Interview with Dr. Julie A. Freischlag

02 Dec 2013

by Bharti Jasra, MD

A while back, there once was a little girl in Illinois who impressed everyone with her extraordinary performance at school. Her grandfather told her that when she grew up, people would tell her what she could or couldn’t do. “There is nothing that I can’t do,” her grandfather said. “Is all you need to tell them all.”

That little girl grew up to be the great vascular surgeon whom we know as Dr. Julie A. Freischlag. She is an internationally renowned expert in thoracic outlet syndrome. She became the first woman director of the Department of Surgery at Johns Hopkins in its 110 year history. She served as President of the Society of Vascular Surgery from 2012 to 2013. In 2012 she was elected Chair of the Board of Regents of the American College of Surgeons. In addition, she has held leadership positions in many leading surgical societies and serves on the editorial board of several surgical journals. In February 2014 she will join the University of California, Davis as Vice Chancellor for Human Health Sciences and Dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine.

I had the opportunity to interview this great leader and ask a few questions that I thought might benefit our Association of Women Surgeons members.

Q: What role did AWS play in your career?
A: I was one of the first few resident members of AWS. It was really nice at that time to know that there were other women in the surgical community that I could look up to for guidance. Also in early years of my career it helped me as a forum for networking. It was at AWS meetings that I met Dr. Patricia Numann for the first time, and we became good friends in the next 20 years.

Q: Do administrative positions adversely affect clinical duties?
A: I spend 60% of my time in departmental work and whereas only 40% in teaching and clinical duties. As a department chair one has to work for the department and not just for yourself.

Q: Is it essential to have additional degrees like an MBA to hold a leadership position?
A: It is not required to have additional degree but there are several leadership courses offered by ACS and AAMC which could be useful. I myself benefited from the ELAM course and highly recommend it.

Q: Do you think that you had a different set of challenges being a woman?
It’s quite lonely up there at that level since there are not many of you. Women are underrepresented not just in medical community but in legal and business communities as well. It’s easy to get noticed since there are not many of you at that level. At the same time it gives you a unique opportunity to represent interests of an underrepresented class and most effective use of this opportunity is essential.

Q: Do you wish you had more time to spend with your family?
I am blessed with a caring husband and loving children. As surgeons we like to stay busy and I have no regrets as I have been able to find time for my family for the most part. I try to go to my son’s sporting events and recitals. Also I try to limit my travel for work as much as possible.

Dr. Fresichlag with her son and husband during Parents Day at the University of Maryland

Q: What is the key to happiness?
Staying in touch with yourself and your family is the key to happiness.

Q: What do you do to rejuvenate after work?
I am a swimmer and use the pool in our backyard. Also I walk try to walk few miles a day.

Q: What is your opinion on infertility among women in surgery?
I believe it has been a problem, but we are heading toward better times. My own residents now are having kids during residency, and it’s only going to get better in the future.

Dr. Freischlag with her family at the Ravens-Packers game   
Q: What challenges do you foresee in this new leadership role at UC Davis?
A: I am very excited to learn more about something other than surgery, especially healthcare delivery and medical education among the Hispanic population.
Q: Any message for AWS members?
A: We are very lucky to be surgeons, and we should enjoy every part of it at all levels, whether we are residents or in practice. 

Bharti Jasra, M.D. is a medical graduate from India finishing up her General Surgery Residency at Saint Louis University Hospital. She is interested in pursuing Breast Surgical Oncology training in the year 2014.

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