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UT Health Science Center Building on Momentum and Awareness in 2024, Recognizing Dedicated Partners

The winter meeting of the UT Health Science Center Advisory Board opened with a special recognition of the 50-year partnership between UT Health Science Center and Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga. Dr. James Haynes, Dean of the College of Medicine in Chattanooga, and Erlanger Chief Executive Officer Jim Coleman joined via Zoom.

Last year was a time of building for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD, told the university’s Advisory Board during its winter meeting Friday. New leaders were recruited, a state-of-the-art-dental building opened, and a five-year strategic plan was adopted.

This year, he said, UT Health Science Center will continue building on its stellar legacy, guided by the new 2023-2028 Strategic Plan and its vision: Healthy Tennesseans. Thriving Communities. 

A major focus will be on amplifying both UT Health Science Center’s reach and presence as Tennessee’s only statewide academic health science institution, as well as the strong partnerships with major hospitals across the state that are central to training the state’s health care workforce and caring for the people of Tennessee.

“What we do matters,” the chancellor said. “Our vision is meaningful, not just for us, but for everyone in Tennessee.”

As part of the effort to raise awareness of this statewide presence, Chancellor Buckley also said the health science center will emphasize its position as a vital part of the UT System of institutions across Tennessee, advancing our communications and marketing to highlight synergies with the remarkably powerful University of Tennessee brand.

The meeting opened with special recognition of the 50-year clinical and educational partnership between UT Health Science Center and Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga. “We’d like to formally recognize all the good things that have happened over 50 years, as well as the tremendous commitment of having such a high-quality partner in Erlanger,” the chancellor said. 

“What we do matters. Our vision is meaningful, not just for us, but for everyone in Tennessee.”

Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD

Thanking Erlanger’s leadership for their dedicated service to the community through this partnership, James Haynes, MD, dean of the College of Medicine in Chattanooga, said more than 2,000 physicians have graduated from Graduate Medical Education training (residency) at Erlanger since the affiliation agreement was signed in 1974, at least 40 percent of those graduates stay within 50 miles of Erlanger or elsewhere in Tennessee, and the partnership enables the only Level 1 trauma center for 100 miles. “We are very thankful to Erlanger, which hosts 130 medical students annually from UT Health Science Center,” he said. “Our business is to care for people and to train people to care for people. We are one and the same and it’s a great partnership.”

Accepting a certificate of recognition and a vibrantly orange UT Health Science Center sweatshirt, Erlanger Chief Executive Officer Jim Coleman said with pride, “I did my clinical rotations at Erlanger five years after this partnership was started. I am very proud to be part of this five-decade partnership and the impact this relationship has had on medical education, research, and most importantly, the impact this partnership has had on the Chattanooga community and the region.”

Robert Maloney, chief operating officer for Erlanger Health System, said he came to Erlanger because of the relationship with UT Health Science Center. “Erlanger is not the same institution without this relationship,” he said.

Advisory Board Chair Phil Wenk, DDS, who retired as the longtime chief executive of Delta Dental of Tennessee on December 31, was also honored. An alumnus of the UT Health Science Center College of Dentistry, Dr. Wenk was recognized prior to his retirement with several high-profile honors, including the Jim and Natalie Haslam Presidential Medal from the University of Tennessee President’s Council, induction into the Tennessee Health Care Hall of Fame, and the establishment of the Dr. Phil Wenk Scholarship Endowment in the College of Dentistry, which is kindly supported by Delta Dental of Tennessee with its new Chief Executive Officer Jeff Ballard. 

Chancellor Buckley also recognized Advisory Board Chair Dr. Phil Wenk for his outstanding contributions to UT Health Science Center and the state of Tennessee.

“It was important to take time to recognize Dr. Wenk for his profound impact on the UT Health Science Center and the people of Tennessee,” the chancellor said. “You are truly a health care hero.”

“It’s a labor of love,” Dr. Wenk said, adding much of the recognition goes to Delta Dental and its focus on serving the people of Tennessee.

Mia Isabel Rodriguez, a student in the College of Dentistry and an inaugural recipient of the Delta Dental of Tennessee Scholarship, thanked Dr. Wenk for the great support and encouragement the scholarship provides. “Thank you for the impact you have had on our medical careers,” she said.

