(WGHP) — Dr. Ebony Boulware’s about to burn up the road between Winston-Salem and Charlotte.
I’m confident she’ll stay at or below the speed limit. She’s just going to be making that trip between the two cities often—possibly several times a week!
Such is the life of the person who’ll soon oversee what is about to become the largest institution training medical professionals in North Carolina: the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
“I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for the Wake Forest University School of Medicine as an outstanding beacon for medical education and research,” she told me during a recent interview in the medical school’s sprawling new complex in downtown Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter.
She’s come a long way from growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of two physicians. Her mother was a child and family psychiatrist. Her father was a general internist. They were big influences.
Dr. Boulware would go on to receive an English degree from Vassar College (in Poughkeepsie, New York) and a medical degree from Duke University. She completed her residency at the University of Maryland and a research fellowship at Johns Hopkins University.
In January of 2023, she became dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem after serving as a professor and administrator at Duke.
The fact Wake’s medical school sits in the heart of the Innovation Quarter helped make the position appealing to her. The school is just yards away from more than 170 companies. Many of them are start-ups focused on cutting-edge biomedical research, development and commercialization.
“It’s wonderful for a medical school to be embedded in an area when innovation is the focus,” she said. “It means our discoveries can get out into those innovation spaces and then be taken to the community.”
But the medical school won’t be doing that just in Winston-Salem.
By early 2025, the Wake Forest School of Medicine plans to open a 700,000-square-foot, four-year medical school campus in Charlotte’s new Pearl Innovation District.
“We like to say it’s one school with two campuses,” she told me. “So each campus will be a full-blown campus once Charlotte continually matures. But it’s going to be one school. So we have the same faculty. We have the same principles. We have the same standards of excellence.”
At this point, it’s unclear whether medical students will be able to choose which campus they would like to attend. But both campuses will share faculty members.
“We anticipate there will be opportunities for (the students) to go back and forth between the two campuses,” she said.
But one thing is for sure: Dr. Boulware will have no choice but to travel back and forth between the two campuses. She’ll have offices in both Charlotte and Winston-Salem.
She didn’t hesitate to tell me, however, the medical school is committed to maintaining a presence in Winston-Salem and not totally abandoning it and moving operations to Charlotte like several corporations have done with their headquarters in recent years. (Remember Wachovia, BB&T and Krispy Kreme?)
“The medical school is never going to leave Winston-Salem,” she said. “This is the core of the medical school. It always has been. It always will be. Charlotte is an expansion.”
Expansion seems to be the norm in healthcare these days. Just look at what’s happened locally.
The Wake Forest Medical School is affiliated with the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem which was acquired in October of 2020 by the hospital network, Atrium Health based in Charlotte.
In December of 2022, Atrium Health merged with Advocate Aurora Health (which had dual headquarters in Illinois and Wisconsin) to form Advocate Health, the nation’s 5’th largest healthcare system which is now based in Charlotte.
Advocate Health calls the Wake Forest School of Medicine its “academic core.” And Dr. Boulware will be Advocate’s chief science officer. She calls the size of the new organization an advantage.
“There’s a great opportunity when you have an organization this size to do things like clinical trials,” she told me. “There are many conditions where it’s very difficult to recruit individuals into trials because the condition is rare. When you have a larger system, you can do that at scale. You can do it more quickly. That means we can get our discoveries faster to people.”
Even so, Dr. Boulware wants the medical school to expand its focus on research into issues that affect the state in which the two campuses are based: namely heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
She also wants the school to place an even greater emphasis on an issue in which she is a nationally-recognized authority: health equity.
“People who live in rural areas have worse health,” she said. “People of minority ethnicity or race have worse health. People who have lower income have worse health, and those are pretty consistent across the state.”
“I see the Wake Forest University School of Medicine locally playing an incredible role in terms of partnering with our community to really address the needs that people have that do affect their health including things like housing, food insecurity and poverty.”
But her main focus will be the medical school students themselves.
“I really want our medical school to graduate doctors who when they’re engaged with individuals they’re treating them like they would treat their own grandmother, their own parent, their own sibling,” she said. “Compassion is such an important characteristic for us to foster in our young physicians. And that’s really what I care about most.”
To read more about Dr. Ebony Boulware, click here.
To read more about the Wake Forest School of Medicine, click here.