Interim dean takes on permanent role at medical school

by Juliana Tamayo

Correction appended

More than two years after Jeffrey Akman was named interim dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, he was announced Monday as the permanent leader of GW’s most selective and richest school.

The move was one made with urgency after hastening by top administrators in the fall following two years without a permanent dean to leader the college as it undergoes curriculum changes and budget shifts.

Akman also stays on as senior vice president for health affairs, making him one of the most influential administrators at GW and allowing him to oversee the University’s relationship with the Medical Faculty Associates and GW Hospital, which are separate corporations but share use of medical faculty as doctors.

Akman said in an email that while his former temporary role did not hold him back, the the permanent position would help solidify the school.

“Removing the interim title does provide an additional sense of stability for our students, faculty, alumni and the greater SMHS community, Akman said. “Undoubtedly, it will help as I recruit for key positions within SMHS, including [administrative] positions and chairs.”

He said he would be focused on hiring going forward, particularly by bulking up the school’s research and improving staff diversity. While the medical school is perennially one of the most coveted colleges in the country for aspiring doctors, it is still the most expensive one to not crack U.S. News & World Report’s top 50 for research.

University President Knapp ordered an expedited search to fill the position in November, and some professors said they hoped permanent leadership would ease the process of filling senior positions in the school’s administration. Five of the school’s 23 departments are still headed by interim chairs.

Provost Steven Lerman declined to say if a committee in the medical school considered any other candidates during the accelerated search.

“We have had interim dean for two years, and President Knapp and I decided now was the right time to expedite filling the position,” Lerman said. “The School of Medicine and Health Sciences bylaws explicitly provide a mechanism for a shorter search.”

Akman, a psychiatry specialist who has spent 25 years at the school, first landed in the dean’s office in 2010 after an impromptu resignation from former dean James Scott. The decision came as GW was breaking up the medical school from the former Medical Center, which also included the school of public health and the school of nursing.

At the time, the school also was fresh off a probation of its academic accreditation, which stemmed from ballooning student debt and poor clinical classes. Its probation period was lifted months later.

Faculty have said Akman has steered the medical school back on track.

Anthony-Samuel Lamantia, a professor of pharmacology and physiology, said the appointment allows the school to continue momentum as it reshapes its medical curriculum and looks to boost hiring.

He added that keeping stable leadership was key as the school still untangles itself from the former Medical Center, and as research grants and Medicare funding faces threats.

“Everyone has confidence in him,” Lamantia said. “When there are lot of potential changes on the horizon, when we don’t know what will happen with federal funding and healthcare changes, he brings the stability of being a really good steward.”

This article was updated Jan. 17, 2013 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the GW Hospital and Medical Faculty Associates were part of the former Medical Center. They are the University's clinical partners, but were not part of the Medical Center.

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