Lookin' for work?
Proposed medical school begins search for dean
BY CHRIS BIRK
A momentous first for the region also brings the promise of a rare opportunity — provided you’re a rock star of a physician with impeccable credentials.
The proposed Medical College of Northeastern Pennsylvania would be the first allopathic, or M.D.-granting, school built in the U.S. since 1982. It would also give one stellar doctor the chance to build and shape a medical school from scratch for the first time in more than two decades.
The exhaustive, cross-country search for a founding dean is well under way, and stakeholders behind the medical school hope to make a decision in February. Navigating through a relatively small pool of possibilities, thanks to a host of stringent criteria, those leading the search are looking for a dynamic leader with an interest in trailblazing.
The winner gets a mountain of hard work.
“It probably needs somebody who has enough experience that we have confidence in them, but has not become hidebound by the traditional approaches to medical education,” said Robert Wright, M.D., chairman of the Medical Education Development Consortium, the local group of politicians, physicians and others who led the charge for school. “We’re going to be trying new things. The person that we hire has to have characteristics of the entrepreneurial type.”
Envisioned as independent and regional, the Scranton medical school is expected to serve 360 students and have an annual operating budget of $25 million. The movement already has $60 million in place from the state and Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, representing more than half the $75 million to $85 million officials estimated would be needed to build a “bare-bones” school.
A hunt for new funding sources, private and public, is running concurrently with the search for a founding dean.
Behind the dean search is John K. Thornburgh, vice president of the executive-search firm Witt-Kieffer and son of former Gov. Dick Thornburgh. The national firm specializes in finding top executives in the fields of health care and education.
Armed with a long list of prerequisites and qualifications, Thornburgh is scouring medical schools and other institutions for interested and qualified candidates. Prospects must have an M.D. degree and an exemplary track record of fundraising, education and clinical care.
They also need to be prepared for a major shift from the norm. Unlike other more established or university-affiliated medical schools, the Medical College of Northeastern Pennsylvania will not have gobs of money and an entrenched infrastructure.
“A lot of the people who are in medical education today in big schools are very comfortable with the infrastructure of large organizations and big staffs. They may be uncomfortable in this environment,” said Thornburgh.
The college has been pitched as an economic boon that would stimulate spending of $46 million a year and help to create 550 high-paying jobs in the region by 2015. By 2025, the school is expected to generate a $54 million economic impact and 900 local jobs.
Business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit are also key attributes, said Thornburgh.
“Certainly within medical education, you have to stay within boundaries. But there is a real chance to do everything, including building a new culture,” said Thornburgh. “You don’t have to live by some other institution’s ground rules.”
A 13-page position specification outlines the criteria and the scope of the opportunity awaiting the school’s founding dean.
Among the laundry list of necessities identified by the search firm are four leadership opportunities:
n Recruiting a leadership team
n Building partnerships in the community as the champion of the school
n Developing and leading a long-term funding plan
n Building a culture of excellence.
“The founding dean will have the unique opportunity to build an institutional culture ‘from the ground up,’” the document reads in part. “This will provide the chance to build an appropriate sense of camaraderie, collegiality and genuine goodwill in an organization whose members will be dedicated to the interests of community medicine.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint how many people might meet the qualifications from the ranks of current school deans, associate deans or department chairs, which is where the consortium’s search committee is focusing.
But, so far, officials are emboldened by the response.
Thornburgh declined to offer specifics or a count of those who have expressed interest. Wright said he believed the number was around 35.
“We have had a very encouraging response, both in terms of numbers, but more importantly, in terms of the type of people who check a lot of the boxes that we’re looking for,” said Thornburgh. “We will be very careful in making sure there’s going to be a good fit personally between the candidate and in many cases their family and the Northeastern Pennsylvania region.”
Interviews are tentatively scheduled for next month.