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Whelton to Head Health Sciences

February 3, 2000

Judith Zwolak

After serving in the interim position since August, Paul Whelton became the permanent senior vice president for the health sciences last month following the completion of an internal search. The former dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine was one of two candidates submitted to President Scott Cowen by a search committee charged with reviewing all internal candidates before extending the search to outside candidates.

"I believe he is the very best person to fill this critical position at our university," Cowen says. In his new position, Whelton has overall responsibility for the School of Medicine, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the Primate Research Center, student health services and various health-related services operated by the university.

He will report directly to Cowen and will serve on his cabinet. He also will be Tulane's liaison to Columbia/HCA, the majority owner of Tulane's hospital, and to other health-related partners including the LSU Health Sciences Center, Charity Hospital and the state of Louisiana.

Cowen and members of the search committee cited Whelton's 26-year tenure at Johns Hopkins medical institutions and two years at the helm of Tulane's public health school as solid preparation for the senior vice president's position. Cowen also praised Whelton's leadership qualities, demonstrated track record as a fund raiser, national reputation and commitment to Tulane and New Orleans.

Born in Cork City, Ireland, Whelton received his medical degree from the National University of Ireland and a master's degree in epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. At Johns Hopkins, he served as director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research and was a professor in both the medicine and public health schools at Johns Hopkins.

He is an authority on the epidemiology, prevention and treatment of cardiovascular and renal disease. At Tulane, he was a professor of epidemiology while serving as public health school dean. Whelton says his interest in the relationship between patient-based care and public health was instilled early in his medical career.

"I trained in nephrology, but around issues relating to the individual," Whelton says. "As I moved on in my career, I became convinced of the importance of issues that related to the population. A lot of our diseases these days are really societal issues, issues of culture. You can't really address the problem in the individual without addressing it in the population."

Tulane's academic health sciences programs have a tradition of education, research and patient care that provide a backbone for meeting future challenges, Whelton says.

"We have big challenges on the clinical side of medicine," he says. "Almost half of the academic health sciences centers declared a loss of money last year in their clinical operations. So it's a time to be innovative in the clinical setting."

In contrast, research support is expanding on the national level, particularly at the National Institutes of Health, Whelton says. Roy Weiner, director of the Tulane Cancer Center and member of the search committee, calls Whelton an "outstanding choice for senior vice president."

From his viewpoint as a faculty member of the School of Medicine and cancer center director, Weiner says the major challenges facing the senior vice president include an evaluation of teaching, research and patient-care activities.

"Dr. Whelton needs to examine the balance of activity in the medical center as a whole," Weiner says. "How much effort is being expended in the direct delivery of health care? How much effort is being expended in medical research? How much effort is being expended in teaching? There might be some rebalancing that may be required."

He adds that the medical center's leader also must address the roles of the various clinical- and research- oriented "centers of excellence."

"The centers of excellence have never been dealt with in terms of where they are in the structure of the institution vis-a-vis departments," he says. "It means formalizing a role for centers within the institutions and that requires addressing their budgets."

For his part, Whelton says the strategic plans of the medical center and the university will help him make the critical decisions that will affect the medical center's future. One immediate goal is to begin a search for his permanent replacement as dean of the public health school.

Ann Anderson, senior associate dean of the school, became acting dean in August and will continue as interim dean while the medical center begins a national search, Whelton says. "Getting a first-rate dean, be it from internal or external candidates, will be a very high priority," he says.

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