Robert Simari assumes KU School of Medicine executive dean's position

March 23, 2014

By Donna Peck

Robert SImari, M.D.

Robert D. Simari, M.D., starts his job this week as the new executive dean of the University of Kansas School of Medicine. He will succeed Doug Girod, M.D., who has served as interim executive dean since he became executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center on Feb. 1, 2013.

Simari, who received his medical degree from the KU School of Medicine, was the vice chair of the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases at the Mayo Clinic and co-director of the Mayo Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences at the Mayo Clinic. As he begins his tenure as the executive dean of the School of Medicine, Simari chatted about his hopes and future plans for the school.

So welcome back to the KU School of Medicine and to does it feel?

It is great to be coming back to KU and to Kansas after being away for 28 years. We are excited to be back, and I'm eager to get to work.

When you accepted the job, you said that KU Medical Center and the School of Medicine has undergone one of the most impressive trajectories in academic medicine in recent years. Can you elaborate on that?

Well, you just have to look at the list of major milestones that KU Medical Center has accomplished over the past several years. Achieving National Cancer Institute designation, being a recipient of the Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health and being designated a national Alzheimer's Disease Center are all huge achievements. Any one of those things would be impressive on their own — but to have all of them come in the past several years is amazing.

I also think the opening of the Salina School of Medicine campus and the expansion of the Wichita campus were tremendous undertakings, and the fact that they are now a reality is remarkable.

I don't think all of this extraordinary growth and achievement is just a coincidence. The School of Medicine and the Medical Center have faculty and staff who worked hard to make all this happen, and we have also been fortunate to have great partners in The University of Kansas Hospital, the Salina Regional Health Center and Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center, Wesley Medical Center, and Via Christi Health in Wichita. I think we have seen some of the results of this hard work in recent weeks with the improved standing of the School of Medicine in the U.S. News and World Report rankings, and with Liaison Committee on Medical Education's granting of a full 8-year accreditation, which confirms our school's overall excellence

When you accepted the position as the new dean, you said while there were many ideas and plans you had for the school, you had a couple of areas you wanted to emphasize right off the bat. Can you talk about those?

I think our most important job is teaching students how to be great physicians, scientists and educators. Medical education is changing at such a rapid pace, and it is our obligation as the only medical school in Kansas to keep up with that pace. Our curriculum, faculty and facilities should be the equal of any medical school in the country so we can do the best job possible in training leaders for the 21st century.

The other area that I am eager to jump into is support research opportunities on all three of our campuses. In this era of decreasing federal research dollars, that will be a challenge, but one that we need to face head on by developing new funding opportunities and best utilizing the ones we have.

You have a national reputation in the area of translational research.  What are your hopes for translational medicine here at KU?

To me, academic medicine is the place where translational medicine can really flourish. We have the some of the country's best scientists working in an academic environment in close proximity to patients who need treatments and cures. We already have a great environment at the School of Medicine with the education, resources, and collaborations necessary to translate new discoveries into practice. With The University of Kansas Cancer Center and Frontiers, our CTSA program, we are among the national leaders in translational research. That is truly exciting. And because my research background is in in the study of cell therapies for treating heart disease, I am eager to support discovery and translation in our new Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, as well as interacting with drug discovery and tissue engineering efforts in Lawrence.

What do you see as your biggest challenge as the new executive dean of the School of Medicine?

My first challenge is to continue to learn as much as I can about the organization and the needs of the state.  This is a complex organization and getting up to speed quickly, getting to know the people and what they do and what their goals are is going to be a huge task. I believe the best way to do that is to get out and talk to people on all three of our campuses — and to get out in the state of Kansas to see firsthand how the School of Medicine can respond to their needs.

What are you looking forward to the most?

I think I'm most excited about being part of such a vibrant and expanding academic medical center and university. And I have to admit I am looking forward to the opportunity to lead the School of Medicine into the future. It's an incredible time to be in academic medicine and to be part of the KU School of Medicine.

Last modified: Mar 24, 2014