Numerous medical students, resident physicians and junior faculty at Indiana University School of Medicine consider Emily Walvoord, MD, a mentor and exemplar in leadership. So, it’s ironic when Walvoord, associate dean for Student Affairs, calls herself a “reluctant leader.”
“What I mean is I didn’t see myself as a leader, but I thought the leadership roles sounded interesting—I was interested in the work,” said Walvoord, whose leadership experiences have included serving as associate director in the pediatric residency program, leading faculty development initiatives and overseeing continuous improvement in academic advising, career mentoring and student success. “It’s always just me itching for new challenges, new opportunities, new things to learn.”
Walvoord developed a love of teaching while in her earliest leadership role as chief resident at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, affiliated with Northwestern University. She was inspired to specialize in pediatric endocrinology and recruited to IU School of Medicine by Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, MD, former executive associate dean for research affairs and CEO of Riley Hospital for Children—now president of Oakland University in Michigan. Walvoord still consults her lifelong mentor whenever she considers taking on a new leadership role.
“I appreciate how she was a servant leader. She was always right there in the trenches with us and was always thinking about how to make her mentees succeed and how to push them a little bit,” Walvoord said. “At the same time, she has this incredible warmth. I always thought of her not just as my boss and mentor, but as a friend.”
In her next leadership role as assistant dean for faculty affairs and professional development, Walvoord learned from another great leader, Executive Vice Dean Emeritus Stephen Bogdewic, PhD.
“What I learned from Steve is how it’s best to bring together a team with different backgrounds and strengths, and that you have to be open to hear dissenting views and realize others might have better ideas than you, even though you’re the ‘leader’ of the team,” Walvoord said.
She tries to emulate the leadership styles of her mentors in her current role as she works with medical students to support their professional and personal growth. Medical students are involved in decision-making for initiatives relating to Match Day, orientation, graduation, wellness and mistreatment complaints.
“I try to be very inclusive and appreciative of everybody’s input and collaborative in terms of decisions. But when rubber meets the road, I’ll take the fall for decisions made as a team,” Walvoord said.
Walvoord has helped energize the medical student affairs team and comes up with pragmatic solutions after listening to students and staff, said Bradley Allen, MD, PhD, senior associate dean for Medical Student Education.
“Dr. Walvoord has an empathetic ear to students’ needs and concerns. She and her group help students navigate the pressures of medical school and find pathways to fit their needs in coping with any challenges they face,” Allen said. “Satisfaction rates from our students are showing that her approaches are resonating.”
Although her administrative role requires leading and attending numerous meetings each week, Walvoord continues to care for children with endocrine disorders and teach learners in clinical pediatrics. She has been recognized for outstanding teaching as a recipient of the Indiana University Trustees’ Teaching Award. Walvoord now leads a new, small-group elective called Mind Body Medicine, which focuses on the importance of learner and physician well-being.
Increasing wellness initiatives is something Walvoord has prioritized since joining Student Affairs in 2017. For her own well-being, Walvoord takes time to exercise, enjoy outdoor activities, spend time with friends and family, and read good books.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Walvoord had a lending library set up right outside her office door, and she relished casual conversations with medical students in the hallways.
“Not seeing students in person has been the hardest thing,” she said. “I miss those connections with the students; it’s harder to have a pulse on the student body.”
A goal going forward is to foster tighter community connections, particularly among first- and second-year students who have been most affected by the virtual learning environment induced by the pandemic.
“We want to create a stronger bond so they feel pride in their school and connected to classmates,” Walvoord said.