Selwyn Vickers 4 LRIt is with bittersweet emotions I share that, after nearly 13 years at the helm of the UAB Health System (UABHS), Will Ferniany, Ph.D., will retire at the end of 2021. Dr. Ferniany became chief executive officer of the Health System in 2008, his second stint at UAB. A senior leader in health care since 1975, Dr. Ferniany is also the CEO of the new UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance. In this role, he oversees a $5 billion, 11-hospital health system. I am honored to have been tapped to succeed Dr. Ferniany as CEO of UABHS and the Alliance in the new year, while continuing in my role as dean of the School of Medicine.

During Dr. Ferniany's tenure as CEO, UAB Health System has grown from five hospitals to 11, with revenues that have grown from $2.3 billion in 2008 to more than $5.8 billion today. More than just those numbers, Dr. Ferniany has been an advocate for academic excellence and the growth of our global academic enterprise. Much of how we've grown as an academic medical center, and especially, the $100 million in research by which we've grown, is due to the support of Dr. Ferniany and the clinical enterprise and the successful growth of our clinical programs. He has understood the value of recruiting top talent and having innovative research that translates to improvements in health care and to the lives of our citizens. In summary, our growth in the School of Medicine and our overall academic prowess would not have occurred without Dr. Ferniany’s partnership, as well as the formation of the academic enrichment fund and funds flow for our departments.

In honor of Dr. Ferniany’s service, the school will institute the Will Ferniany Academic Medicine Leadership Award, to be given to a health system executive who best demonstrates an ongoing commitment to the institution’s academic mission. The award will serve as a fitting reminder not only of Dr. Ferniany’s unwavering commitment to UAB Medicine and to the health of the people of our city and state, but also of a trusted colleague and friend whose support and advice has been an invaluable resource to me. Thank you Will, we will miss you but we will use this as a time to honor your service and leadership
.

In other leadership news, I’m pleased to announce that Irfan Asif, M.D., has been named associate dean for Primary Care and Rural Health at the UAB School of Medicine, effective June 1. Dr. Asif currently serves as chair of the UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine. He joined UAB in 2018 from the Greenville Health System and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, where he served as the vice chair of academics and research in the Department of Family Medicine and as the sports medicine fellowship director. As a primary care physician with a specialization in sports and exercise medicine, he has developed a local, national, and international reputation for teaching and scholarship, and our school has already benefited greatly from his energy, enthusiasm, and expertise.

Dr. Asif will step in for William Curry, M.D., who is retiring from the School of Medicine but will continue his role with the Health System in Population Health. Dr. Curry joined UAB in 2004 as a professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine and was recruited as associate dean of Rural Programs and Primary Care in 2014. During his tenure, he was involved in numerous noteworthy accomplishments including the founding and growth of the statewide Alabama Area Health Education Centers, establishing the Montgomery Regional Medical Campus, creating a four-year M.D./MPH program and the SOM Primary Care Scholars program, and serving as a committee chair and task force member for the State Medical Association Primary Care Strategic Plan, among many others.

Over the years, Dr. Curry has served as a powerful advocate on issues involving advanced practice nurses and their appropriate role in collaborative practice, and other issues of primary care and rural health. He left a deep imprint on our institution, and we are fortunate Dr. Asif will take up his mantle and continue this important work. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for our primary care and rural health programs.

I’m likewise pleased to announce that Alan Tita, M.D., Ph.D., has been named associate dean for Global and Women’s Health at the School of Medicine. He will assume the role on July 1. With a background in maternal-fetal medicine, global health, and perinatal epidemiology, Dr. Tita has led and currently leads numerous collaborative multi-site and single-site clinical trials and observational studies that influence practice and global policy. He is the director of the UAB Center for Women’s Reproductive Health and co-leads the Cameroon Health Initiative at UAB, a multidisciplinary venture to improve health care in collaboration with Cameroon partners. He serves on the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Council and has participated in several World Health Organization guideline development groups. Dr. Tita’s dedication to the school’s mission makes him an excellent choice for this leadership role. His extensive knowledge of both global and women’s health will be vital in helping guide our innovative and comprehensive global health program.

