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UTHSC College of Medicine Dean: Great Accomplishments, More Work Ahead

During his State of the College of Medicine Address this week, Dean Scott Strome pointed to new hires, updated curriculum, new community outreach initiatives, and a sharper focus on student well-being as some of the accomplishments of his first several months at UTHSC. He also thanked COM faculty for welcoming him and for their efforts that have contributed to moving the college forward. (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

Eight months into his role as the Robert Kaplan Executive Dean of the UTHSC College of Medicine, Scott Strome, MD, has his sights set firmly on building a true academic medical center at UTHSC.

“I believe our school needs an academic medical center, not just for the College of Medicine, but also for the College of Nursing, the College of Dentistry, the College of Pharmacy … to give our students access to each other, so they can learn in a multidisciplinary setting and really grow,” he said.

Dean Strome detailed his vision in his State of the College of Medicine Address this week. He pointed to accomplishments for the college, including the recruitment of top-tier clinical and research faculty, adjustments in leadership to better serve the college, accreditation of key programs, securing of major funding for research, improved curriculum, and increased attention to the well-being of its students.

The dean said his recent appointment of Jon McCullers, MD, as senior executive associate dean of Clinical Affairs and chief operating officer for the college is a step toward making his vision a reality. Dr. McCullers is pediatrician-in-chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

“Jon worked with (former Le Bonheur President) Meri Armour to take Le Bonheur to a Top 20 children’s hospital, and we are very hopeful he’s going to help us do that on the adult side,” Dean Strome said.

Among accomplishments and plans cited:

New leadership

  • The dean said he will recruit a senior associate dean of community health to help the college “commit to making the communities in which we live better places.” He is also recruiting a senior associate dean of education to oversee the statewide mission and ensure quality across campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis.
  • Natascha Thompson, MD, is the new associate dean of Graduate Medical Education (GME), and Michael Whitt, PhD, is the associate dean of the Office of Medical Education and chair of the Department of Medical Education.
  • Three new department chairs have been added. After a national search, Steven Boggs, MD, MBA, FASA, CPE, FAACD, is the chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and will lead a newly accredited Anesthesiology Residency Program.
  • David Schwartz, MD, formerly with MD Anderson Cancer Center and most-recently with West Cancer Center, was recruited to lead the Radiation Oncology program.
  • Kui Li, PhD, is the interim chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry, replacing Dr. Whitt.
  • Future hires will include a chair for the Departments of Medicine and Preventive Medicine.
  • New faculty and leadership are bringing fresh ideas and raising the stature of the College of Medicine’s programs in Chattanooga and Knoxville, Dean Strome said.

“Our college is across the state of Tennessee and we have impact on the health care across Tennessee,” he said.

The clinical mission

“Our clinical mission around cancer is moving forward,” the dean said.

Efforts are underway to build a cancer center, based on the top-level talent already in the college, he said, citing surgical oncologist David Shibata, MD, who chairs the Department of Surgery, and Neil Hayes, MD, Van Vleet Endowed Professor in Medical Oncology, chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology, and a principal in the development of The Cancer Genome Atlas, the seminal blueprint for mapping cancer DNA.

They, along with others, have recruited top-tier cancer surgeons, a robotic prostate and urological surgeon, radiation oncologists, breast surgeons, medical oncologists and others to grow the university’s cancer program.

“I think the growth is one thing, but the quality is another,” the dean said. “We’ve been able to recruit folks from all around the country and from some of the finest institutions in this country, so now my hope is, when you come to UTHSC, you will get really name-brand cancer care to compete with anyone.”

Specialty institutes

In addition to the cancer initiative, the college is building or growing institutes that combine clinical, academic, and research excellence in cardiovascular, neuroscience, and transplantation.

The dean cited the recruitment of three exceptional cardiovascular physicians to lead a new Cardiovascular Institute in Memphis — Chittoor Sai Sudhakar, MD, chief of Cardiac Surgery; John L. Jefferies, MD, MPH, chief of the Division of Cardiology; and Zhongjie Sun, MD, PhD, FAHA, a cardiovascular investigator and chair of the Department of Physiology.

“We now have an incredible model where we have world-class cardiology, world-class cardiac surgery, and world-class physiology research working together to grow what we hope will be an exceptional product in the cardiology/cardiac surgery realm,” the dean said.


“In research, I like to say we’re small, but we’re mighty,” Dean Strome said, emphasizing the college is interested in increasing not only funding from the National Institutes of Health, but also research funding from developing industry partnerships and supporting the formation of new companies and entrepreneurship.

The college has established two intramural grant programs to accomplish this. It also has received several large extramural grants, including a $21 million award to Colleen Jonsson, PhD, professor and Endowed Van Vleet Chair of Excellence in Virology, to establish a Center of Excellence for Encephalitic Alphavirus Therapeutics. 


In addition to the recent accreditation of the new Anesthesiology Residency, the college’s Physician Assistant Studies Program has received a 10-year accreditation and has a 100-percent first-time pass rate on board examinations.

Student-centered initiatives  

Student-focused programs aim to:

  • Increase matriculation of accepted students through a new second-look program and other activities.
  • Address student concerns and comments with town hall meetings and weekly lunches with the dean.
  • Help ease the stress if medical education through new wellness initiatives, including yoga, Pilates, and mediation.
  • Increase attention to reducing student debt by looking at any possible adjustments to tuition, providing financial literacy instruction, increasing scholarship opportunities, and encouraging alumni to be active givers to the university to help support students.

Looking outward

“We live in one of the poorest areas of the country. Our health care outcomes are about 43rd nationally, and we have to do better,” Dean Strome said. “So how do we begin to look out instead of looking in?”

One new program will partner with the local parks system to bring health information and information regarding health care careers to students in neighborhood camps this summer.

A social outreach program is being explored to help ensure that all in the community have access to health care providers.

“This is going to be us taking care of the people who need us most,” Dean Strome said. “It’s helping others because it’s the right thing to do.”