Originally created 05/05/02

MCG's new dean plans milestones for change



The words can barely catch up with his thoughts before David Mark Stern is leaping ahead again, his body barely constrained by a solid, unmoving chair ill suited to his energy.

It is no understatement to say Dr. Stern, the new dean of the School of Medicine at Medical College of Georgia, is excited about his job. And make no mistake about it, he also expects to change the 170-year-old school.

"We have an opportunity at MCG now, because of the early-retirement program and because of the funds the state gives us and that (MCG President Daniel W.) Rahn has so successfully garnered, and we have to reinvent the place," Dr. Stern said. "As I have milestones for what I want to accomplish, I want everyone around me to have those milestones, too."

He's talking about goals. Lofty goals. But that's his style, which he displayed as a noted researcher into diabetes and the cardiovascular problems it causes, work that produced nine patents in his previous post at Columbia University. Research is often failure, he said, but it is the few successes that really matter.

"I want to have a culture of risk-taking and a culture with respect to innovation," Dr. Stern said. "Let's give it a shot."

And he is willing to give others their shot, as he did in helping to carve a new Department of Neurosurgery out of the Department of Surgery before he officially took the MCG position April 18.

After nearly a year of lobbying for the new department, neurosurgeon Mark Lee felt that negotiations were foundering. Dr. Stern asked for a 6 a.m. meeting in late January with Dr. Lee and Dr. Betty Wray, the interim dean.

"We sat down, and he introduced himself to me and he said: 'Mark, I want a Department of Neurosurgery. I want you to be the chairman, and I want us to get this figured out and get this done at this table right now,"' Dr. Lee said. "And we did. We solved it in 20 minutes."

It's obvious that Dr. Stern is used to working with surgeons, said Dr. Thomas Gadacz, the chief of the MCG Department of Surgery.

"Just being upfront and very straightforward about what his goals are" makes that clear, Dr. Gadacz said.

As he did with Dr. Lee, Dr. Stern asks every new recruit to outline specific goals. Dr. Lee's case is a good example, Dr. Stern said.

"This was really an attempt to incentivize Mark Lee and say: 'Step up to the plate. Let's see what you can do.' And he has stepped up to the plate beautifully," Dr. Stern said. "He has made actually very ambitious milestones in terms of clinical growth and research growth that he'd like to see."

That renewed emphasis on research and making connections between hospital and laboratory is already a hallmark of Dr. Stern's tenure, Dr. Gadacz said.

"He's really outlined an agenda regarding how he wants to relate to the basic science and clinical chairs," Dr. Gadacz said.

It also means creating an atmosphere that values a combination of both, Dr. Stern said. That's what is guiding his recruitment of a new permanent chairman of the Department of Medicine.

"I'm very, very much looking for someone who is a physician scientist or clinician scientist (who will) try to change the culture," Dr. Stern said. "Those kinds of physicians have a different approach to things. And they create a different climate."

It also means recognizing unique talents and building around them, what Dr. Stern calls niches. One obvious one is in immunotherapy, particularly with internationally recognized work led by Drs. Andrew Mellor and David Munn and the new Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine led by new recruit Jin-Xiong She. Dr. She is focusing on certain genes that might be involved in autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, Dr. Stern said.

"The immunotherapy center is a niche business that makes sense because it comes from a strength from within," Dr. Stern said.

He is also trying to address longstanding needs, including choosing a new permanent chief of cardiac surgery and marshaling resources at the institutional level that would address not only salary but also compensation for research time and lab facilities, Dr. Gadacz said.

One of the resources Dr. Stern brings to those negotiations is Dr. Stern himself, said MCG CEO Don Snell.

"He has an incredible amount of energy," Mr. Snell said. "And he is scary smart."

"I want to have a culture of risk-taking and a culture with respect to innovation." - David Mark Stern, the new dean of the School of Medicine at Medical College of Georgia

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.