Dedicated, Innovative, Data-driven, Kind and Accountable
These are the words Yenya Hu, MD, PhD, assistant dean of academic excellence and support, assistant professor of General Internal Medicine, and director of the Office of Academic Excellence at Wake Forest School of Medicine uses to describe herself. Her primary responsibilities are teaching, coaching, curricular and assessment design.
Hu earned her medical degree from Shanghai Medical University in China and her PhD in Vascular Biology at Vanderbilt. She completed her post-doctoral training at the Center for Excellence in Vascular Biology at Harvard. She returned to Vanderbilt to start her faculty appointment.
With a reputation for achieving excellence, Hu brings a wealth of expertise to her roles at the School of Medicine. Many would say it’s her passion for helping future physicians achieve their personal goals and reach their full potential that makes her special. Get to know her in her own words.
What inspires or motivates you?
My inspiration comes from my students’ stories and experiences, drive, determination, and persistence in pursuing excellence. My motivation is to create a learning environment that is conducive for students to see and reach their maximal potential.
Tell us about your background. What’s your experience, and how did you get into the field?
After pausing my medical and research career for my family, I started to teach Anatomy & Physiology, one of the most challenging and lowest retention rate courses in a local community college.
I was moved and inspired by many underprivileged students who overcame sometimes unimaginable obstacles to succeed in life. Nearly all of them, from ages 16-67, held full-time jobs while taking classes. I developed workshops for content-specific study strategies to facilitate more efficient and effective learning and help create customizable approaches. The product of the workshop was awarded the Tennessee Board of Regents course revitalization initiative grant. Since then, the retention rate has significantly improved.
The experience taught me that teaching is far more than just explaining or demonstrating things. It should provide tools to empower and inspire learners to discover and believe in themselves.
What made you want to teach?
It is an incredible privilege and responsibility to be part of my students’ medical education throughout the years, to see them grow into physicians. The process, however, is not without challenges and stress. But the moments of their achievements, big or small, bring so much joy.
For example, when a student tearfully shared with me he had realized his dream of becoming a surgeon which allowed him to help his immigrant parents retire. Or having the honor of hooding first-generation physicians. Or when a parent tells me on Match Day what an impact my support has been to the student and to their family.
Why do you enjoy teaching at Wake?
I work with an amazing group of dedicated faculty and staff, who share the same goal of what is best for the students. We support and complement each other. The fun, unique and dynamic team spirit contributes positively to the learning environment.
What do you do at work daily?
When I am teaching Clinical Anatomy & Physiology, the first course the new students take, I am with large or small groups daily, depending on what we are covering. After 13 weeks, I would know over 90% of the students by their names (pre-pandemic), which is one of the first steps to show the new group of “baby doctors” that we are on the same team. I love the small group lab sessions, where I get to know some of their personal stories and experiences first-hand, such as why they chose Wake, what they want to do “when they grow up,” and what drives them. These interactions lay the foundation of the individualized academic coaching.
I also have academic coaching sessions daily for the preclinical students, during which we talk about their workflow, strategies, resources and setting measurable outcomes. Often, these conversations go beyond study strategies and performances. It is important for me to understand what habits, behaviors, or situations lead to the academic performance. That is when we can start to make meaningful changes together.
Outside of the coaching sessions, there are always students from all four years who “pop in.” On Friday after shelf examinations, the 3rd years would stop by to talk about their patient experiences or challenges and discuss any potential specialties. During the interview season, the hallway chats with the 4th-year students include their chosen specialties and reminiscences about their experiences in medical school. For those who worked with me closely for United States Medical License examination (USMLE) Step 1 and 2, they often say that I have seen them in the worst time in medical school. Thus we share this bond of having gone through the toughest times together. They often generously offer to help any junior students. Even for the students who are now practicing physicians, whenever I reach out, I have never heard a no.
The experiences in academic coaching also feed back to the evaluation of our curriculum and assessment. I continuously work with our assessment team to use data to drive the change we need to prepare our students in the knowledge and skills for a competent physician.
What are opportunities for students to receive mentoring from you or connect with other faculty members?
Teaching and coaching afford me the opportunities and privilege to build long-term relationships and trust among students, which are two of the most important elements in any meaningful mentorship. In some of the coaching sessions or the “pop-ins,” students share their hopes and wishes, sometimes fears, or struggles. Often these sessions become wide-ranged topic mentoring opportunities. I have heard from the first generation college graduates, socially and economically disadvantaged students, and first-generation immigrants, like me. Their experiences and stories motivate and inspire me daily to do my share to make Wake Forest School of Medicine a better place. Students needing connections for faculty mentoring can always contact me or any of our teaching faculty, course directors, or student affairs for help.
What skills should someone pursuing a career in healthcare have?
I am still working on all of these, but I think one should be able to see the big picture of any situation to better manage self so that we can better serve others in need; be outcome-driven; be willing to self-reflect, and have flexibility in order to modify approaches and strategies.
What advice do you have for future students?
The most important is to develop skillsets to be competent as a physician, in addition to learn the content. Be inquisitive and curious, and have the mindset that we can always make things or processes better. Be non-judgmental and compassionate.
What are some of your hobbies or interests outside of work?
I enjoy photography, particularly capturing the same thing but from different lighting. I love all dogs. The combination of the two resulted in countless photos of my dog, Hazelnut. She has become the unofficial mascot of the Office of Academic Excellence, also known as “Huville.” Her pictures are requested by students before all exams as a form of “puppy therapy.”