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In academic medical centers (AMC)s, clinical faculty are most visible as attendings at work caring for patients. Unique to AMCs as hubs of learning, clinical faculty also serve as a teaching hospital’s critical corps of mentors to learners in medicine. Without them, residents and fellows cannot achieve medical and surgical mastery to graduate fully competent in their chosen specialty and ready for independent practice. Clinical faculty are equally vital to helping medical students develop effective learning styles in order to grasp the fundamentals and to prepare themselves for rigorous next-stage residency training.

Well before she entered medicine, UNC Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology Meredith R. Klifto, MD, was a crew team captain at Colgate University, coaching peer Division 1 college athletes on translating technique and hard work to success. As an ESPN Magazine Academic All-American and the NCAA Division 1 Patriot League Scholar Athlete of the Year, Dr. Klifto was also honored for academic excellence in athletics in her early learning years.  Meredith R. Klifto, M.D.

As a UNC School of Medicine (SOM) Office of Academic Excellence Foundation Phase Academic Coach (FPAC), Dr. Klifto now coaches first-year (MS1) and second-year (MS2) medical students immersed in the first of three Translational Education at Carolina (TEC) curriculum learning phases. The Foundation Phase integrates organ systems-based basic sciences, clinical skills learning and professional development. As an FPAC, Dr. Klifto joins two other SOM faculty mentors who assist MS1s and MS2s with mastering time management, deep focus, routine implementation, structure and accountability in order to absorb and demonstrate understanding of dense material across four years of medical school and beyond.

Dr. Klifto noted: “Hitting all types of learning modalities – content, retrieval and application – is the best approach to helping a student truly master assigned material in an efficient way. My aim is to guide medical students toward mastery of content via both traditional reading or studying, as well as retrieval and application through such techniques as flashcards, practice questions, and other related reinforcement tools. More effective learning also leaves more time for life outside of academia. Promoting physician wellness in medicine is also a passion of mine.”

Dr. Klifto’s commitment to medical student education and graduate medical education (residents and fellows) is well-rooted within both the Ophthalmology department and the SOM. As the UNC Department of Ophthalmology Clinical Competence Committee Chair, she leads discussion and decision-making on setting clinical teaching and assessment standards to ensure residents meet ACGME milestones measuring competence over a three-year ophthalmology program. She also teaches residents and fellows in didactic and clinical settings. In the operating room, Dr. Klifto coaches residents and fellows through cataract and glaucoma surgeries and gives medical students the opportunity to observe specialized procedural learning.  She is also the Department of Ophthalmology UNC Wellness Liaison and advocates for work life balance and prioritizing mental health of those in the medical field.

As the SOM’s Ophthalmology Interest Group Chair, Dr. Klifto leads fostered discussion of ophthalmology as a residency and career choice among medical student members and serves as a faculty mentor to many who choose to pursue the specialty.  As a wife and mother to three children, mentoring female medical students through UNC SOM’s American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) chapter has proven a rewarding opportunity for Dr. Klifto to offer perspective and guidance to UNC SOM learners who share her “women in medicine” experience. Dr. Klifto is also a member of the UNC SOM’s Academy of Educators, a network of clinical faculty dedicated to advancing peer-to-peer leadership, faculty development and education.

Dr. Klifto reflected: “I’m deeply grateful for the impact that faculty mentors made on my learning and path in medicine. I want to give back to the system, coach the next generation of learners, and set them up for success. Through academic coaching and mentoring, I hope to impart skills that translate to success not only in medical school, but also to skills acquisition that leverages taking board exams, mastering one’s discipline in residency, and becoming a compassionate, competent attending. A lot of the changes we focus on as Foundation Phase coaches are useful in many areas of life beyond medical education. If we can be more efficient with our academic time, that leaves more time for wellness and life outside of medicine. Balance is important.”

In September 2023, the SOM Office of Academic Excellence increased Dr. Klifto’s funding as a FPAC for her to expand her coaching role and place even greater emphasis on assisting Foundation Phase students during their exam preparation for “Step 1” of the USMLE board exam required of all U.S. medical graduates.


Top page photo (L to R): 4th-year medical student Luke Harrison, Assistant Professor Dr. Meredith Klifto, UNC Ophthalmology PGY2 Dr. Pooja Shah, PGY4 Dr. Uzo Davis, Glaucoma Fellow Dr. Alexis Pascoe