Ray L. Watts, M.D., UAB's seventh president, has demonstrated visionary leadership in education, research and clinical care throughout his career.
A Birmingham native and graduate of West End High School, Dr. Watts earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering at UAB in 1976. The collaborations he had with biomedical engineering students as an undergraduate inspired him to expand his career horizons and, four years later, he graduated from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis as valedictorian of his class.
Dr. Watts completed a neurology residency, medical internship, and clinical fellowships at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by a two-year medical staff fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. Before returning to UAB in 2003, he was part of a team that helped to create an internationally renowned research and clinical center for Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders at Emory University in Atlanta.
At UAB, Dr. Watts served as the John N. Whitaker Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurology. There he led the development of an interdisciplinary research program aimed at translating scientific breakthroughs into promising new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases and played a key role in the establishment of the UAB Comprehensive Neuroscience Center. He also was named president of the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation.
In 2010, Dr. Watts accepted the position of Senior Vice President and Dean of the School of Medicine at UAB, and later was named to the James C. Lee Jr. Endowed Chair. As dean, Dr. Watts – in partnership with UAB Health System and Health Services Foundation leaders – initiated the AMC21 comprehensive strategic plan, encompassing education, research, clinical care and primary care. AMC21 aims to make UAB “the preferred academic medical center of the 21st century,” and has led to the recruitment of outstanding faculty, the launch of programs to accelerate research and drug discovery, and the development of a third regional medical campus in Montgomery, among other successes. He has been tireless in his efforts to enhance medical student training—from increasing available scholarships to supporting Equal Access Birmingham, a volunteer organization in which students provide care to underserved patients—and to foster stronger relationships with medical alumni throughout the state.
“People want to invest in the future—in solutions that will have a real impact on our health, education and our economy,” Dr. Watts has said. “So the state and community want us to develop our ideas and capitalize on opportunities to lead. UAB can be one of the most dynamic and productive universities of the 21st century, and that is our vision.”
Dr. Watts and his wife Nancy, who worked at UAB as a nurse before retiring, have five grown children.