June 7-20, 2002
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Carey charted successful tenure as dean of the Medical School

Carey charted successful tenure as dean of the Medical School

Dr. Robert M.Carey
Photo by Tom Cogill

By Anne Bromley

When Dr. Robert M. Carey was offered the post of U.Va. Medical School dean in April 1986, a colleague on the faculty urged him to keep a hand in research no matter what. Carey took the job and took that advice to heart, working in his lab every day for 16 years.

When he steps down June 25, handing the reins to newcomer Dr. Arthur “Tim” Garson Jr., he leaves a vital organization, which balances research and clinical practice, teaching and patient care.

His tenure is one of the longest among medical deans in the country and probably one of the most prolific.

Carey has championed research and collaboration among his 1,000 faculty members and has steered the school toward growth and progress, developing 16 interdisciplinary centers and four research buildings, with another one planned. Of the school’s 29 departments, he started five. Three departments — microbiology, cell biology and molecular physiology and biological physics — are in the top five nationally for National Institutes of Health funding. Overall, NIH support is the highest ever, more than quadrupling since Carey became dean.

“Dr. Carey and the School of Medicine have set the example for interdisciplinary and interschool collaboration. For example, the school has some 12 programs involving either the College of Arts & Sciences or the Engineering School, or both,” said U.Va. President John T. Casteen III. “As he returns to the faculty full-time, all of us in the University owe him a great debt of gratitude — for remarkable professionalism, for setting high standards and achieving them, and for fostering a spirit of collaboration that has permeated the entire University.”

“I took the job to see if I could help the institution grow and build something,” said Carey, the James Carroll Flippin Professor of Medical Science. “I wanted to make decisions that have an impact, hopefully long term. Some of that I have gotten to see 10 or 12 years later.”

He has guided the school with strategic planning that changed over time as goals were met, targeting certain broad areas in developing basic sciences, creating disease-related interdisciplinary centers and emphasizing the clinical side of research. Some of the centers work on all three levels, including the Center for Cell Signaling, the Center for Biomedical Ethics, the Office for International Health and the Mellon Prostate Cancer Center, established recently with a $20 million gift from the estate of the late Paul Mellon.

Under Carey’s watch, the curriculum for educating physicians has been revamped several times, most recently by giving medical students the opportunity to work with patients earlier and to learn state-of-the-art information technology. He established the nationally recognized Medical Academic Advancement Program to assist minority and disadvantaged students and revitalized the Medical Scientist Training Program, which combines biomedical research with the practice of medicine, awarding joint medical and doctoral degrees. Another program he has instituted focuses on faculty development and mentoring.

To promote public service, Carey fostered the successful Mini-Med School, a free short medical course designed for local community members, and supported telemedicine programs that help treat patients in remote areas around the state.

He has encouraged the growth of international programs as well.

Carey, an internationally recognized endocrinologist who was head of U.Va.’s Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism from 1978 to 1986, will return to the medical faculty full-time. During a year’s sabbatical, he’ll “retool” in clinical and research skills, taking a course at Harvard and one here at U.Va. before seeing patients again. He also will work on a proposal for a center to advance his research on the hormonal control of blood pressure.

The Lexington, Ky., native received his medical degree from Vanderbilt University in 1965 and completed his residency at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in 1970. He came to the U.Va. Medical School in 1973.

His biggest disappointment over the decade and a half? The decline of state funding, he said. Despite a successful fund-raising campaign that reached almost $214 million, Carey said, “the next dean will have to devote more time to fund-raising because the needs are greater.”

His other advice for the new dean holds more promise: Get to know the people and programs here. That is key not only for being a good leader, but also for being an effective fund-raiser. “Then you know what to be excited about,” he said.

Carey’s tenure also has been marked by a personal style and enthusiasm. “Helping others be successful — if I can do that, it’s energizing,” he said.

Linda Burton, his long-time administrative assistant, said: “Dr. Carey is one of the kindest individuals I have met and treats everyone he meets with respect. He arrives at work with a smile and leaves with a smile.”


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