Dr. Tita will be stepping in for Michael Saag, M.D., who will retire from UAB on June 30. Dr. Saag has served the UAB community as an internationally renowned physician and researcher, and even through his experience as a patient as he helped guide Alabama and the rest of the country through the COVID-19 pandemic. As the current associate dean for Global Health, director of the UAB Center for AIDS Research, the founding director of the UAB 1917 HIV Clinic, and a professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Saag has indelibly influenced our city, state, and beyond, and we are immensely grateful for his service.

The latest National Institutes of Health research rankings are out, and I’m excited to report that research funding to UAB exceeded $325 million in 2020. The university received $325,573,502, according to the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research. That placed UAB 27th in the list of universities receiving funding from the NIH. Among public universities, UAB ranked 12th.

The largest portion of that funding, $269,911,974, went to investigators in the School of Medicine. This was an increase of more than $13 million over 2019, giving us a ranking of 24th overall among U.S. medical schools—an incredible achievement given the challenges of the past year. Within our school, five departments were in the top 10 in research funding. The Department of Dermatology was second, with more than $8.2 million. The Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology was sixth, with nearly $17 million. The Department of Biomedical Engineering landed in seventh place, with $4.7 million, while the Department of Microbiology ranked eighth, with $21.3 million. The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology ranked 10th, with $6.4 million.

I invite you to join us for the third session of Mini Medical School—a series of online community events that introduces attendees to the innovative research and patient care at our school—on Tuesday, May 4 from 6-7 p.m. via Zoom. Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., professor in the School of Public Health, will share her expertise on herd immunity. Turner Overton, M.D., associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, is leading the Post-COVID Treatment Program at UAB and will discuss the long-lasting effects of COVID-19. Sarah Nafziger, M.D., Vice President of Clinical Support Services for UAB Medicine, has led the COVID response and vaccine distribution efforts for UAB. She will give us an update on the vaccine rollout for UAB and the state. Register here.

There is growing concern in states across the country, as COVID-19 cases trend in the wrong direction even as vaccination rates rise. Alabama’s mask mandate ended April 9. However, UAB Medicine continues to require masks for our employees, patients, and visitors. I personally am encouraging our School of Medicine community, as well as my family and friends, to help keep cases under control by continuing to mask up, wash their hands, remain socially distant, and, now that everyone in Alabama 16 years old and older is eligible to receive a COVID vaccine, get vaccinated. I hope you’ll join me in this effort, as physicians can be a powerful influence in encouraging people to practice COVID safety until we cross the pandemic finish line.


It is with bittersweet emotions I share that, after nearly 13 years at the helm of the UAB Health System (UABHS), Will Ferniany, Ph.D., will retire at the end of 2021. Dr. Ferniany became chief executive officer of the Health System in 2008, his second stint at UAB. A senior leader in health care since 1975, Dr. Ferniany is also the CEO of the new UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance. In this role, he oversees a $5 billion, 11-hospital health system. I am honored to have been chosen to succeed Dr. Ferniany as CEO of UABHS and the Alliance in the new year, while continuing in my role as dean of the School of Medicine.

During Dr. Ferniany’s tenure as CEO, the UABHS has grown from five hospitals to 11, with revenues expanding from $2.3 billion in 2008 to more than $5.8 billion today. Dr. Ferniany has cited engagements with the Alabama Hospital Association and other health care entities to expand Medicaid and improve Medicaid funding, develop an extensive telehealth system, and operate the new Alabama Rural Hospital Resource Center as among his most gratifying accomplishments. I look forward to continuing his efforts to expand access to and improve health care for all Alabamians.

In honor of Dr. Ferniany’s service, the school will institute the Will Ferniany Academic Medicine Leadership Award, to be given to a health system executive who best demonstrates an ongoing commitment to the institution’s academic mission. The award will serve as a fitting reminder not only of Dr. Ferniany’s unwavering commitment to UAB Medicine and to the health of the people of our city and state, but also of a trusted colleague and friend whose support and advice has been an invaluable resource to me. I hope you will join me in wishing him all the best in the next phase of his life.