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Fall Advisory Board Meeting Re-Elects Chair, Updates Important Initiatives

Philip Wenk, DDS, has served as chair of the UTHSC Advisory Board since its start in 2019 and was re-elected unanimously during the board meeting Wednesday.

During the fall meeting of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Advisory Board Wednesday, members heard reports about the College of Dentistry’s developing initiative to expand dental care across the state, the university’s ongoing strategic planning process, and the recent accomplishments across the six colleges.

The board also unanimously re-elected Philip Wenk, DDS, to another two-year term as its chairman. Dr. Wenk, a 1973 graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and a 1977 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry, is the president and chief executive officer of Delta Dental of Tennessee. He has served as chair of the UTHSC Advisory Board since it began in 2019.

“It is truly an honor to be your chair and it is truly an honor to be on this committee,” Dr. Wenk said.

Chancellor Peter Buckley thanked Dr. Wenk for his remarkable leadership as UTHSC Advisory Board chair. He then recognized Altha Stewart, MD, senior associate dean for Community Health Engagement and associate professor of psychiatry in the College of Medicine, who recently was awarded the 2022 Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the preeminent philanthropic organization for mental health research.

Dr. Stewart, also director of UTHSC’s Center for Youth Advocacy and Well-Being, was introduced by Gary Shorb, the executive director of The Urban Child Institute (UCI), a nonprofit that promotes education, health, and well-being of children in Shelby County. As a board member of the UCI, Dr. Stewart has brought a focus on mental health, as well as expertise in policy and advocacy, Shorb said.

Altha Stewart, MD, senior associate dean for Community Health Engagement in the College of Medicine, center, was honored by Chancellor Peter Buckley, left, and Gary Shorb, the executive director of The Urban Child Institute, for receiving the prestigious Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health and for her work with with the children of Memphis and Shelby County.

“It was a privilege to be honored,” Dr. Stewart said of the BBRF award. She said her career goal has been “to create a system of advocacy” for those with mental health issues, and thanked the university for giving her a platform to continue this work. “We are a small, but mighty team in the Center for Youth Advocacy and Well-Being, but I think our efforts are making a difference for the children of Memphis,” she said.

Chancellor Buckley reported on the successful “Everywhere You Look, UTHSC” tour that UT System President Randy Boyd and he made across the state October 31-Nov. 2 to promote UTHSC’s statewide reach and mission. The chancellor said visits with clinical partners, faculty, staff, students, alumni, media, and friends generated great turnout and energetic conversations and feedback.

“They appreciated our statewide presence,” he said. “There was a lot of enthusiasm and suggestions, as well as a joining of arms in terms of clinical workforce development aimed at addressing the racial and rural health care inequalities and disparities in Tennessee.”

The tour was followed by UTHSC’s first investiture of a chancellor on Friday, November 4, when Chancellor Buckley officially received the authority and symbols of the office during a formal ceremony at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Memphis.

“I think we achieved what the day was really about,” Chancellor Buckley told the board. “It was about instilling pride in our mission, in our place in our community, and to have our community welcoming and also appreciative of, not only what we do, but what our future and potential can be.”

Cindy Russell, PhD, vice chancellor for Academic, Faculty, and Student Affairs, updated the board on the university’s strategic planning process that is underway with 130 people in various workgroups currently looking at strategy and metric development. “There’s never a better time to think strategically than when we actually have a new leader join us, as has recently happened,” she said. The new UTHSC mission, vision, and values statements will be ready for consideration by the board early next year.

The deans of the various colleges spoke about accomplishments and initiatives in their college. Highlights included:

  • James Ragain, DDS, MS, PhD, FICD, FACD, dean of the College of Dentistry, reported on the Healthy Smiles Initiative, the college’s plan to improve access to dental care in Tennessee by increasing its class sizes, adding new clinical training sites and clinical rotation sites in Middle and East Tennessee, and growing faculty numbers. The effort will be funded with $53 million from the state over five years with support from the Tennessee Department of Health.
  • College of Health Professions Dean Stephen Alway, PhD, FACSM, said the college is marking its 50th anniversary November 18 with various celebrations in Memphis.
  • College of Medicine Dean Scott Strome, MD, said the college has received full accreditation for its Graduate Medical Education program.
  • The College of Pharmacy anticipates a successful accreditation, and its search for a new dean is progressing, said Interim Dean Brad Boucher, PharmD, FCCP, FNAP, MCCM.
  • College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-Bc, FAANP, said new student enrollment is at 198 students across all its programs. The college has the highest ranked undergraduate nursing program in the state and its Doctor of Nursing program ranks in the top 7% in the country.
  • The College of Graduate Health Sciences is working to connect students with alumni to increase career opportunities, said John Cox, PhD, associate dean of Academic Affairs.

Senior Vice Chancellor for Finance Anthony A. Ferrara, CPA, MAS, presented background information for the FY 2024 tuition proposal, which will be presented at a meeting next year. The final proposal may include expanding the 50-mile regional tuition reduction to 250 miles for several programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, the Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene, the Master of Occupational Therapy, and the Doctor of Physical Therapy. “The increase in enrollment will offset any loss in tuition,” Ferrara said.

The full advisory board meeting is available to view on the UTHSC Advisory Board webpage.