Gretchen Blow, EdD, administrator and manager of operations of the Washington University Institute of Surgery Education (WISE) has been shaking things up for twelve years. Much of that time was spent in the Department of Neurosurgery, where she worked on education development and coordinating national courses for residents. Additionally, Gretchen published a peer-reviewed article, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery and authored a chapter of Transformational Leadership Styles for Global Leaders: Management and Communication Strategies. She now runs administration in WISE, and she plans to continue to expand educational offerings in surgery to the next level.
Gretchen specializes in updating processes and practices, and as administrator she applies these skills in order to facilitate a smoother educational experience for residents and other learners. With her newly earned doctor of education degree, she plans to continue enabling and guiding the surgeons of the future by providing a comprehensive learning experience under one roof.
WISE is a place for residents, fellows and other learner groups to learn and continue to practice surgical skills, acquire certifications, and continue to hone their skills in endoscopic surgery, laparoscopic surgery and other specializations. WISE boasts a 3,400-square foot educational space, dedicated to expanding residents’ and fellows’ knowledge base. WISE can accommodate nearly anyone! The range of learners stretches from middle-school students interested in medicine, medical students, surgical and non-surgical residents, practicing physicians, and visiting healthcare professionals.
Gretchen says that in her career, she has realized that adult learners require personal engagement as motivation. “Coordinating national courses made it clear to me that fostering personal growth is key to opening up adult learners to discovering their personal journey. They need the ‘why,’” she says. “It’s about finding a sense of purpose.”
Taking this into account, and with the slowing of business due to the pandemic-era lockdowns, Gretchen decided it was time to take her own education to the next level and enrolled in an accelerated doctorate program at Baylor University. “I needed it to be a flexible program that offered balance, due to my responsibilities here and with family.”
She enrolled in a remote program that would allow her to further her education while still focusing on her career at Washington University. After only three years, Gretchen received her EdD, a specialization that is typically a six-year program.
The Future of Surgical Education
Gretchen understands the formula for optimizing the learning process for adult learners, which starts with offering a low-stakes practice space and access to all the necessary equipment, while acknowledging and eliminating obstacles for productivity.
She says, “my interest is where business meets education, which we can measure in productivity and revenue. Since before I thought to seek my EdD, I was already involved in optimizing productivity at the school of medicine. As long as everybody understands the value of having streamlined processes, by getting all our ducks in a row on the administrative side, then productivity is the natural result.”
The Education Service Coordinators are thankful to not have to worry about minutia with Gretchen at the helm, thanks to her careful organization, which allows them to focus on serving the learner groups more efficiently and without the added distraction of having to locate equipment that may otherwise be misplaced or lost.
“We’ve been very lucky to get to work with Gretchen. Since she first came to WISE she offered a fresh set of eyes. Her presence here has helped optimize and organize everything down to storage based on each individual stage of usage and need,” says Karen Schubert, BS.
“I like that Gretchen gets the results we need. She knows exactly who to ask and how to get WISE whatever equipment or funding we need, even if we have to hold someone’s feet to the fire,” says Angelia DeClue, CST.
As of now, WISE has been successful in providing robust infrastructural support and essential practice space for surgical trainees, but Gretchen wants to see the lab serve a broader population of learners, while offering the latest tech and equipment that will keep Washington University School of Medicine at the forefront of education.
“My bottom line is that I am not succeeding unless every component of my area is succeeding. To me that means making the workflow as streamlined as possible. For that to happen, I work to predict and plan for all the residents and fellows needs to ensure they are taken care of before they step into the simulation spaces,” says Gretchen.
She also strongly advocates for finding new ways for surgical education—not just at WISE —to be successful. She says, “Why work separately, when we could be working cohesively together? My wish is to be able to move all relevant pieces in the right direction, bringing attention to whatever improvement we all think is necessary.”
“We are incredibly fortunate to have Gretchen at the helm of WISE. She brings a level of knowledge and energy that will help us reach more learners, acquire greater resources and continue to elevate our training programs for years to come,” says Michael Awad, MD, PhD, MPHE, director of WISE.
Gretchen believes that the future success of WISE—and surgical education in general at Washington University—hinges on obtaining complete buy-in from key leadership and securing funding to support in expanding the scope of accessible lab space and securing the necessary equipment to serve the broader surgeon community that would stand to benefit from having a low-stakes practice and development facility.