Peter F. Buckley, MD, became the 11th chancellor of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) today, after a unanimous confirmation vote by the University of Tennessee System Board of Trustees. His appointment is effective February 1, 2022.
Most-recently dean of the School of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and executive vice president of medical affairs for the VCU Health System, Dr. Buckley succeeds Steve J. Schwab, MD, who has served as UTHSC chancellor for approximately 12 years.
“I am delighted to follow the great legacy of my colleague and friend, Dr. Schwab, and to build on that legacy and all the great work of the faculty, trainees, and staff, not just in Memphis, but all across the state,” Dr. Buckley said. “I had the privilege of interviewing for this distinguished position in the middle of the pandemic, and so I could see firsthand all the great work, the team cohesion, and the community engagement and the support across the state by UTHSC’s students and residents, faculty, and staff. That was very compelling to me, and I think we can build on UTHSC’s great legacy and very impressive momentum to have an even greater presence in our communities.”
The pandemic has given the public a greater awareness and appreciation for academic health science centers like UTHSC, Dr. Buckley said. “They understand that science brings hope, science can change lives, science can save lives, and that science can do that in a very rapid way when we all work really well together,” he said. “There’s also a greater appreciation for the compassion and the skill of our clinicians, as well as an appreciation of the need to build up our clinical workforce all across the state, and of course, that is the hallmark of UTHSC.”
The chancellor is the chief executive officer of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s statewide operation, which includes six doctoral-degree-granting health science colleges – Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Nursing, Graduate Health Sciences, and Health Professions – as well as major regional clinical health science locations in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Nashville.
“As you look at the Health Science Center, while our home is in Memphis, our footprint through our campuses is really across the great state of Tennessee,” he said. “And so, that’s what I see as the opportunity, the opportunity to maximize that community relationship within Memphis, while also being the health sciences provider of the clinical workforce for the entirety of Tennessee, to have our science impact the health of all Tennesseans, and to maximize the cohesion across all elements of our Health Sciences programs within its broad footprint across this great state.”
UTHSC and its clinical practice plans employ approximately 4,000 people statewide. The university is the largest educator of health care professionals in the state and operates Tennessee’s largest residency and fellowship programs.
While his focus is statewide, Dr. Buckley sees opportunity to continue to strengthen the university’s role in Memphis, home to its main campus.
“I think Memphis is on an amazing trajectory,” he said, citing its high-quality health care, the world-class institutions that UTHSC counts as partners, and a strong business community. “I think there is an opportunity for us to engage more with the business community, particularly with the biomedical device community. There are many firms located in Memphis that any other academic center across the country would absolutely be delighted to have that degree of resources and talent and support right in their own backyard. That’s a fantastic opportunity.”
A native of Ireland, Dr. Buckley, and his wife, Leonie, emigrated to America in 1992. “Six years after that, we had the amazing joy of becoming American citizens,” he said. The couple have two adult sons, John and Brian, and enjoy raising Great Danes.
“This country has embraced us, and we have embraced America,” Dr. Buckley said. “We’ve always found each city that we have moved to incredibly welcoming, and we’ve already had that experience, perhaps even more so in Memphis, than any other city.”
Dr. Buckley described himself as a servant leader. “Doctors are trained with the immense privilege of providing care to people, and that is a very noble service,” he said. “I have tried to cultivate that physician service model into being a servant leader, which is very important when your administrative job is to help faculty, trainees, and staff in their great work and to advocate for them, as well as to celebrate their accomplishments. I look forward to doing that across all our sites and across the state.”
Dr. Buckley has served as the dean of the VCU School of Medicine since 2017. Prior to that, he was the dean of the School of Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta for seven years, overseeing regional campuses across the state of Georgia. Dr. Buckley chairs the Administrative Board of the Council of Deans of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and is on the AAMC’s Board of Directors. Dr. Buckley also serves as vice chair of the board of Intealth, an integrated organization that includes the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) and the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research (FAIMER), which is dedicated to advancing the global health care workforce.
A psychiatrist and expert in schizophrenia, Dr. Buckley is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and sits on the Data and Safety Monitoring Board of the National Institute of Mental Health. He has served on numerous boards and committees related to his clinical specialty and is a member of the Board of Schizophrenia International Research Society. With a background of studies in brain imaging and neurodevelopment, he has published more than 360 articles and more than 80 book chapters, and has received numerous awards for his academic, clinical, and research work.
A 14-member committee, along with an executive search firm, began the search process for a new chancellor in mid-summer, following Dr. Schwab’s announcement to step down. Dr. Buckley was one of two finalists, who came to the Memphis campus for open forums in November.
The chancellor serves as a member of the UT System leadership team, reporting directly to UT System President Randy Boyd, and is the chief academic and administrative officer for UTHSC.
“I have been extremely impressed at the level of insight and energy Peter has demonstrated throughout the search process,” Boyd said. “I could not be more excited about the future of UTHSC under his leadership and with all of our support.”
Dr. Buckley said he sees his role as one of advocacy for the university.
“It will be an immense pleasure and privilege to serve as a tireless ambassador for the UT Health Science Center and the great work of all our colleagues,” he said.