The University Record, September 10, 1997

Washington's Omenn recommended for EVPMA


By Jane R. Elgass

"An extensive and tremendous capacity to serve the institution in its totality" is one of the major reasons President Lee C. Bollinger is recommending the appointment of Gilbert S. Omenn as the executive vice president for medical affairs (EVPMA).

Bollinger announced the recommendation at a media conference Sept. 4 in the Towsley Center. The Regents will be asked to approve the appointment at their Sept. 18 meeting. If approved, it will be retroactive to Sept. 4.

"The Medical Center is an integral part of the University," Bollinger said, and leading the Center "requires an unusual intellect and professional experience. Gil has that."

The president also noted that "collaborative instincts" was among his criteria for the person to fill the newly created position. "This is not a University that values people going off and doing things without consulting," Bollinger said. "It has an interdisciplinary nature, is collegial," he said, adding that this is particularly important since the EVPMA will work closely with both the provost and chief financial officer and the other vice presidents.

Omenn will be responsible for the leadership and management of the Medical Center, which consists of the Medical School and Health System (the Hospitals, Michigan Health Corp. and M-CARE). He will be the Medical Center's chief executive officer, reporting directly to the president, and will be a member of the University's senior leadership group.

The dean of the Medical School, the executive director of the Hospitals and the president of M-CARE will report to Omenn.

In a press release, Bollinger said Omenn "emerged after an exhaustive, careful search as the very best person for the new vice presidential position. His capacity to think comprehensively about the Medical Center and its relations with the wider University, together with an extraordinary array of relevant professional accomplishments, made him the University's choice. I am extremely pleased he will join Provost Nancy Cantor and me in helping our already distinguished academic medical center."

At the media conference, Cantor said that as a member of the search committee, she realized Omenn has "an incredible understanding of the medical arena and a broad understanding of campus projects." She also was "taken by his humanity, his service to this nation."

The provost said that there is a high level of enthusiasm for Omenn among the deans, "who now have a colleague, a champion, a collaborator who will make the links."

"As provost, I can't imagine a better fit to the team," Cantor added. "We won't always agree, but that's wonderful. There will be different perspectives, but we'll do it together."

Omenn said the prospect of becoming a member of the University's leadership team "was very attractive" and that he would focus on stimulating connections.

He noted that the Medical Center "is under considerable challenge from many forces." These include students who expect to be prepared for the future and "patients who want the prowess of an academic medical center," a system that is undergoing rapid change but that nonetheless presents opportunities, and the need to align the academic, clinical and research components of the Center.

Responding to questions, Omenn agreed that academic medical centers are more costly than facilities not affiliated with universities, but added that there are advantages for patients: the benefit from having a variety of physicians attend their case; from the presence of students who perhaps can spend more time with them to answer questions; and from the opportunity to participate in research, clinical trials and studies.

He stated that the margins have to be reduced, and predicted that more networking among health care organizations and facilities will "blur the differences. I am keen to see the University play a large role, possibly national leadership [in this area]."

A 15-member faculty-student-staff advisory committee was appointed last December to conduct the search for the executive vice president for medical affairs.

The committee was chaired by Max S. Wicha, professor of internal medicine and director of the Cancer Center, who noted that the group "is delighted with President Bollinger's choice. We considered over 200 applicants for this position before arriving at our recommendation. Dr. Omenn combines a keen intellect, impressive academic credentials in both medicine and health policy, financial expertise, and a clear vision for the future of academic health centers. He is ideally suited to lead this Medical Center in facing the challenges that lie ahead."


Impressive credentials

Gilbert S. Omenn received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and earned a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Washington. He completed his internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds an A.B. from Princeton University.

Omenn joined the University of Washington in 1969 as a Fellow in Medical Genetics, and joined the faculty in medicine in 1971. He became an NIH Research Career Development Awardee and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator as he applied genetic concepts and protein, DNA, and pharmacogenetic techniques to the brain. He was responsible for several "firsts" in prenatal diagnosis of inherited conditions, and was a well-regarded clinical teacher. He was founding director of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program. In 1978, he was elected (at age 37) to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nationally, he served his military duty in research at the National Institutes of Health (1967-69), was a White House Fellow at the Atomic Energy Commission (1973-74); was deputy to Dr. Frank Press, President Jimmy Carter's science and technology adviser; and was associate director of the Office of Management and Budget (1977-81). He was a visiting professor at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School in 1981 and the first Science, Technology, and Policy Fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent advisory role has been as chair of the Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management ("Omenn Commission").

He returned to the University of Washington in 1982 to resume his role as professor of medicine and become chair of environmental health. He was appointed the third dean of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine later in 1982.

Omenn has published extensively on issues related to the chemoprevention of cancers, risk analysis and the genetic predisposition to environmental and occupational health hazards. He has been principal investigator for CARET, the trial of beta-carotene and vitamin A as preventive agents against lung cancer and heart disease. He is the creator of a new initiative on Public Health Genetics in Ethical, Legal and Policy Context at the University of Washington.

He has served on the boards of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Chamber Music Festival, Pacific Science Center, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.