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KU Medical Center welcomes two new deans

March 10, 2016

By Greg Peters

Abiodun Akinwuntan and Sally Maliski

A new era of leadership began at the University of Kansas Medical Center in January when Sally Maliski, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, and Abiodun Akinwuntan, Ph.D., MPH, MBA, arrived as the deans of the Schools of Nursing and Health Professions, respectively. Although they come from opposite coasts and were born a world apart, the two new deans share a passion for interprofessional collaboration and a dedication to the success of their schools.

Maliski and Akinwuntan join Robert Simari, M.D. - who became executive dean of the School of Medicine in March 2014 - as the leaders of the three schools on the medical center campus, which is headed by Douglas A. Girod, M.D., executive vice chancellor.

Maliski became dean of the School of Nursing on Jan. 1 after serving most recently as associate dean for academic affairs at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Nursing. Akinwuntan, who began his tenure as the dean of the School of Health Professions on Jan. 18, was previously associate dean for research in the College of Allied Health Sciences and professor of physical therapy, ophthalmology and neurology at Augusta University, formerly known as Georgia Regents University.

The two new deans replaced Karen L. Miller, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, who had held the dual deanships for more than 15 years, before stepping down last spring. Although Maliski and Akinwuntan have both worked in academic leadership roles for a considerable time, neither has been the dean of a school before. While the schools might be new and the academic landscapes unfamiliar, it's a challenge both are excited to have.

"Of all the emails I got to apply for a dean's position, the one for the University of Kansas Medical Center was really attractive because of the profile of the school and its impressive accomplishments," Akinwuntan said.

Maliski said she views her job as a series of opportunities.

"The first opportunity being getting to know the faculty and staff and their getting to know me and adjusting to each other's styles," she said.

Deans' Paths to KU

Born in upstate New York, Maliski's road to a career in patient-centered health care was forged by an experience early on in her training. As a senior nursing student in Albany, New York, Maliski's instructor put her in charge of working with a young mother, who was dying from leukemia, and the woman's husband and two small children. Maliski spent three days caring for the woman, who was being kept in isolation.

"I came out of that really feeling that was my calling, and where I wanted spend my time was in end-of-life care," she said. "These people really needed care and support. That was a defining moment in leading me in that direction."

For Akinwuntan, who is originally from Nigeria, it was not so much a defining moment that set his career path but a series of opportunities and mentors that shaped his career. He says over the years he has found himself in a variety of leadership roles, some by default because of his outspoken nature, and others by design, as part of professional development. All along the way, however, he has had mentors to count on for guidance.

"Growing up, I'd say my brother, Patrick Akinwuntan, was my biggest mentor," he said. "When I went to graduate school, it was definitely my doctoral supervisor, Professor Willy De Weerdt. When I came to the United States, it was the department chair who hired me, Professor Doug Keskula. Eventually, I had mentors like Professors David Hess and Askiel Bruno, of the neurology at Augusta University. These are the people I still consult whether something is the right thing for me to do."

Learning the Ropes

The two new deans have quickly set about learning the inner-workings of their respective schools and the complexities of the medical center. Both have been busy meeting with faculty and staff to learn the daily operations of their schools. With eight divergent departments under his watch, one might assume Akinwuntan's path might present some additional challenges, but he says so far, so good.

"The challenge I thought I would have is getting to know the school and understanding how it operates, but that has not been much of a challenge because of the kindness of the faculty and staff, and the willingness of everyone to explain what they do and what goes on in their area," he said. "This has been fantastic."

One of the common values that attracted both new deans to KU Medical Center was the institution's dedication to interprofessional education and the promise that the new Health Education Building holds for bringing the various health care professions together to maximize patient-centered care.

"I see interprofessional education as really understanding what each other brings to the table, and then calling on those areas of expertise depending on the health care needs we're facing in the situation," Maliski said. "It's understanding and respecting each other, and then working together to improve the health care situation."

Akinwuntan added that KU Medical Center's new education building will be a tremendous boon to the university's growing emphasis on interprofessional education.

"When the Health Education Building is completed it will further enhance IPE," Akinwuntan said. "Now, the three different schools are in different locations and we always have to come to one central area. The new building will put everyone together, so it will be a seamless integration between all the professions and an actual true-life experience of how real interprofessionalism should be."

Becoming Kansas Citians

With Maliski arriving from California and Akinwuntan from Georgia, both are learning to embrace the chill and snow of the Midwestern winter as they settle into life in Kansas City. As the deans make the adjustment from warmer climates, both agree on at least one thing when it comes to living here - it's not Chiefs or Royals but Chiefs and Royals that are their favorite teams.

And, it goes without saying, they are now both loyal fans of the Jayhawks.

"Since coming to Kansas City, I've learned what loyalty is about," Akinwuntan said. "I have transitioned from just watching a sport to cheering 'Rock Chalk, Jayhawk.' My whole family now sings, 'Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!'"

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