In high school, Jill Frerichs, D.P.M.’01, FACFAS, enjoyed science and graduated convinced she wanted to become a pharmacist – that is, until she shadowed pharmacists in hospital and retail settings. “I’m more of a people person and like to have a lot of communication with people,” she says.
As an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, Frerichs worked part-time at a golf course, where she met two “regulars” who were podiatric physicians. She ended up working in their office and discovered a profession that would let her work with her hands and make people feel better.
“When somebody has a foot or ankle issue, it’s usually very debilitating to their lifestyle. When your feet hurt, as they say, your whole body hurts,” she says. “It affects how you work, your personal life and anything recreational that you want to do. That’s one of the most rewarding parts about foot and ankle surgery – once you fix the condition and see improvement in the patient, they are all smiles. You really know that you’ve improved somebody’s quality of life.”
Now a foot and ankle surgeon with Capital Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine PC in central Iowa, Frerichs does just that at the practice in Clive, which has a surgery center, and at its outreach clinics in Ankeny and Pella. She also performs surgeries at Mercy Medical Center and Methodist Medical Center. She says her education in DMU’s College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS) prepared her well.
“One of the strengths of CPMS, under the guidance and leadership of Dr. [Robert] Yoho, were very small class sizes and a lot of hands-on demonstrations. Our rotations were fantastic, and we did a lot of skills labs,” she says. “We even had live labs that were very, very instrumental in that next step into residency.
“When I got to residency and compared my college experience to some of the other competitor colleges, it was very interesting to see how CPMS grads were able to do a lot of the hands-on things, because we’d already had that experience,” she adds.
Frerichs completed a three-year surgery residency at Grant Medical Center, a Level I trauma center in downtown Columbus, OH. “That was a terrific experience because it was a very big metropolitan area, and I saw everything you could possibly see,” she says. “We acquired a number of hospitals during my residency program, which furthered the education and connection to additional attendings for training.”
After her residency, her husband, Darin Frerichs, D.O.’01, was still finishing an anesthesiology residency at Ohio State University, after which he did a one-year cardiothoracic fellowship there. So Jill seized a new opportunity, joining the Grant Medical Center podiatric residency faculty while also working in private practice.
“That was also a good experience, to flip from being a resident to training residents, because it really enriches your experience and skill set,” she says.
Jill and Darin met as undergraduates and attended DMU together, marrying after their first year of medical school. “It helps to have someone who understands what you’re going through. It helped me develop better study habits,” she says. Darin practices at Medical Center Anesthesiologists PC in Des Moines. “Still to this day, we talk about cases. It’s amazing how much we can learn from each other.”
In Ohio, the couple, by then parents of two young children, wanted to return to Iowa where they have extended family; after Darin was recruited by a Des Moines practice, they did. One of Jill’s first calls was to Robert Yoho, D.P.M., M.S., FACFAS, then CPMS dean (he retired in May 2021). She was appointed an assistant professor at her medical alma mater.
“It was a no-brainer that I would look to Des Moines University for a position, because I was involved in teaching residents,” says Frerichs. “I spent 50 percent of my time teaching students in the clinic while seeing patients. The other 50 percent of my time was dedicated to lecturing and teaching labs and, later, research. It was a great experience, especially with the teaching and labs – everything I like to do is hands-on patient care, so I spent a lot of time with those.”
As their family life got busier, Frerichs decided to move on to private practice to have a more flexible schedule. “I never wanted to leave a lecture hall of 60 students sitting there without somebody to teach their lecture or not be able to run their lab,” she explains. She remains very proud of CPMS and engaged in her profession.
“Podiatric medicine is a small, close-knit community. When you go to scientific conferences or continued medical education events on an annual basis, it’s amazing to sit in the room and actually recognize over 40 to 50 percent of the people who are sitting in that room with you,” she says. “You get to know where they practice, and maybe you’ve read some articles or research they’ve been involved in. It’s to the point that if I ever had a patient and I knew someone who had sub-specialized in their disorder, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and contact that person.
“I think that’s the wonderful thing about our profession – we’re open to educating everybody involved,” she adds. “Nobody wants to be the best and hide that knowledge. They want to share it, and they want the profession to grow and be recognized as a great specialty.”