Wake Forest University School of Medicine Honors Outstanding Alumni, Faculty and Student

June 7, 2024

Wake Forest University School of Medicine Honors Outstanding Alumni, Faculty and Student.The Medical Alumni Association (MAA) of Wake Forest University School of Medicine presented several awards during its annual M.D. Alumni Weekend on Friday, May 3, at the Benton Convention Center.

Dr. Julian R. Taylor, Dr. Charles L. Branch Jr., Sandra G. High and Dr. Joy E. Duer, were recognized for their achievements and contributions to Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, the community or the practice of medicine. 

Recipients of these awards are selected each year from nominations submitted to the MAA Nominations and Awards Committee and approved by the MAA Board of Directors.

In addition to the MAA Awards, the Friday night dinner celebrated the M.D. Class of 1974, inducting class members into the Bowman Gray Society to commemorate their 50th anniversary milestone. Each inductee was presented a hand-crafted medallion bearing the Wake Forest University seal and the likeness of Bowman Gray. 

"We extend our heartfelt gratitude to these distinguished honorees for their unwavering commitment and dedication and congratulate them on receiving these prestigious awards,” said Lisa Marshall, chief philanthropy officer and vice president of philanthropy and alumni relations for Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. “The impactful and enduring contributions of these remarkable individuals have significantly strengthened and elevated our institution, ensuring its continued success. We are confident that Wake Forest University School of Medicine is well poised for a bright and promising future."

The Distinguished Achievement Award, presented to alumni who have distinguished themselves in the medical profession through patient care, research and leadership, was presented to Dr. Julian R. Taylor

A native of Newton, N.C., Taylor has spent his medical career serving communities in eastern North Carolina.

Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology with high honors from North Carolina State University and received the Lucy Reynolds Critz Scholarship to attend what was then known as the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University, now known as Wake Forest University School of Medicine. As a medical student, he was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honorary Medical Society and at graduation, in 1969, received the Cardiology Award and the Upjohn Award, which was given by members of the class to recognize a fellow classmate with potential as a physician.

He completed a rotating internship at Greenville (S.C.) General Hospital, served as general medical officer at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina and finished his family medicine residency at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C. He has been certified by the American Board of Family Medicine continuously since 1974.

In 1974, Taylor joined Ahoskie Family Physicians, a practice in Ahoskie, N.C., that included general medical care, pediatrics, obstetrics, and inpatient, emergency and nursing home care. He was named chief of the medical staff at what is now ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in 1981 and in 1993, accepted a position as medical director and staff physician at the Boice-Willis Immediate Care Clinic in Rocky Mount, N.C. He returned to Ahoskie Family Physicians in 2001 to practice general outpatient medical care and nursing home care. The practice became Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center in 2005, and he remained on staff until his retirement in 2022.

During the 1980s, Taylor served the American Board of Family Medicine as an item writer, submitting questions to be considered for use in the board’s certification and recertification exams. He also participated one year in reviewing exam questions that had been accepted for use by the board. Taylor also has served on the Hertford County Board of Health and the Hertford County Educational Foundation Board, and he holds lifetime memberships in the North Carolina Medical Society, the American Academy of Family Medicine, the North Carolina Academy of Family Medicine and the North Carolina State University Alumni Association.

The Distinguished Faculty Award, presented to individuals for outstanding contributions to Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist through teaching and research and by demonstrating the highest principles of academic medicine, was presented to Dr. Charles L. Branch Jr., retired professor and chair of neurosurgery at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Branch is a native of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, who grew up in Texas. He received his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Christian and his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. He completed his neurosurgical training at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and a clinical fellowship in neurological surgery at the University of California in San Francisco. He returned to Wake Forest University School of Medicine as a faculty member in the Department of Neurosurgery. He served as acting chair of the department from 2000 until his appointment as professor and chair in 2001, and he was awarded the Eben Alexander Jr. Endowed Chair in July 2002.

Over the course of his career, Branch has helped to train more than 60 neurosurgical residents. During his tenure as chair, the number of faculty in the department more than tripled and the number of residents in training doubled. Research funding from the National Institutes of Health for department faculty and collaborators grew from a modest number to more than $11 million in five-year awards.

