Horns Leads as Health Sciences Maps New Course
By Doug Boyd
Dr. Phyllis Horns, newly named interim vice chancellor for health sciences and interim dean of the Brody School of Medicine, is focused on finances and team building in her first weeks in her new role.
In two forums, she has told faculty and staff that her top objectives for the near term are reversing the flow of red ink from the medical practice plan and boosting morale and teamwork at the medical school and across the entire Health Sciences Division.
“We need to make some progress in some of these arenas before we can attract the kind of people to this institution we want to hire,” Horns said. “I don’t think we’re going to have every single question answered before we have new leadership. We’d just like to see some progress.”
Horns listed the following goals:
- Continue to build strong leadership.
- Foster collaboration and teamwork among the division, east campus and community partners.
- Foster collegiality.
- Make changes to support fiscal solvency and growth.
- Encourage creativity in improving efficiency and effectiveness.
- Refocus on the core mission of the medical school and division.
Despite the changes in leadership, Horns was optimistic. “It’s not doom and gloom,” she said. “It’s not a bad place. It’s a great place. We have lots of talent here. I’ve been reassured by lots of people this is a very fixable situation. It’s a bump, and a very disturbing bump. But we can rally to the situation.”
Regarding the Brody School of Medicine, she said focusing on the core mission – educating minority students, research and primary care – would not detract from efforts to support existing specialty practices and build new specialties and subspecialties. To help chart the direction of the medical school and Division of Health Sciences, she’s forming two “assessment teams.” One will look at how the division and medical school are governed and recommend changes if needed. The other will suggest ways to make the Brody School of Medicine more productive, efficient and effective.
Dr. Virginia Hardy, interim senior associate dean for academic affairs, commended Horns for wanting to bring faculty, staff and students into the process.
“I think this is a good move, to have this forum and give folks a chance to meet with Phyllis and hear what she has to say and her vision,” said Hardy, who’s also associate dean for intercultural affairs, counseling and diversity. Of the medical students, she said: “They’re nervous. They’re concerned about what this means externally, how other programs will view them and the school itself. The good part is they love the school. We’re all committed to helping Brody do what it needs to do.”
Horns encouraged forum attendees and the wider university community to participate in the search for a permanent vice chancellor and dean.
“I invite your advice and suggestions,” Horns said. “We want to be sure that whatever we’re doing, it enhances the image of the Brody School of Medicine and the Health Sciences Division.”
Additional changes ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard announced on Nov. 14 are:
- Dr. Michael Lewis, former vice chancellor for health sciences, is now executive assistant to the chancellor, charged with directing strategy for developing support, partnerships and resources for critical health sciences projects such as the proposed dental school, indigent care funding and other key opportunities.
- Dr. Cynda Johnson, former dean of the medical school, has been named senior associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational research in the Division of Research and Graduate Studies. She will be responsible for stimulating and encouraging collaborative research efforts and promoting development of interdisciplinary research opportunities in the clinical and health sciences.
- Dr. Nicholas Benson, senior associate dean for operations at the medical school, has assumed the additional role of vice dean for the school.
- Dr. Sylvia Brown, associate dean for graduate programs in the School of Nursing, has assumed the additional role of acting dean for the school.
- Carole Novick, interim associate vice chancellor for health sciences fund raising and interim president of the ECU Medical Foundation, now reports to Mickey Dowdy, vice chancellor for advancement.
Horns, the senior dean at ECU, previously served as interim vice chancellor for health sciences in 2001-02 and was responsible for logistics for the last two chancellor searches. She said she took on the interim leadership role again because “I consider myself a public servant and loyal part of the leadership for ECU.”
Horns said the search for a new dean and vice chancellor might take as long as a year, and it might take that long just to determine the criteria for new leaders. Horns said the jobs might remain separate on a permanent basis or be held again by one person, as was the case with former dean and vice chancellor Dr. James Hallock. In the meantime, ECU will continue what is expected to be a multi-year effort to restore financial strength to the medical faculty practice plan, the clinical arm of the medical school through which faculty members provide medical care and services. The faculty group practice, known as ECU Physicians, has lost $25 million in the last five years.
Horns will work closely with Kevin Seitz, ECU vice chancellor for administration and finance, and the ECG consulting group. Seitz will continue to oversee the practice plan.
Ballard said he asked Lewis to assume new duties because of the importance of the dental school to ECU and because of several opportunities ahead of the university. The chancellor said Lewis’ success and experience in directing efforts to establish the East Carolina Heart Institute and the new dental school make him the ideal person to spearhead initiatives that will ultimately improve the health of eastern North Carolinians.
Ballard said Johnson, in her new role working with Vice Chancellor of Research and Graduate Studies Deirdre Mageean, will bring extraordinary knowledge, experience and energy to the task of building clinical research strength in the health sciences. Ballard also said merging the health sciences fund-raising arm with the central campus will improve both.