Jan. 26, 2023 — For Julia Close, M.D. ’01, M.B.A., FACP, one of the best ways to find balance between her busy schedule as a clinician, educator and mother is to get outside and run. It’s a hobby she picked up during her residency at the UF College of Medicine, when she began training with a a group of fellow housestaff. Decades later, those trainees, who are now faculty members, stay connected through a shared love of the outdoors.
“We walk more than we run these days, but it became this social network, this support network, that I never would have had otherwise,” Close said.
After completing residency and fellowship training at the College of Medicine, Close now sets her sights on helping the next generation of trainees as the senior associate dean of graduate medical education and the designated institutional official for UF Health’s graduate medical education programs in Gainesville. In this role, she oversees the college’s 80 ACGME-accredited housestaff programs and works to shape the trainee experience, seeking to make changes that impact well-being and enhance the support system for residents and fellows. This includes increasing opportunities for trainees to get to know people and build a greater sense of community not only within their own program, but also across the entire college.
When the College of Medicine alumni affairs team launched its third annual College of Medicine Virtual 5K, which welcomed alumni, students, faculty, staff and trainees to run, walk or roll 3.1 miles at any place and at any time during January while raising money for scholarships, Close saw it as a way to engage trainees and help them focus on wellness while feeling part of the larger college community. She sponsored participation for more than 20 residents and fellows to get involved.
“Housestaff are busy, but I wanted to let them know that even spending 20 minutes running helps,” she said. “I wanted to encourage people to get outside. There’s a reason we live in Florida.”
Since she took on the graduate medical education role in 2019, Close has implemented other impactful improvements, including working with college leadership and human resources to expand the medical, caregiver and parental leave policy for housestaff — a change that took place prior to the ACGME requirement released in 2022. Upon release of the requirement, Close even worked to increase UF’s offerings to go above and beyond that mandate.
For Close, working in graduate medical education is most rewarding because of the ability to help trainees establish lifelong practices in terms of how they communicate with patients, keep up with the medical field and look at the doctor-patient relationship long term.
“Residency is a time of tremendous personal growth,” said Close, who is also a professor in the division of hematology/oncology. “It’s exciting to watch them go from interns to graduation, and then some stay on as faculty and become your colleagues. I strive to have an environment where you can have a lot of growth in medical knowledge and patient care skills, but you can also know you have a support structure that will be there and help identify issues.”
For the South Florida native, who completed her undergraduate studies at Duke University in North Carolina, choosing to move back to Florida for medical school came down to a desire to return to the sunshine and leverage UF’s reputation, resources and range of diverse patient experiences, from the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center to UF Health Jacksonville.
“It was a friendly place, the attendings were approachable and residents wanted to have relationships with medical students,” Close said. “It seemed everyone had strong goals for their career but also had a growth mindset outside of work, where they were willing to try new things.”
When reflecting on memorable medical school moments, Close recalls meeting her husband during their second year at UF — the two later landed on the cover of UF’s alumni magazine as a newly engaged couple sporting white coats and wedding attire — and forming lifelong bonds with classmates and mentors like Jay Lynch, M.D., one of her early role models in hematology/oncology.
“I wanted a field that had a lot of continuity to get to know my patients over a long period of time, and several members of my family were also impacted by cancer,” Close said. “When I witnessed an oncologist explain the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan in very patient-centered terms, seeing that communication and that relationship was when I knew that was the person I wanted to be, someone who would sit with patients, help them understand what’s going on and have hard but honest conversations with them so they know what they’re going into. Oncology has allowed me to do that.”
She began her career treating lung cancer patients at the VA and has since transitioned to seeing sarcoma patients at UF Health. Her previous positions have included serving as the program director for the hematology/oncology fellowship program at UF and section chief of oncology and assistant chief of the medical service at the VA.
When she’s not in the clinic or working with program directors, she spends time outdoors with her husband and three sons, attending her kids’ various sporting events, traveling, meeting up with friends from medical school, running or creating quilts. A lifelong learner, she recently earned a master’s in business administration to learn more about how to help organizations function better.
“I love to hear new ideas and apply them,” Close said. “I wanted to work with people in other fields to bring what I learned from them into graduate medical education and health care. UF has allowed me a diversity of opportunity to try new things without having to relocate my family.”