Branch has been at the forefront of discovery for neurosurgery and is recognized internationally for surgical techniques he pioneered and perfected, including the minimally invasive posterior interbody lumbar fusion technique that has transformed the way clinicians perform spinal fusions. His work also resulted in the commercialization of numerous state-of-the-art medical devices, including more than 40 patents, as well as his toolkit for interbody spine fusion that is now used around the world.

His innovative thinking also sparked several major developments at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, including the Thomas Hearn Brain Tumor Center of Excellence, the development of the stereotactic radiosurgery program and helping to bring the Gamma Knife — a type of radiation therapy used to treat brain tumors — to Wake Forest Baptist, where it was the first of its kind in North Carolina. He also partnered with the family of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Childress and Dr. Wayne Meredith to establish the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma in 2008.

In 2004, Branch was named editor-in-chief for The Spine Journal and subsequently served on the editorial board for The Journal of Neurosurgery — Spine. In 2021, he was appointed editor-in-chief for the International Journal of Spine Surgery. Over the years, his research interests have included brain tumor therapy, herniated discs, lumbar vertebrae, spinal diseases and trauma, spinal stenosis and spine degeneration. He has published 24 book chapters and 80 journal articles and abstracts. He also served in many leadership and editorial positions at prestigious neurosurgery and spine specialty organizations, including as director and chair of the American Board of Neurological Surgery and as president of the North American Spine Society.

The Distinguished Service Award, presented each year to individuals who have distinguished themselves through outstanding contributions to Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, the community or the practice of medicine, was presented to Sandra “Sandy” G. High.

High is a native of Philadelphia, who attended Temple University. She received her certificate for restaurant management from what is now known as The Restaurant School at Walnut College and earned her bachelor’s degree from Salem College.

Shortly after moving to Winston-Salem, she joined Salem Kitchen Gourmet to Go and Catering, working for more than 10 years as manager and assisting with baking, food preparation, catered events and everyday logistics of running the business. She resigned in 2015 due to health issues and began full-time volunteer work.

As a long-standing member of the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Guild, she held numerous leadership positions including co-president for three terms. She has served on several local nonprofit advisory boards, including Moji Coffee & More, a job-training and employment advocacy program for people with diverse abilities. High played a major role in connecting Moji graduates with opportunities to further their careers at Wake Forest Baptist.

High has been active with Wake Forest Baptist’s Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force, assisted with backpack programs and volunteered with the initial Wake Forest Baptist staff COVID-19 vaccine clinics. She frequently advises the DEAC (Delivering Equal Access to Care) Clinic, capitalizing on her background in catering and food service for the group’s annual Night in The Quarter fundraiser along with numerous events sponsored by the Medical Center Guild.

High recently was named volunteer chef for Lasagna Love, a global nonprofit and grassroots movement that began at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic following a single family’s gesture to aid a neighbor. Lasagna Love aims to positively impact communities by connecting neighbors with neighbors through homemade meal delivery, seeking to eliminate stigmas associated with asking for help when it is needed most and to promote its mission to feed families, spread kindness and strengthen communities.

The Student Excellence Award, recognizing a fourth-year medical student whose peers believe best demonstrates the qualities needed to become a complete physician - knowledge, compassion and dedication - was presented to Dr. Joy E. Duer, Class of 2024.

Originally from Greenville, S.C., Duer received her undergraduate degree at Duke University, where she became interested in service to others through medicine and quality improvement. She conducted research on receptor-negative breast cancer at the Duke University Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies and volunteered at the Durham VA Medical Center.

At Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Duer found her love for patient care and the intersection of humanism and medicine. Throughout her undergraduate medical education, she served the student body as chair of Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Honor Council, advocated for peers as a rotation group leader in the clinical year and mentored first-year medical students in clinical skills. Additionally, she learned the incredible value of a people-first mindset, and she worked to foster a community that acknowledges and values the unique challenges faced by medical trainees and providers.

Outside of medical school, she is an avid reader and runner and serves as an alumni interviewer for Duke undergraduate admissions. Duer is the first physician in her family and is a recipient of the U.S. Army Health Professions Scholarship. She will begin her residency in anesthesiology at Brooke Army Medical Center this summer and looks forward to sharing the Wake Forest community spirit and passion for quality and for equitable patient and provider care.

Media contact: Joe McCloskey, jmcclosk@wakehealth.edu