By Blair Kinsey
Julie Story Byerley’s (ΦBK, Rhodes College) passion for ensuring adolescent health and well-being has led her down a multifaceted path: from teaching high school to practicing pediatrics to overseeing medical school education.
Byerley received her undergraduate degree – a Bachelor of Arts in physics – from Rhodes College, where she was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. About her induction Byerley said, “I was just really proud and really touched. It was something that I honestly felt inspired to live into.”
True to the liberal arts education model, Byerley took a wide variety of classes and received individual mentorship, tailoring her education to her unique interests. Particularly, Byerley said, “I was very inspired to encourage women into science and math careers,” which led her to take a number of Women’s Studies courses, as well as get a teaching certificate.
Upon graduating, Byerley taught high school science in hopes of connecting young women to careers in STEM. Byerley also took this opportunity to speak to her students one-on-one about health. At the time, Byerley noted, “HIV was new. It was very scary. Teen pregnancy rates were peaking.” So she became concerned about her students’ futures, which inspired her to make a big change.
Soon, Byerley was in medical school at Duke University, where she chose to specialize in pediatrics in order to influence adolescent health. She then completed her pediatrics residency at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she also earned a master’s degree in public health.
About both her teaching and clinical careers, Byerley said: “I had a lot of interest in young people, one on one. I could see the big picture, and I could engage with them from a developmental perspective. I loved doing that work. I was proud of doing that work.”
Byerley had a successful career in pediatric clinical care for many years, and then became engaged in medical education, where she now works as an administrator, helping to advance the academic side of medicine.
Currently, Byerley is the Dean of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, the President of Geisinger College of Health Sciences, and the Chief Academic Officer of Geisinger Health System. Byerley has found working in medical education to be the perfect match for her skills, passions, and hopes.
“The biggest problem that I’d like to solve in the world is to set the stage for all people . . . to have the opportunity to have a healthy life where they can use their skills and talents to make positive contributions to what the world needs,” Byerley said. “I have found that medical education is the perfect way to do that. I focus on health. I focus on young people and their development in advancing health through their own work and careers. I still get contact with young people because I get to inspire medical students and residents, and then hopefully have a large impact on the health of populations.”
The list of things Byerley loves about her current job seems never-ending. “It feels so good to work in a setting where the mission matches your belief,” Byerley said. “I love that I have the opportunity to use my voice to inspire people to see better health for themselves.”
But for Byerley, one thing stands out above the rest: “I love that I get to interact with young people who will be working on building the future that I’m just beginning to envision myself.”
Byerley wants to give a simple, but important piece of advice to young inductees of Phi Beta Kappa: “Lean in.”
Byerley notes that “People who get inducted into Phi Beta Kappa have had and are having tremendous opportunities. Lean into it, not as a burden, but as an opportunity, and lean into leading.”
“I just would love to sprinkle around to all young people both confidence and humility concurrently,” said Byerley, who believes these traits are importantly intertwined. “Confidence is that you know you’re well prepared to be where you are, and you can navigate forward. Humility is that you never know too much to stop learning. Learn all you can learn from everyone who will teach you. So that confidence and humility is the way that we all need to lean into leading.”
Byerley concluded her comments with a final note of inspiration and a call to action: “One of my favorite leadership mantras is: ‘We are the they that can make a difference.’ It’s very easy to sit back and say, ‘they need to fix that,’ or ‘this is a problem that they need to solve.’ Who’s the they? Guess what? It’s us. We are the they that needs to make the world a better place.”
Blair Kinsey is a senior at Rhodes College pursing a major in mathematics and a minor in English. She was inducted into the Society by the Gamma of Tennessee chapter there in May of 2023.