Health & Medicine

UC Davis names new medical school dean

After wrapping up her surgery schedule Tuesday on the East Coast, Dr. Julie Freischlag summed up her thoughts about her new challenges as incoming dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine and vice chancellor of the university’s vast health system.

“I’m just so excited,” Freischlag said. “I was trained in medicine at UCLA and am delighted to come back into the University of California system.”

UC Davis officials announced Tuesday that they’d tapped Freischlag, 58, to be the new vice chancellor for human health sciences. In that capacity, Freischlag, currently department director and surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, will head up the UC Davis Health System.

The job includes overseeing the integrated group that is the UC Davis Medical Center, the UC Davis School of Medicine, the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing and the regional physician practice group known as UC Davis Medical Group.

And if that’s not enough, she’ll serve in a dual role as dean of the medical school, as did her predecessor, Dr. Claire Pomeroy, who resigned last November.

Pomeroy left her post amid controversy and an investigation into the case of two surgeons who intentionally infected three brain-cancer patients with bowel bacteria.

The two neurosurgeons – Dr. J. Paul Muizelaar, the former head of the neurosurgery department, and his colleague, Dr. Rudolph J. Schrot – resigned their posts in August after the university found they had circumvented internal policies, defied directives from top leaders and sidestepped federal regulations, according to university documents.

Freischlag did not address the controversy in which the three brain-surgery patients died.

She said she finds the university’s attitude of looking toward the future to be refreshing.

“Despite health care reform and all the change that’s coming, the scientists, clinicians, physicians and others are all really looking to this time as an opportunity to maintain their position as a center of innovation and new discoveries,” she said.

Still, a shift in the delivery of health care is inevitable, she said, and creating a culture of patient-centered health care, as well as educating adults and children in prevention and healthy living, will be essential.

“We need to be making sure people stay as healthy as they can be,” she said.

Freischlag does not just advocate for using electronic health records and technology to communicate with patients – she lives it. Her patients text and email her, and Freischlag has posted topical medical videos on YouTube. She’s even had patients accompany physicians as they make their rounds in the hospital, she said.

“I think including patients makes a big difference,” she said. “I also think it solves some of the mystery surrounding health care and makes patients more comfortable. Patient-centered care is key.”

Freischlag began her faculty career at the UC San Diego School of Medicine in the department of surgery and progressed to UCLA.

After 11 years at Johns Hopkins, Freischlag said she will be happy to return to California, where two of her grown sons live.

She will be paid $701,779, a sum that includes a base salary of $506,304 and $195,475 to cover her administrative responsibilities.

Freischlag will be entering the highly competitive Sacramento health care market as many health care systems are taking aggressive steps to promote their services.

“It definitely is a competitive market,” said Dr. Thomas Nesbitt, who will continue to serve as interim vice chancellor and dean until Freischlag’s scheduled arrival Feb.10. “Being the only academic health system in the region comes with some challenges. We are not only trying to provide high quality care, but also educating the next generation of students. Along with that, we’re conducting a couple hundred million dollars of research for medicine.

“It’s a huge responsibility, but the team that has been doing it is largely intact and I know they’ll be tremendous supporters of Julie as she gets here,” Nesbitt said.

UC Davis’ health system has a budget exceeding $1.4billion and more than 12,000 faculty, staff and students. The medical center has 619 beds.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi noted that when Freischlag became chief surgeon at Johns Hopkins, she was the first woman to hold that position.

“Throughout her career, she has served as a role model for her students, a respected colleague and a proven leader in ... promoting health and wellness,” Katehi said. “As we grow our mission of national recognition in areas like food and health, she was our unquestioned vision of someone who would take us to new heights.”

Before arriving at Johns Hopkins in 2003, Freischlag was chief of the vascular surgery division and director of the Gonda (Goldschmied) Vascular Center at the David Geffen Medical School at UCLA, where she also completed her surgical residency and post-residency vascular fellowship.