A conversation with new Vice Chancellor and Medical School Dean Julie Ann Freischlag
Only days after arriving, the new medical school dean, who is also vice chancellor for Human Health Sciences, took time to be interviewed about herself, the future of health care and UC Davis.
There are many different approaches to leadership. How would you describe your leadership style?
I am a consensus builder and I rely on teams. I focus on what and how I get things done with the help of others. I prefer information, ideas and solutions that come from the bottom up, instead of top down. During my first days at the health system, and before my official start date, I attended many committee and department meetings and was impressed to see consensus in action. Groups listened to the leader, yet anyone could raise a question, share an idea or offer a solution. Freedom of thought and collaborative spirit are how I engage people and give them a meaningful stake in advancing the institution.
One presentation I enjoy giving the most is an interactive seminar I call the "10 P’s of Successful Leadership." The 10 P’s are principles, passion, partner, prepare, plan, pace, process, perform, patience and don’t take it personally. The most critical P is not on the list because it stands alone – people. To lead people, you must take the time to listen, learn and understand; create a collaborative environment that engages others in constructive dialogue; and demonstrate integrity, respect and accountability.
These are core values of my leadership style and they go along with the plaque in my office that states "Nice Matters"– it matters to our patients, students, faculty, staff, community ... everyone. Being nice is an essential component of an effective leader.
Diversity and inclusion are central components of our Principles of Community. How do you anticipate incorporating diversity and inclusion into your work at UC Davis?
Every diversity experience has enriched my life. Diversity is more than gender, race or nationality. It is a person’s entire background. Diversity has helped me become a better leader because I hear a broader range of perspectives, see problems through a variety of lenses and find solutions by intersecting different ideas. As a consensus builder, I rely on diverse sources of information and inspiration. Diversity adds a dimension that helps me think, analyze and reflect in a more complete way.
Improving diversity has always been one of my most important professional commitments. For example, I worked at an academic health system that primarily accepted surgery residents from only a few institutions. The program director and I began reaching out to candidates throughout the U.S. and around the world. We soon doubled the number of applications to more than 1,000 from different geographies and institutions. Next, we targeted gender diversity and increased the percentage of women in the residency program from 10% to 55%. People enthusiastically responded to our open doors once they realized that we were interested in other groups.
The diversity in the residency program improved – and diversity improved the residency program.
In my experience, diversity is only part of the story. If you want the best people and their best efforts, you must create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. The potential of an institution, committee or team is determined by the potential of people involved – and inclusiveness unlocks that potential. People perform with their entire heart and soul when they know they are welcome and valued without judgment or bias. Diversity and inclusion are hallmarks of UC Davis, and they are hallmarks of my leadership.
How do you see health-care reform affecting the education and training of health professionals?
Health-care reform is completely restructuring the nation’s health-care system to achieve greater efficiencies, reduce costs and improve outcomes. To succeed in the new environment, all health professionals need the skills and experience to integrate an interprofessional team approach into every aspect of their work. It is not enough to just know the capabilities of different professions: everyone must work together in teams.
"UC Davis’ reputation as a powerhouse for discovery is a key reason that I became interested in the vice chancellor and dean position at the health system. I am encouraged by the tremendous opportunities for researchers from 10 colleges and professional schools to create interdisciplinary teams that will achieve the breakthroughs that can only happen with our collaborative approach."
As a surgeon, I depend on highly functioning teams of people in the operating room – surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, technicians and others – who understand how to coordinate and collaborate with a united focus on patient care. This interprofessional team concept must be incorporated throughout the education and training of all health professionals. Interprofessional teams must drive curricula and students must experience interprofessional environments in the learning process.
I am excited that UC Davis Health System has innovative programs underway and is taking an early lead on the national stage. For example, our medical and nursing schools jointly established the Interprofessional Pain Management Competency Program to develop the nation’s first pain management core competencies across disciplines. Summits of international experts produced consensus, six national and international professional organizations endorsed the program, results were published in Pain Medicine and new interprofessional curricula is being developed.
The health system advanced from 37th to 34th among 139 schools that receive NIH research funding. What is your perspective on research?
Research conducted at medical schools and teaching hospitals is critical for discovering new cures and treatments. As a surgeon, I also rely on comparative effectiveness research about clinical outcomes to help me recommend the best options for a patient’s specific condition. I have been involved with research my entire career, mainly through the Veterans Affairs system, and am working on a clinical trial relating to aneurism repair. I am committed to the value of research in achieving our mission of improving lives and transforming health care.
Research differentiates the health system and defines the real leaders in health and health care. We face competition for providing health services in the Sacramento area, but UC Davis is the only one leading the scientific discoveries that shape the future. Innovation is who we are, what we do and how we will serve society in new ways. The challenge is that research and clinical trials are expensive, but the health system is ahead of the curve on implementing electronic health records and creating registries for collecting data to conduct studies and identify specific candidates that will help produce more efficient and cost-effective clinical trials. I am excited about the knowledge and infrastructure we have in place for bringing new drugs and treatments to patients faster.
UC Davis’ reputation as a powerhouse for discovery is a key reason that I became interested in the vice chancellor and dean position at the health system. I am encouraged by the tremendous opportunities for researchers from 10 colleges and professional schools to create interdisciplinary teams that will achieve the breakthroughs that can only happen with our collaborative approach.
UC Davis recently completed its first $1 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign more than one year ahead of schedule. How will you be involved in philanthropy at the health system?
Philanthropy is among my top priorities – and I enjoy it! It is exciting and invigorating because philanthropy is about people and their passion to make a difference. It is magical when you connect what makes a person feel good with a need that we have in education, patient care or research.
I have met with donors and spoken with them on the phone. I like listening to stories about their connections to the health system – they are former patients, family and friends of patients, alumni, retired employees and people who have heard about us and simply want to participate in the many ways that we bring more hope and better health to others. My challenge is letting donors talk because I can’t stop sharing all that makes the health system so special!
Our supporters are encouraged when I explain that we have the highest percentage of employee donors among UC medical campuses. Our employees demonstrate the principle of leading by example. Not everyone is able to contribute as much as our largest donors, but what we do give shows commitment to our mission and a promising future. I will be encouraging all members of the health system family to participate and that includes me. For example, at a previous institution I made a donation toward resident education and research and started a fund in my mother’s name that promotes education because she was a teacher. The health system provides so much good in so many ways – and we all should do what we can to make even more greatness happen.