Robert M. Craft, MD, a native of East Tennessee and an alumnus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has been named dean of the UTHSC College of Medicine in Knoxville.
Dean Craft has served since October 2022 as the interim dean of the College of Medicine in Knoxville and the senior vice president and chief academic officer for the University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC), one of UTHSC’s key partner teaching hospitals. Dean Craft completed his residency at UTMC in 1993, and joined the faculty of the College of Medicine in Knoxville in 1994 as an assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, after a fellowship in neuroanesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic. He was promoted to professor, and also served as the department’s vice chair, residency program director, and chair. A native of Kingsport, he grew up in Memphis, and is also a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“I’m very committed to this campus, UTHSC, and the UT System as a whole,” Dean Craft said. “I’ve been a faculty member at the University of Tennessee Medical Center for 29 years and I spent a year in medical school, as well as four years of residency here, so that adds up to more than half my life.” His fellowship was his only time living outside of Tennessee, he said.
Dean Craft said he will focus on growing the College of Medicine in Knoxville to help meet the shortage of physicians predicted for Tennessee. “Growth is the bottom line in order to ensure physician-led care for our region,” he said. This would include expansion of the Graduate Medical Education (GME) programs that direct residencies and fellowships, as well as expansion of educational opportunities for medical students (Undergraduate Medical Education or UME). He also aims to increase the research enterprise on the campus, which is integral to the education missions.
“We want to grow our GME and UME missions and expand research on our campus by increasing alignment and collaboration with our campus partners and the whole UTHSC system, as well as UT Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” he said. “I call it reaching out across the river and across the state.”
Dean Craft would like to expand residencies by 20 percent and provide more opportunities for medical students to study in Knoxville. The college sponsors 11 residency programs and 17 fellowships.
Currently, medical students can complete their third and fourth year in Knoxville. He would like to eventually enable medical students to do their entire training in Knoxville.
“We’d like to see students be able to select us earlier in the process than they do now,” he said. “Ideally, even at matriculation, because we really think that we’re missing a lot of students from Eastern and Middle Tennessee who might be choosing places closer to home.”
Growing the GME and medical education programs in Knoxville would also further integrate the Knoxville campus into UTHSC’s statewide reach and mission to serve the underserved. “I’d like for us to be a conduit to develop and recruit young people from these underserved counties around us, and get them back into those communities as fully trained physicians,” he said.
UTHSC’s new 2023-2028 Strategic Plan aims to strengthen its partnerships across Tennessee and build the health care workforce, particularly in underserved rural areas, to fulfill its vision of “Healthy Tennesseans. Thriving Communities.”
Dean Craft said he is proud of the “incredible team” in the College of Medicine in Knoxville. “The College of Medicine in Knoxville, including the Dean’s Council and all the staff, is an outstanding group of people who have made this job a real pleasure,” he said. “It’s just amazing how much more confident you can be to step into a position like this when you’ve got so much support, so much depth, and so many highly qualified people with tons of both UT and campus cultural knowledge.”
Interim Executive Dean of the UTHSC College of Medicine G. Nicholas Verne, MD, said, “We are fortunate to have Dr. Craft in this key position in our college. His long history in Knoxville and his commitment to UTHSC and the UT System make him the perfect person to lead the College of Medicine in Knoxville.”
Dean Craft said he is honored and excited to take the helm of the college that has been such a big part of his life. “I am really looking forward to finishing up my career trying to make things a little better. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do: leave things a little better than we found them.”