Learning Experience

September 3, 2013

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Interim senior vice president and dean Anupam Agarwal

After a thorough national search, the School of Medicine has selected its new dean—a world-renowned health care leader who also happens to be a familiar face at UAB. Dr. Selwyn M. Vickers, an Alabama native and former GI surgery director at UAB, returns here on October 15 from the University of Minnesota Medical School, where he has chaired the Department of Surgery for six years.

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Incoming senior vice president and dean Selwyn Vickers

I am delighted that the search committee has chosen Dr. Vickers, a member of the Institute of Medicine and an expert on both pancreatic cancer and health disparities. He was beloved by colleagues and students during his earlier tenure at UAB, and his dedication, energy, and insight will be invaluable as we continue to implement our AMC21 strategic plan and pursue breakthroughs that will shape the future of medicine.

Dr. Vickers’s arrival means that I soon will be leaving the dean’s office and returning to my role as director of the UAB Division of Nephrology and vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine. I look forward to refocusing my efforts on the innovative studies and clinical initiatives we are pursuing in these areas. However, I am thankful for the rare opportunity you have given me to lead your school. I have learned much about it and the people who support its success, as well as the people it impacts. I would like to share a few of those lessons here:

Visionary Leadership

Navigating health care’s changing landscape requires visionary leaders. Their insights about the shape of things to come in research and clinical care can provide an invaluable roadmap for our progress.

We have continued to recruit renowned leaders to fill crucial positions throughout our school and strengthened efforts to retain and support the vital work of our existing faculty. In return, they have strengthened our reputation both nationally and internationally. For example, Dr. Etty Benveniste, chair of our Department of Cell, Integrative, and Developmental Biology, was recently elected president of the 1,200-member American Society of Neurochemistry. Five other faculty members have been appointed to NIH advisory and scientific review study sections, where they will help shape the course of research in genetics, dermatology, pathology, HIV/AIDS vaccines, and other fields nationally. Dr. Edward Partridge, director of UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, won the American Cancer Society’s 2013 national Humanitarian Award, joining the company of other faculty receiving key honors this year in gerontology, genetic disease, cardiology, psychiatry, urology, and free radical biology, among others.

Communitywide Collaboration

As a scientist, I was already familiar with UAB’s time-honored tradition of collaboration among researchers and clinicians in multiple specialties. But I have come to fully appreciate the School of Medicine’s broader partnerships with leaders throughout our community and state. People in Birmingham and Alabama are eager to see our school compete with the nation’s best, and they are willing to invest to help us reach that goal.

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Last month's White Coat Ceremony welcomed the 184 members of the Class of 2017. Read about the ceremony and see additional pictures. Photo by Mike Strawn.

To share just one example, the State of Alabama and private philanthropic donors made possible the renovation of the Lurleen B. Wallace Tumor Institute, which opened to the public last month. The facility gives the Comprehensive Cancer Center a new front door and provides researchers with space to work together on groundbreaking studies that will pave the way for new treatments. The building’s basement houses the UAB Advanced Imaging Facility, which includes the TR24 cyclotron, a research and treatment tool that is the most powerful of its kind at any academic medical center in the United States.

We are proud to include our alumni in our collaborations as well. Your support has enabled us to recruit diverse classes of promising students who are excited to meet the challenges of medical research and practice. Thanks to you, the future of health care looks brighter.

Commitment to Excellence

I have also gained a greater appreciation for the commitment to excellence that our faculty, staff, and students demonstrate every day. For them, health care’s issues become personal missions. They are driven to make a difference in the laboratory, the clinic, and the community to better serve our patients and our state.

The new Clinical Skills Scholars program offers proof of that commitment. School of Medicine faculty have 31 coveted slots in the new program, where they mentor first- and second-year students each week on the fundamental skills required for communicating and interacting with patients. By going above and beyond to volunteer their time, experience, and expertise, these scholars are helping the next generation of physicians to lay the groundwork for success in their future practices.

This dedication is not limited to one program, of course. Everyone who is part of the school has an eye on the future and a desire to do his or her best work. That environment of optimism and possibility helps to fuel our quest for innovation.

Treasured Connections

I will not forget what I have learned once I return to the Division of Nephrology, and I can promise you that I will always treasure the connections I have made with alumni, faculty, staff, and students during my time as interim dean.

I want to thank our alumni in particular for their support, their contributions, and their kind words. Your friendship and trust have provided me with immeasurable encouragement during these recent months. I now have a greater gratitude for the role that alumni play in the school’s growth, and I intend to maintain the new relationships I have kindled with you, our strongest supporters.

Please join me in congratulating Dr. Vickers on his new role. Let us offer both our best wishes and our assistance to help him lead the school toward new heights. Together, we will forge a healthier future.


With kind regards,

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Anupam Agarwal, M.D.
Interim Senior Vice President for Medicine
Dean, School of Medicine