The "official" announcement of my appointment as the founding dean of the UNLV School of Medicine was made today. I couldn't be more thrilled. I'm truly committed to this community and to seeing our new medical school through to completion.
When I was offered the position of planning dean in May 2014, there were many who didn't believe it was possible to build a new allopathic medical school in Las Vegas. I didn't let that deter me. There were four deciding factors that influenced my decision: 1) the medical need here is great; 2) the medical school was vitally necessary for Las Vegas; 3) there was strong support from UNLV administration and the community; and 4) there was a high chance of success.
Along with the University of Nevada School of Medicine/Reno, Touro University Nevada, College of Medicine, and Roseman University of the Health Sciences, College of Medicine, we know we can make a substantial impact in the number of doctors practicing and staying in Nevada. We're also keenly aware that we need to develop highly specialized programs, such as liver transplantation, and start additional residency and fellowship programs necessary to supply a full complement of physicians to Nevada.
How did I get here?
My entire professional career has been in academic medicine. I graduated from Jefferson Medical College, one of the oldest medical schools in the U.S. From Jefferson, I went to the University of Pennsylvania for a pathology and laboratory medicine residency. I remained at Penn as an assistant professor and Director of the Cytopathology Laboratory. It was exciting and enormously rewarding to build a strong research program, adding new faculty and fellowship positions. I'm proud to report that program has grown into one of the best in the country today.
In 1987, I became Chair of Pathology at the Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP), which was purchased by the Allegheny Health System. This gave me the opportunity to build a department of pathology to educate students and residents and provide the very best possible care for patients. A few years later, MCP merged with Hahnemann University (HU), another medical school in Philadelphia. I became chair of both departments and was tasked with merging them. In 1996, I became Dean of the School of Medicine of MCP and HU. As a result of the merger, MCP had 250 students and HU had 175 per class.
Dr. Atkinson discusses the medical school's vision and progress with Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNLV
The accrediting agency determined that each school needed to honor all four years for students in their original curricula. At the same time, we were required to plan a new curriculum for the merged schools. This was an administrative challenge, ensuring that merged faculty taught the requisite curricula for all four years. But an even greater challenge occurred in 1998 when Allegheny Health declared bankruptcy. As dean, I helped the school emerge from bankruptcy into Drexel College of Medicine, which exists today as part of Drexel University.
In 2000, my husband, Bill, and I moved to Kansas City where I became chair of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Bill was professor of internal medicine in pulmonary disease and critical care, and then in general medicine outpatient practice. After two years, I became dean of the medical school. Three years later, I became vice chancellor of the campus in Kansas City, Kansas that houses the medical, nursing and health professions schools.
While in Kansas, the University of Kansas Hospital became the top hospital in Kansas City (today, it's always listed as one of the top hospitals in the country). During my tenure, the practice plan and research portfolio grew substantially. We opened a new campus in Salina, Kansas to train rural physicians, and expanded the Wichita campus to a full four years. We also built a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in Kansas City to support patients throughout Kansas and the greater Kansas City metropolitan area.
Over the course of my deanships at these medical schools I've had the amazing experience of graduating more than 2,500 medical students. I can't wait until we graduate the first class of UNLV School of Medicine students. It's going to be a momentous day for me, for UNLV, and for our entire community.