Med Deans Long And Winding Road

January 24, 2002

Heather Heilman
Phone: 865-5714

Ian Taylor had barely assumed his duties as the new dean of the medical school when his back pain became unbearable, and he became a patient of Thomas Whitecloud, chair of orthopedic surgery. "I did not deliberately throw out my disk just to test Tulane," Taylor said.

Nevertheless, he is pleased to report that he received excellent care at the hospital and is doing well. Taylor, who grew up in Beatles-era Liverpool, England, comes to Tulane by way of the University of California-Los Angeles, Duke and the Medical University of South Carolina. He graduated with honors from Liverpool Medical School. But he was not one of those people who knows exactly what he wants to do when he finishes school, then goes and just does it.

Taylor spent a year studying neurology after finishing training in internal medicine. Then he discovered gastroenterology. Endoscopy was just coming into use and it appealed to him because it seemed to combine surgery and medicine. Taylor was accepted into preeminent gastroenterologist Rod Gregory's lab and earned a PhD under his tutelage. Gregory was friendly with a gastroenterologist at UCLA. Their labs sometimes exchanged personnel. That's how Taylor found himself in sunny California.

"When I left Liverpool it was cold, damp and miserable," he said. "I landed in California where there were mountains, sunshine and a beautiful blue sky. I fell in love with it." He planned on visiting for a year but ended up staying for a decade, three years in the fellowship-training program and the rest of the time as a faculty member at UCLA.

While there, he did research on those peptides in the gastrointestinal tract that also function in the brain, focusing on how they affect obesity and appetite control. Eventually schools began to court him for positions as chief of gastroenterology. Duke offered him a job, but he was unsure of accepting it.

"Although Duke is an excellent institution, its gastroenterology division was not doing well at the time. The chair of medicine said to me, 'There's only one good thing I can say about the job I'm offering you. You know you can't make this division any worse,' Taylor remembers. He was basically telling me there was only one way to go. That sort of reassured me."

It turned out that Taylor liked administration, and he was good at it. Under his care, Duke's gastroenterology division grew into one of the premier sections in the country. Later, Taylor left Duke to become chair of medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. Although the venerable school's reputation had slipped a bit in later years, Taylor was recruited by a new administration that vowed MUSC was about to take a quantum leap forward. That appealed to him.

"At Duke, I learned that I enjoy making things grow. I was looking for that opportunity," Taylor said. "Within six years MUSC became one of the top 100 research institutions in the country, which for a medical university without an undergraduate campus is pretty remarkable."

Taylor was drawn to Tulane because of the vision President Scott Cowen and senior vice president for health sciences Paul Whelton have for the university's future--and also because he simply likes and respects them both a great deal.

"I've found the most important thing in administration is the quality of interaction with the people you work for and work with," he said. "And this is a great school. The education programs are just superb." His goals for the medical school include growing the surgery department and some of the research programs. He also wants to make sure the school is prepared for the huge changes the genome project will bring to medicine.

"I think Tulane is going in the right direction, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun getting there," he said. "Life's too short not to have fun."

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