing no risk to the contents in the freezers. Aylor says rather than inconvenience the team leaders, "I thought is was easier for me to go. I just needed to make sure the temperatures were OK and not dropping. I stayed for a while then I went home."
This kind of responsiveness is indicative of Aylor's overall approach to her job.
Before Sanjay Patel began working at Case Western Reserve, he contacted SERC to gain information about the sleep apnea research being conducted by Redline and her team. Aylor was his first contact.
Then a research fellow and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, Patel says that whether by phone or e-mail, Aylor would "answer almost immediately providing me with a complete response to any question I asked. I was amazed at the efficiency and thoroughness with which she responded to my inquiries. I was further astounded that she was not bothered or put out by frequent questions from someone she had not even met.
"Her professionalism impressed me and definitely made me think more highly of both Dr. Redline and Case Western Reserve University," he says.
Patel adds that her responsiveness in large part led him to decide to move from Harvard to Case two years ago. He's now an assistant professor of medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine. Since arriving and interacting with Aylor first hand, he has not been disappointed. "I can honestly state that I have not seen a more effective employee in my professional life than Ms. Aylor. The success of our center in its research mission is in large measure due to her tireless efforts."
Reena Mehra, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Adult Sleep Laboratory, came to know Aylor five years ago when she became a SERC research fellow. Even now, Mehra says, she remains impressed with Aylor's ability to effectively coordinate the many facets of multiple research studies and her unwavering reliability.
Mehra calls Aylor an excellent role model for those who work around her because of her motivation and resolute work ethic. She says she is particularly impressed that Aylor managed to remain involved with her position as project coordinator despite recent medical illness requiring medical leave.
"Ms. Aylor has managed to deal with her medical issues, and in tandem delegate her numerous research responsibilities to nearly ten if not more individuals so that research study functioning would not become unduly compromised," Mehra says.
Aylor says she was not aware of the impact she has had on her colleagues until she read their nominations. "It is quite an honor to have the respect of colleagues. It just reaffirms how I feel about them."
Well-wishers gathered in an invitation-only reception at the medical school to honor Aylor, the 14th award recipient. Harris was present and the two had a chance to meet. "It was truly special for me to receive the award and to meet Joan Harris. I was humbled by the outpouring of support," she says.
Aylor also received $500 cash and her name has been inscribed on a plaque along with other recipients that rests on a wall outside of the medical school dean's office. She plans to use the money toward a trip to South Carolina with two childhood friends.
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