Chancellor Buckley discussed recent accomplishments and aspirations for the university as it continues to build in 2024.

  • A new University Council has been established connecting regional campus leadership, staff leadership, the Faculty Senate, the Student Government Association Executive Council, and executive leadership. This will promote good decision-making, dialogue, and communication, as well as a sense of urgency and collective momentum.
  • Jessi Gold, MD, MS, a nationally recognized expert on student mental health and wellness, has been named the inaugural chief wellness officer for the University of Tennessee System and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
  • Trey Eubanks, MD, professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery at UT Health Science Center and surgeon-in-chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, has been appointed president of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. Dr. Eubanks joins a new cadre of partnership leaders, including Brian Wilcox, MD, associate dean of Clinical Affairs and Graduate Medical Education for the College of Medicine in Nashville; Robert Craft, MD, dean of the College of Medicine in Knoxville; Keith Gray, MD, president of the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville; and Dr. Haynes, dean of the College of Medicine in Chattanooga.
  • Expansion of dental services to the Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Memphis VA Medical Center (Memphis VA Medical Center) is underway.
  • Philanthropy is on the rise. Building off the $29.7 million raised in Tennessee in 2023, groundwork is being laid with alumni, faculty, staff, students, and friends of the university to encourage future support.

“Change is part of this organization, and we can get better with and through change,” Chancellor Buckley said.

Vice Chancellor for Academic Faculty, and Student Affairs Cindy Russell, PhD, RN, discussed the strategic plan as it moves into its implementation phase. A leadership retreat was held in October, individual colleges and units are developing their own strategic plans to reflect the university’s blueprint, and champions for each pillar of the plan have been identified and are working to infuse the plan throughout the university.

Paul Wesolowski, vice chancellor for Strategic Partnerships, noted the university is embracing the evolving nature of the strategic plan and will be drawing on recently onboarded executive leaders, as additional financial, capital planning, and philanthropic components are incorporated in the plan. 

Advisory board members, including student representative Corinne Gibson, heard about the university’s past accomplishments and aspirations for the future.

The deans of the individual colleges updated the board on recent accomplishments.

  • The College of Dentistry is on track to open a dental training clinic in collaboration with business and community partners in Kingsport in July with dental student rotations to begin in August, said Orpheus Triplett, assistant dean for Community Oral Health and Outreach. The college is also pursuing another clinical rotation for students in Savannah, Tennessee, as part of its outreach to bring dental care to underserved areas of the state.
  • Donald Thomason, PhD, dean of the College of Graduate Health Sciences, said the college raised $47,000 to fund eight independent student research projects and is working to increase internship and job opportunities for students and graduates.
  • The College of Health Professions faculty submitted 47 grant applications requesting more than $18.4 million in grant funds and capped the year with a $2.4 million grant to the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology to fund a five-year project to address the need for diversity in speech-language pathology professionals.
  • The College of Medicine has recruited Hae Won Shin, MD, as its new chair of the Department of Neurology, is engaging in several community health projects, and is eagerly and optimistically awaiting the results of the recent LCME accreditation review, Dean Nick Verne, MD, reported. 
  • Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, said grant submissions in the College of Nursing are up 100% from the previous year. The BSN program is fully deployed with six simultaneous cohorts of students, and enrollment in the college grew by 27.8% from 2020 to 2023, she said. Additionally, research funding has risen dramatically and the College of Nursing now has five grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an all-time high. 
  • In the College of Pharmacy, Chasity Shelton, PharmD, and Andrea Franks, PharmD, were named Distinguished Fellows in the Pharmacy Academy of the National Academies of Practice, reported Chris Finch, chair of the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Translational Science. He said the college is also working to enhance clinical opportunities in Chattanooga and expand its rural health initiatives.

“Every time I hear these presentations, it amazes me about what is being done,” Chairman Wenk said, adding he is proud that so much attention is being paid to rural areas of Tennessee.

“It’s very impressive to me to see all the outreach in Middle Tennessee and East Tennessee and in rural areas,” said Josh Wayman, DDS, a board member from the Nashville area. 

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