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University Health System welcomes Schlissel as new head

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Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Ora Pescovitz in her office. Buy this photo

By Ian Dillingham, Daily News Editor
Published January 24, 2014

In addition to the responsibilities of running the University’s 19 schools and colleges, University President-Elect Mark Schlissel will be responsible for managing the University of Michigan Health System, which accounts for about 44 percent of the University’s expenses, according the to University’s 2013 financial report.

Schlissel, however, will bring a unique perspective to the health system given his background in research and clinical medicine.

“I'm thrilled that they selected another biochemist,” University President Mary Sue Coleman said at the announcement on Friday morning.

Ora Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs, wrote in a UMHS blog that the health system was excited to welcome Schlissel into his new role and thankful for the dedication and service Coleman provided the system under her tenure.

“This is wonderful news for the University and for our Health System,” Pescovitz wrote. “Dr. Schlissel is a remarkable physician-scientist who will bring to the presidency an important depth of understanding about academic medicine and biomedical science. We are extremely fortunate that he will be at the helm as we begin an exciting new era at Michigan.”

Similar to his predecessor, Schlissel spent the early part of his career conducting laboratory research. He graduated from Princeton University in 1979 with a degree in biological sciences and obtained both an M.D. and Ph.D in physiological chemistry from The Johns Hopkins University in 1986.

“(I have) a strong and personal belief in the ability of education to transform lives and the understanding that academic excellence and diversity are inextricably linked,” Schlissel said.

Women's Studies Prof. Timothy R.B. Johnson, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical School, served on the presidential advisory search committee and said the committee looked for a candidate with a strong record of undergraduate and graduate education, but who also had experience in health system management.

Although the committee desired a candidate with medical experience, the president’s responsibilities extend well beyond medical care, making it difficult to find someone who strikes the right balance.

“The health system was an important consideration for the search committee,” Johnson said. “I think (Schlissel) had a lot of very good experience with the challenges faced with health centers.”

In recent years, Coleman has taken an active role in the management of the UMHS, serving as chair of the Hospitals and Health Centers Executive Board. Johnson said he anticipates Schlissel will adopt a similar leadership style.

The president-elect has had experience with three different healthcare institutions, which factored into the selection process, Johnson said.

Johns Hopkins Health System, where Schlissel served as a faculty member, employs a similar style of vertical integration to the University, demonstrating to the search committee that he was capable of performing as head of UMHS.

The University of California, Berkeley does not have an affiliated health system, but Johnson said Schlissel demonstrated a dedication to undergraduate education during his tenure at the institution. Schlissel continued collaborating with graduate students at the Berkeley even after he left, flying from the East Coast to California once a month to make sure his students graduated on time. His last student is set to graduate in May.

“We wanted someone who could do everything at the University and we wanted someone who had experience with undergraduate education — what teaching undergraduates was like,” Johnson said.

At his current position as Brown University’s Provost, Schlissel was given responsibility of medical education.