Growing Forward

Dean Freischlag’s Vision for the School of Medicine

As dean, Julie Ann Freischlag, MD, is not an aloof and distant executive who never steps outside the boardroom. She’s a hands-on leader who invests energy into the advancement of our medical students and school.

To foster an even more robust and magnetic academic environment at the medical school, she is particularly focused on the following areas:

1. Accessibility.

A natural leader, Freischlag’s career is marked by a passion for mentorship. Not only does she make time for interacting with students and residents, she frequently provides lectures and talks on a variety of subjects relevant to early career growth.

“I want to be available to students, so I always have open hours for them—certain times when any of them can walk in and see me,” she says. “Students can also set an appointment to speak with me if they have an issue that has come up.

“I’ve found a number of other ways to interact with and support them,” she continues. “One way is through talks I host. A recent one was on the topic of mentorships—what their responsibilities are as mentees, and what they can expect of their mentors. In addition to seeing them at these lectures and seeing them personally during office hours, I also still operate a bit, so I will see students in the operating room and clinic as well.”

Freischlag also wants students to know she’s behind them in their organizational efforts. For example, when the student-run DEAC (Delivering Equal Access to Care) Clinic held its big fundraiser, she donated items for the auction and ensured a high faculty turnout for the event. The free clinic provides care to uninsured patients in the area and gives students valuable experience.

2. Growth.

Despite a national downtick in medical school applications, Wake Forest School of Medicine is seeing an increase. Freischlag wants the school to be able to accommodate an expanding student body.

“We’re going to grow,” she says matter-of-factly. “This year, we received 10,000 applications for our 145-student class. We want to start being able to accept more. Currently, we’re eight years from our next LCME [Liaison Committee on Medical Education] approval, so for the next eight years, we can grow a small percentage each year in our size.”

A recent move by Wake Forest Baptist Health will help facilitate the medical school’s growth. In March 2018, the health system signed a contract to acquire High Point Regional Hospital. Freischlag explains that having an additional site to which students can rotate will allow for increasing enrollment.

As the school grows, Freischlag says it will continue to have a diverse representation of students.

“Right now, our students come from 25 different states and 79 different schools—and 62 percent of them are women,” she says. “Nationwide, this is the first year there are more women in medical schools than men, so we’re ahead of the curve.”

3. Preparedness.

In addition to growing the school’s size, Freischlag looks to continue advancing its curriculum as well. “We want our students well prepared for the procedures they’ll perform as clinicians,” she says.

Freischlag is quick to point out that the School of Medicine had already done a lot of work to this end before she joined.

“Dr. O’Brien [Mary Claire O’Brien, MD, senior associate dean of education] has really looked at making us a competency-based medical school—so as the students go through their clinical years, we know for sure they’re prepared for all competencies,” she says.

One of the ways the school focuses on competencies is through its cutting-edge simulation center.

“In our new building, we have a beautiful simulation center that allows students to simulate procedures, like ultrasound, which they practice on themselves and on manikins,” says Freischlag. “They also learn how to place central lines and navigate simulated emergency department and ICU cases. Just recently, one of our alumni who is now a urology resident was able to deliver a baby on a plane—he was able to do that because of the simulation lessons he got on how to deliver a baby. Our students actually do more procedures, either simulated or under supervision, than any other medical school in the country.”

Philanthropic investments from foundations and individuals have played a key role in making some of those training experiences possible. Gifts have helped provide the Patient Simulation Lab, lifelike manikins that students use in that lab and in building the school’s Program in Medical Ultrasound.

“When I think of our medical school learners, I think of students who are ready to impact their environments on day one of their medical careers,” says Terry Hales, Jr., MBA, executive vice dean for Wake Forest School of Medicine. “Dr. O’Brien calls this Day-One Ready. Because of this mentality, our education programs are performing beautifully and positioned for even greater success.”

Hales says the simulation lab also encourages collaboration, an important skill in today’s medical environment.

“In a hands-on environment, they are learning and practicing together,” he says. “They will be just as able to come  together as a team with their colleagues when they’re providers.”

Freischlag says another realm of educational experience that will help Wake Forest students stand out on “day one” is research.

“I think we could give our students a little more research opportunities during their time here, so we’re fundraising for that—looking to philanthropy and grants that can enable us to broaden their exposure in this area,” she says. “This will benefit them not only as clinicians, but in other future goals, whether they’re interested in career research, teaching or global health. Whatever they choose to do, we want them heading out with extensive expertise.”

Medical School Innovations Benefit Medical Center

Terry Hales Jr., MBA, executive vice dean for Wake Forest School of Medicine, says medical school innovations like the simulation lab are good for the Medical Center as well.

“What we do can and should be ushered into the fabric of our Medical Center. Imagine 17,000-plus employees coming in every day, committed to growing what we know as an academic organization and applying that knowledge to improving patient care across our health system. Innovation in the School of Medicine positions and equips it to drive advancements across the integrated Medical Center.”