reprinted from Issue 10, Spring 2010 of Frontiers of Medicine (PDF)
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‘Eternal Student’ Becomes Medical School Dean
The ability of UCSF to take talented people and point them in the right direction is one of its greatest strengths,” says J. Gregory Fitz, MD, who was recently appointed dean of the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern School of Medicine.
Fitz arrived at UCSF in 1979 as an internal medicine intern, and went on to become a gastroenterology fellow, assistant chief of the medical service, director of the internal medicine residency program at Moffitt/Long Hospitals, and assistant professor of medicine before joining the faculty at Duke University Medical Center.
“I came for a training environment that I thought was outstanding,” says Fitz. “A lot was expected of residents, and the level of responsibility was greater than was customary…The combination of hard work and mentorship was hard to beat.”
He was especially inspired by Lloyd Hollingsworth “Holly” Smith, Jr., MD, longtime chair of the Department of Medicine. “He has a wonderful ability to say just the right thing,” says Fitz. “The first quote I remember from him is, ‘It’s hard to read the handwriting on the wall when your back is up against it.’ He had the ability to crystallize goals, and really built the department to be one of the greatest in the country.”
Among other mentors, he counts Bruce Scharschmidt, MD, then the chief of gastroenterology, who now works in the biopharmaceutical industry. “He introduced me to the laboratory world, in a way that embraced both clinical and research themes, and was central to my development at UCSF,” says Fitz. “But in truth, there were many faculty members that played such a role. There aren’t many institutions where you could have that depth, creativity and emphasis on excellence that would support many different approaches to careers in medicine.”
He also credits UCSF with instilling the value of lifelong learning. Fitz, a world expert in liver cell function, has seen his field transform over the last three decades. “Nothing that I spent my career on was operative when I was there as a resident,” he says. “The clinical world has evolved so quickly, with liver transplantation and immunosuppression, and the research world has evolved in other areas of interest. You can’t learn anything more than an approach in an area of emphasis, because the pace of change demands that you change with it. UCSF was able to instill the importance of being an eternal student.”
Combining Clinical and Research Excellence
After teaching at Duke and directing the gastroenterology fellowship program there, he led the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. In 2003, he and his wife, Linda, moved to Dallas when he joined the faculty at the UT Southwestern Medical Center. He served as professor and chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine before becoming dean of the UT Southwestern School of Medicine last summer.
“UT is a wonderful scientific environment,” he says. “We have four Nobel laureates and 30 members of the National Academy of Sciences or Institute of Medicine. As a result, it has an incredible scientific base. The goals of the school are to extend its clinical work into an arena that combines excellence in basic science with application to a growing patient base.” As part of that endeavor, UT Southwestern will build a new hospital in the next five years, significantly expand its faculty, and launch a major initiative in cancer research.
“Anyone who has spent time at UCSF appreciates the balance between the clinical and research arenas and that exposure to excellence under both umbrellas,” says Fitz. “It was a wonderful experience, but it also shapes how I think about what we’d like to do here.”