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Sukhatme to step down as Emory School of Medicine dean, remain on faculty
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Nikki Troxclair
Assistant Vice President, Health Sciences Communications

Vikas P. Sukhatme, MD, ScD

Vikas P. Sukhatme, MD, ScD, dean of Emory School of Medicine, has announced that he will step down as dean of the school and chief academic officer of Emory Healthcare in March 2023 after five years of service in the roles.

He will continue as a full-time faculty member in the School of Medicine, leading the Morningside Center for Innovative and Affordable Medicine (Morningside Center) and contributing to a nascent “Clinics of the Future” initiative as well as teaching.

“Dean Sukhatme has been transformational as leader of the Emory School of Medicine,” says Emory President Gregory L. Fenves. “He set ambitious goals — in training, faculty recruitment and research to treat and cure diseases — and exceeded them. I am grateful for the dedication he showed over the past five years. He elevated the School of Medicine and set it on a path for continued success.”  

As dean of Emory’s largest school, Sukhatme has led more than 3,300 full- and part-time faculty and nearly 2,500 staff members, including more than 1,300 residents and fellows who train in 112 ACGME-accredited programs. The school has more than 1,000 students, with 593 in the MD program and 485 studying in five academic health programs.

During his deanship, Sukhatme’s focus has been on removing barriers to medical innovation and finding new, meaningful ways to integrate research into education and patient care — with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes all over the world.

“Vikas has been an invaluable leader throughout the health sciences with a strong commitment to discovery, education and patient care,” says David S. Stephens, interim executive vice president for health affairs. “While we will greatly miss his contributions and efforts as a member of the leadership team, we are supportive of Vikas’ desire to devote more time to family and delighted that he will continue advancing Emory’s missions, particularly through his work with the Morningside Center.”  

“The School of Medicine, Emory Healthcare, the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and the university at large have benefitted from Vikas’ thoughtful leadership founded on collaboration, innovation and excellence, and his drive to increase SOM’s NIH funding, as well as his gift for recruiting incredible scholars,” says Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “We are grateful to Vikas for his commitment to ensuring a smooth transition and his continued guidance as we continue to build upon the outstanding progress he has made over the past five years.”

Stephens and Bellamkonda noted that next steps for School of Medicine leadership will be announced in the coming weeks in consultation with incoming Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Ravi Thadhani.

In a Nov. 22 message to the School of Medicine community, Sukhatme expressed gratitude for the community’s courage in rising to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as pride in collective progress made toward the school’s Excellence to Eminence strategic plan.

“We have come a long way together … and there is plenty of momentum and support to carry us forward,” he wrote in the message. “I have tremendous confidence in the current and future leadership of President Fenves, Provost Bellamkonda, interim EVPHA David Stephens and incoming EVPHA Ravi Thadhani, as well as the outstanding leadership team in the SOM … We will not miss a beat!”    

From excellence to eminence

Sukhatme came to Emory in 2017 from Harvard Medical School, where he served for eight years as chief academic officer and Harvard faculty dean for academic programs at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He has an extensive background in collaborative research and is a strong proponent of translational medicine.

Sukhatme has noted that his decision to join Emory School of Medicine was fueled by the belief that we are living at a unique time in biomedical history, during which a revolution in complementary forces is changing the way we think of medicine. “I believed — and still believe — that Emory has the right mix of faculty excellence, collaborative spirit and strategic partnerships to tackle some of the most intractable problems in medicine with a decent shot at success,” says Sukhatme.

To help address those challenges, he oversaw development of the School of Medicine’s Excellence to Eminence strategic plan, which has included recruitment of more than 90 eminent faculty, including “game changers” whose transformative ideas in biomedical science could change the practice of medicine. At the same time, he invested in current faculty through programs like the Imagine, Innovate, Impact awards (I3), which have spurred collaboration and new ideas. These seed grants have resulted in an ROI of more than 6:1 to date.

Along with Stephens and other leaders in the health sciences, Sukhatme recognized the need for enhanced research infrastructure to support the growing research enterprise, and co-led construction and programming of the Health Sciences Research Building II, Emory’s largest research building to date, scheduled to open in spring 2023.

He has worked to elevate support for innovation and entrepreneurship at Emory, frequently espousing the values that he considers key drivers for innovation: acceleration, boldness, connectivity, data-driven, engagement and inclusion, and fun.

Of course, COVID-19 was not part of the strategic plan. “I did not anticipate a global pandemic occurring during my tenure or the ensuing tumultuous times, yet each and every one of you rose to the challenge with remarkable courage and resilience,” Sukhatme says in a message to the School of Medicine community. “For that I cannot thank you enough: I am so grateful and proud.”

Despite the challenges, the School of Medicine research enterprise continued to reach new heights under Sukhatme’s leadership, seeing significant growth in the total number of NIH-funded investigators and reaching a total of $588 million in research funding in FY22.

Transforming education and focusing on people

Emory School of Medicine’s educational programs are highly ranked and widely known for producing superior clinical providers and outstanding scientists. Over the past year, Sukhatme has partnered with Executive Associate Dean J. William Eley, MD, MPH, and other stakeholders across the school to launch an “education transformation” across all degree programs in the SOM.

Incorporating novel content and pedagogical methods with a focus on lifelong learning, the transformation is intended to ensure the School of Medicine's curriculum is keeping up with the demands on clinicians and scientists to solve the health challenges we face today and in the future.

Under Sukhatme’s leadership, the medical school’s student body has become increasingly diverse. Thirty percent of Emory’s current medical student population identify as historically underrepresented in medicine (URiM). The first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan for the School of Medicine was also launched and is being implemented now. “I am … thrilled with the progress of our education transformation initiative, and the early impact of our first diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan,” says Sukhatme.

He is passionate about the unique and important role physicians and scientists must play in addressing inequity. “The world we're living in today is becoming more and more fractured, but medicine has an incredible power to heal and to connect — across race, across religious beliefs, across everything.

One example of Sukhatme’s focus on innovation to make good health more accessible to all is the creation of the Morningside Center for Innovative and Affordable Medicine, an interdisciplinary unit within the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. The center was co-founded by Sukhatme and his wife, Vidula Sukhatme, MS, to promote research, education and advocacy regarding the critical need to repurpose drugs and other treatments that are not being pursued due to a lack of sufficient financial incentive. 

Post deanship, Sukhatme plans to remain active on the medicine full-time faculty, leading the Morningside Center and Clinics of the Future initiative. He will also engage in teaching activities in the School of Medicine and across Emory.

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