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January 2006 Issue

David Stern, MD
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New Dean Seeks to Bring Out Best in College's Key Players

Published January 2006

He arrives to work at 6:30 a.m. and leaves about 13 hours later--and that long workday is the only thing David Stern, MD, calls "typical" about his routine as College of Medicine dean.

His job, when he describes it, sounds pretty simple--making sure other people succeed. But there's nothing simple about leading a medical college.

An investigator himself for more than 20 years, before becoming dean of the Medical College of Georgia and now UC, Dr. Stern sees his job as being quite different from research.

"This job is opposite of being your own investigator. I work every day to develop other people's careers," he says.

And while he still conducts his own research, submitting papers to scientific journals on a regular basis, he considers his job more similar to conducting an orchestra.

"A good conductor brings out the best in the players and composers," Dr. Stern says. "A dean's job is sort of like that."

It's not a coincidence that Dr. Stern equates his role as dean to that of a musician--he himself is a classically trained clarinetist. In the corner of his office sits a beautifully crafted music stand filled with pages of sheet music--the spot where he spent a month preparing for last month's IvaDean Scholarship Benefit Concert.

He's modest about his musical abilities though. His solo at the concert received a standing ovation--but when discussing the Mozart clarinet quintet he joined during a December reception, Dr. Stern says the group of UC graduate students were "being nice" by playing with him.

Dr. Stern's rapid-fire talk gets even faster when discussing his work.

January marks six months on the job, and the dean has already been involved in major recruiting and retention efforts. His arrival at UC came at a time of major transition common at any academic health center--and he's quick to joke that his arrival probably added to that transition.

But he's certainly not joking when he discusses some of the biggest opportunities at the College of Medicine.

"Transition is good and bad," Dr. Stern says. "While you worry that too much change too quickly will destroy the core, you try to keep that core intact. But everything around the core must be continuously updated--just like a computer program.

"If an institution isn't continuously reinventing itself, it's actually going backwards."

And Dr. Stern has a plan for reinventing the college. He believes that even greater success at UC will come from focusing more on six key "themes"--cancer, neuroscience, cardiovascular, metabolic disorders and women's and children's health.

It's easy to search through the department listing at the College of Medicine and see that concentration in these areas truly involves everyone.

"By focusing on areas of excellence, you can begin to recruit people as part of a team," he says. "I really believe when one boat rises, we all rise. We have lots of terrific departments and programs, and lots with potential for getting even better."

The trick is pulling all of that together.

Dr. Stern says this can be done by recruiting groups of leaders that span the key focus areas, capitalizing on the collaborations we have with our affiliates, and creating new partnerships with community groups.

"By changing the way we think," says Dr. Stern, "we will change the way we do science, the way we teach and the way we care for patients.

"This institution has great potential. Part of the challenge of my job is to make things come together as they should. I don't think that's solely my responsibility, it needs to be a team effort, but to the extent that I can be a catalyst, we will fulfill the expectations I have for the College of Medicine."

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