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The Office of Academic Excellence is a new resource team with a Director of Academic Assistance, a Director of Learning Innovation and two Clinical Academic Resource Directors (CARDS), all of whose primary goal is helping medical students succeed.

The Office of Academic Excellence is a new resource team with a Director of Academic Assistance, a Director of Learning Innovation and two Clinical Academic Resource Directors (CARDS), all of whose primary goal is helping medical students succeed.

If you ask anyone who works in the School of Medicine’s Office of Student Affairs what his or her primary goal is, they will always say, “To help our medical students succeed.” Whether it’s informing students of the details of their school loans, helping them to craft a beautiful personal statement for residency application, or just getting a parking space so they can be on time for clinic, Student Affairs puts students first. Now, there’s a new team in the Office of Student Affairs whose sole function is to help students succeed in their medical school careers. The Office of Academic Excellence is a new resource team with a Director of Academic Assistance, a Director of Learning Innovation and two Clinical Academic Resource Directors (CARDS), all of whose primary goal is helping medical students succeed.

Over the last several years, the Office of Student Affairs has increased its student support personnel tremendously and OAE is the most recent innovation. The OAE team provides a plethora of resources to UNC medical students, helping and advising on just about anything related to students’ experience at the UNC SOM, including developing effective study skills, preparing well for exams, and enhancing their clinical skills. With the help and expertise of this new team, students will gain lifelong learning skills to benefit them, and their patients, as future physicians.

The OAE joins the Clinical Skills and Patient Simulation Center, which uses high- and low-fidelity simulation and Standardized Patient (SP) encounters to teach clinical and communication skills to a wide range of learners, as an invaluable learning resource for students. Through initiatives such as these and many others at all campuses, the School of Medicine strives to make the medical student experience as comprehensive and robust as possible, enabling our students to excel in their chosen fields and to become truly extraordinary physicians.

Dr. Julie Byerley, Vice Dean for Education and Chief Education Officer of the UNC School of Medicine, is very excited about the implementation of the OAE. “We have enormously gifted people on this team who bring a wealth of experience to their new roles,” she said. “They understand through their own personal experience what medical students go through, and are well-equipped to provide really excellent counseling, advice and direction to our students. I am delighted to welcome them all to this new team, and I know that our students will benefit immensely from their expertise. We also have student peer tutors – from the medical school, the MD/PhD program and the School of Public Health – who are available to work one-on-one with students, and they provide another level of support and guidance to our students.”

The Office of Academic Excellence team includes:

  • Dr. Debbie Ingersoll, Director of Academic Assistance: Dr. Ingersoll is a graduate of the University of Arizona, having earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education. Prior to coming to the School of Medicine in 2000, she provided support services for undergraduate students with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders. As a member of the Office of Student Affairs, she provides one-on-one academic support to our medical students. She is an honorary member of the Frank Porter Graham Graduate and Professional Student Honor Society, recognized for providing support and identifying resources to help students succeed in medical school.
  • Dr. Neva Howard, Director of Learning Innovation: Dr. Howard is a graduate of the Stanford University School of Medicine. Prior to that she completed an M.S. in Biophysics at Yale University where she did extensive teaching. She then taught high school for many years and was part of the founding faculty for a new high school in San Jose, CA where she served as a science department chair. She completed a pediatrics residency at Columbia University and fellowship in Pediatric Emergency Medicine at UNC and WakeMed in 2014, and joined UNC as a faculty member shortly after completing her fellowship. She is a tutor in the Patient Centered Care (PCC) course and has been an academic mentor for medical students and a research mentor for residents. Dr. Howard has a research focus in medical education. Her experience as a classically trained violinist and as a high school teacher helps inform her current interest in medical education. She is exploring the powerful link between deliberate practice, as exemplified by musical mastery, and the similar need for such practice in medicine. She is among an innovative group of investigators who are trying to break new ground in medical education by finding new ways to simulate deliberate practice. She is currently engaged in three scholarly projects: a systematic review of the use of learning curves in the medical literature over the last century, a controlled research study evaluating the use of learning curves in EKG interpretation, and implantation of a deliberate practice strategy for medical students to increase performance on licensing exams. Dr. Howard serves as faculty at the Harvard Macy Institute and is currently pursuing a Master of Health Professions Education at the Mass General Hospital Institute of Health Professions.
  • Dr. Kelly Evans, Clinical Academic Resources Director: Dr. Evans is Assistant Professor in the UNC Department of Family Medicine. She earned her B.A. in Spanish from UVA, and her medical degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, School of Medicine where, as a fourth year medical student, she taught Foundations of Clinical Medicine. Dr. Evans completed a Family Medicine residency here at UNC, then served as Chief Resident in Family Medicine until July 2017. She now teaches the Patient Centered Care Course in Foundation Phase, and maintains a strong interest in medical student education, and in fostering excellence in every step of a student’s education.
  • Dr. Kimberly Nichols, Clinical Academic Resources Director: Dr. Nichols is Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, and has served as a Patient Centered Care Tutor since August 2016. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from UNC Greensboro, and is a proud UNC SOM alumna. She completed her residency in anesthesiology, and fellowship in pain management, here at UNC Chapel Hill. Mentoring has been a huge part of Dr. Nichols’ medical career, and she was recognized as the first Faculty Mentor of the Year in the UNC Department of Anesthesiology in 2016. She coordinates the Transition to Practice series of the Department of Anesthesiology, providing guidance and information to trainees as they begin their careers.

“Our students’ success has always been, and will always be, our primary focus,” says Dr. Byerley. “Bringing together this stellar group of educators, along with our excellent medical student peer-tutors, enables us to give our students another level of support from people who understand and empathize, and who can help them when they need it. We are truly excited to be able to provide this service to our students.” Students may contact the Office of Academic Excellence directly by emailing or by emailing one of the faculty directly.

By Maureen Rosen, UNC School of Medicine Office of Student Affairs