New UT Health Science Center medicine chairman plans to build key areas, including oncology, cardiology

SAN ANTONIO (Feb. 20, 2008)—L. David Hillis, M.D., the recently appointed chairman of the Department of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, assumed his duties in January. He moved to San Antonio from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, where he was vice chairman of the Department of Medicine and the Daniel W. Foster Distinguished Chair in Internal Medicine. He is the Dan F. Parman Distinguished Chair in Medicine at the Health Science Center. Dr. Hillis answered some questions in his office recently.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: I am a cardiologist by training. My medical degree is from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. After postgraduate training at the UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and Peter Bent Brigham Hospital under some outstanding mentors, I joined the faculty at UT Southwestern in 1978. For 15 years I was director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory in Dallas. My focus has been acute ischemic heart disease and coronary artery disease, marked by loss of oxygen to the heart, heart attack and chest pain. I have spent most of my career dealing with, and thinking about, those issues.

Q: What are your goals for the Department of Medicine?

A. I hope to make it better than it is by adding strength in key areas such as heart disease and cancer. We will make a major effort to bolster those two areas without ignoring the others. With the Medical Arts and Research Center coming on board (the 250,000-square-foot clinical building is scheduled to be completed in the South Texas Medical Center in mid-2009), this School of Medicine and this Department of Medicine are venturing into uncharted territory. The department will increase its clinical activities without ignoring teaching, research and its other missions.

Q: What is your educational philosophy?

A. I am accustomed to the medical education environment, to participating in the educational process with students and residents. This is a medical school, not strictly a research institution or a large multi-practice facility. We need to take teaching and training and do it well and plan it well. I believe it is important for students to have interaction with not only junior faculty but also senior faculty. When I was a student and a resident, the times that meant most to me were those spent with a senior faculty member one on one or in a small group, not in lectures, but in close contact with a distinguished member of the faculty. We need to preserve opportunities for students to spend time with senior faculty.

Q: What do you like about the Health Science Center’s Department of Medicine?

A. There are pockets of real strength, including hematology/oncology, cardiology, diabetes, infectious diseases. In fact, all the divisions are quite good. My job is to build on top of those foundational strengths with another layer of excellence.

Q: What attracted you to the Health Science Center?

A. I know the Cigarroa family very well (reference to Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president, who is a graduate of UT Southwestern). One attraction was to work with President Cigarroa and of course with Dr. William Henrich (dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs, who was a faculty colleague of Dr. Hillis at UT Southwestern). They bring integrity and trustworthiness to the leadership of this institution. I have come to a good School of Medicine with a good Department of Medicine, and my hope, my intent, is to make both of them better.

Q: Academic health science universities are also measured by their research productivity. What are your thoughts on that?

A. In my 30 years at UT Southwestern, I saw close collaboration between the clinical departments and the basic sciences. Dr. Donald Seldin (under whom Dr. Hillis served as chief medical resident) insisted on it. I have already met some of the basic science department chairs here and see the same collaboration. I hope we can do even more to foster translational research—translating research discoveries into therapies—at the Health Science Center.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields.

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