On November 1, 2020, the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine (BSOM) welcomed a new dean, Valerie D. Weber, M.D., M.S., FACP, the eighth in school history. Dr. Weber was hired as dean following the June 2020 retirement of Margaret Dunn, M.D., M.B.A., FACS.
A Pennsylvania native, Dr. Weber grew up in the small town of Harborcreek, Pennsylvania. She is the youngest of three children and enjoyed spending time on the water during her childhood, especially with her dad, an avid boatsman.
Dr. Weber’s interest in getting a good education and pursuing medicine goes back to her childhood. “My father, an engineer, made it very clear that education was the way out of poverty,” shared Dr. Weber, whose parents were raised very close to poverty. Her mother, a homemaker, also volunteered in the community assisting the elderly, and Dr. Weber would often tag along with her. This led to her working as a candy
striper in the local hospital. “I think my interest in science, along with a fascination with older people and their stories, made medicine a particularly good fit for me, especially my chosen field of internal medicine,” she added.
After finishing high school, Dr. Weber attended Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. She then attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, earning her Doctor of Medicine. She completed residency training, serving as chief resident, and completed an internship at the Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia, a facility that at the time was an affiliate of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Her chosen specialty is internal medicine. “I often describe the choice of specialty as ‘finding your tribe.’ Internal medicine was always a natural fit for me; I didn’t experience the angst of career choice that many of my classmates did,” shared Dr. Weber. In 2008, she went back to the classroom to earn her Master of Science degree in health care management from the Harvard University Chan School of Public Health.
Dr. Weber began medical practice in Philadelphia as assistant medical director for the J. Edwin Wood Clinic, a teaching clinic for internal medicine residents and a provider of safety net care. She was promoted to the position of medical director at J. Edwin Wood Clinic after only a year. Other clinical activities throughout her career included internal medicine practice with Geisinger Internal Medicine, Pennsylvania Department of Health tuberculosis clinics, and physician volunteer with the Eliza Shirley Women’s Clinic, part of the Health Outreach Program at Drexel University College of Medicine (DUCOM).
Along with being a practicing physician, Dr. Weber has also been heavily involved in educating future physicians. Her most recent positions include professor of medicine with DUCOM in Philadelphia and the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM), formerly the Commonwealth Medical College, in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Throughout her career, Dr. Weber has been involved in innovation and leadership. In 2000, Dr. Weber was department director for general internal medicine and geriatrics with Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania. She later took on the duties of vice chair of the division of medicine. While with Geisinger, Dr. Weber led implementations of the advanced medical home model, as well as multiple other system performance improvements and patient safety initiatives. “As division chief of internal medicine, I was challenged to improve performance at many levels. We were one of the first groups to implement the EPIC electronic health record system, open access scheduling, group visits and medical home models,” shared Dr. Weber. Following her work with Geisinger, Dr. Weber served as chair of the Department of Clinical Sciences, associate dean for clinical affairs, and professor of medicine with GCSOM. As a member of senior leadership, she played a major role in the development of the new medical school, which awarded its first degrees in May 2013.
When asked about creating a new medical school Dr. Weber said, “It was by far the most challenging role I’ve had professionally, but it was also incredibly rewarding.” Dr. Weber was part of the team responsible for recruiting and developing more than 400 faculty for the departments of medicine, surgery, and psychiatry, as well as faculty leaders to create and implement the curriculum. She also led the development of the school’s innovative clinical curriculum, a highlight of which is a third-year longitudinal integrated clerkship, the largest implementation of that model in the world. This involved the development of medical school faculty across a 16-county region, establishing academic affiliations with nearly 30 hospitals, dozens of physician groups, and crafting a robust assessment plan.
In 2014, Dr. Weber joined DUCOM, serving as professor of medicine and the Deborah J. Tuttle, M.D., and John P. Piper, M.D. senior vice dean for educational affairs. Other administrative roles at DUCOM included vice dean of educational affairs and the William Maul Measey Chair in medical education.
Throughout her career, Dr. Weber has been very active in community service. She has volunteered her time with various groups and programs, including Saint Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the Visiting Nurse Association of Philadelphia. Weber has won numerous awards and honors. She is a member of nearly a dozen medical professional societies, and has held national leadership and institutional administrative committee positions. She has served as principal investigator on grant awards for work in areas including improving health outcomes in the rural elderly and establishment of an outcomes-based geriatrics assessment clinic.
“I saw the notice for the Boonshoft School of Medicine position, read the description of what the school was looking for in their next dean, and it sounded like a great fit. I had been at DUCOM for many years as a vice dean, and then as senior vice dean, so I was starting to think I might be ready to be a dean,” said Dr. Weber. She has a brother in Dayton, another reason the opening caught her attention. Dr. Weber also considered the advice of a mentor, who encouraged her to take her career to the next level, and impressed upon her the need for more women medical school deans.
In July of 2020, Dr. Weber visited Wright State campus, and after seeing firsthand the quality of the people, BSOM’s important organizational mission and values, and its strong clinical partners, it was an easy decision for her to make. “I saw how great BSOM is, and felt certain that I could help it become even better,” Dr. Weber added.
She acknowledges that this last year has been difficult for everyone, “Interviewing for the dean’s position and moving to Dayton took some creativity, but everything went smoothly. I miss live music, traveling, and restaurants. I’m outdoorsy, so I’ve still been able to continue hiking and rowing. I joined the Greater Dayton Rowing Association soon after moving here,” shared Dr. Weber. She has two young adult children, a daughter who is 24 and a computer engineer and a son who is 21 and a junior studying business at West Chester University. They remain in the Philadelphia region, so traveling to see them has been a bit more challenging than she would like.
Noting the difficulties of the past year and what students have been faced with, including the pandemic, changes to their education and the tragedies affecting Black Americans, Dr. Weber wants to use her voice as dean to improve their medical school experience, and hopefully have a positive effect on their lives as well. How does BSOM create a welcoming, more inclusive environment for everybody? “I would like to see BSOM be a beacon of diversity, equity and inclusion, a place where differences are embraced, so that we can create a strong and diverse health care workforce, reflecting the needs of society,” said Dr. Weber. She wants to also see BSOM have a greater impact on the health disparities facing the Dayton region, especially in the areas of chronic disease, infant mortality and mental health.
Through its programs, Dr. Weber acknowledges BSOM has already made a tremendous impact on the community and the region, and would like to see these programs continue to grow and provide even greater impact. Particularly, she wants to see research funding increase. Dr. Weber added, “Discovery is a vital part of what a medical school can provide to a region.”
Dr. Weber brings years of experience with community-based medical schools, serving in leadership roles, teaching students and, notably, helping to create a medical school with a successful community-based medical education model. Her involvement in helping start a medical school exposed her to what is needed to begin to build a strong legacy for a new institution. Weber sees similarities with BSOM, which is still a relatively young medical school with so much opportunity ahead for building its legacy.
The beginning of her time as dean, Dr. Weber recognizes, will be spent learning and becoming a part of the BSOM and Wright State communities. “This initial period of time is really about listening and learning. You can’t come into a place with preconceived ideas. Of course, I do have ideas about things that I’d like to work on,” said Dr. Weber.
Dr. Weber has big plans for BSOM. “In 2020, BSOM graduated its 40th class of medical students. It has evolved as a strong, community-focused medical school that provides an outstanding, state-of-the-art medical education, and retains many of its brightest students in the region and the state. At this juncture, we must ask what the next 10 years will hold?”