April 3, 2009

Jacobson to retire as Med Center chief; Balser named as successor

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Harry Jacobson, M.D., announced plans to retire in June. (photo by Joe Howell)

Jacobson to retire as Med Center chief; Balser named as successor

Organizations are often defined by eras, and the most successful organizations build on the excellence of one era and carry it through to even greater achievement in the next.

With Monday's announcement that Harry Jacobson, M.D., will retire as vice chancellor for Health Affairs in June and turn the reins of leadership over to Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., one such era in the history of Vanderbilt Medical Center will end and a new one will begin.
Jacobson, 61, is confident that Balser, dean of the School of Medicine, is the right person at the right time to take the Medical Center into the future.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., will become Vanderbilt's next vice chancellor for Health Affairs. (photo by Joe Howell)

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., will become Vanderbilt's next vice chancellor for Health Affairs. (photo by Joe Howell)

“Leading this outstanding Medical Center has been a great privilege, and I am proud of our success,” Jacobson said. “I have worked closely with Jeff for many years and have watched him develop into a strong leader who is confident, ready and prepared to take the helm and steer VMC into a very exciting future.”

Balser, 47, who has held several clinical and research leadership roles at Vanderbilt, was named dean of VUSM last October and will continue to serve in that role for now. His appointment as vice chancellor is subject to approval by the University's Board of Trust, which meets later this month.

“It is a tremendous honor to follow Harry Jacobson in this leadership role at Vanderbilt,” Balser said. “His many accomplishments have provided a phenomenal platform for Vanderbilt to lead the nation and the world as we experience the next decade of transformational changes in science and health care — from unprecedented advances in diagnosis and therapy to more cost-effective and patient-centered ways of providing care.”

At a special town hall meeting on Wednesday in Langford Auditorium, Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said the transition from Jacobson to Balser has been carefully cultivated for several years as part of a broader University initiative to develop strong leadership succession plans.

“I really believe strongly that if we don't prepare for the unexpected, to have someone who can step in, that we're not good stewards of the institution,” Zeppos said. “We had planned very, very carefully, and despite the suddenness of it, we planned carefully and exercised our fiduciary duties.”

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., right, and Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos talk with staff and faculty at Wednesday’s town hall meeting. (photo by Joe Howell)

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., right, and Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos talk with staff and faculty at Wednesday’s town hall meeting. (photo by Joe Howell)

At the meeting, Balser urged Medical Center staff and faculty to “keep our eye on the ball,” and said he would be a proponent of fairness and transparency and committed to open dialogue.

“We will work hard,” Balser said. “We will accomplish a great deal, and we will do it as a team. I need the support of everyone.”

As vice chancellor for Health Affairs, Jacobson serves as chief executive officer and academic head of Vanderbilt Medical Center, which has annual net revenues of $2.3 billion, more than 16,000 employees and 2,100 fulltime faculty members. The Medical Center encompasses more than 20 entities, including the School of Medicine; the School of Nursing; Vanderbilt University Hospital; The Vanderbilt Clinic; and the Vanderbilt Medical Group, one of the largest physician practices in the Southeast.

It is impossible to overstate the impact Jacobson has made during his tenure. Since assuming leadership in 1997, he has overseen phenomenal expansion of its facilities, research and services, including many that are unique to the region, while the Medical Center's recognition for overall excellence has grown.

“Under his leadership, Vanderbilt has become the premier health care institution in our region and is recognized as one of the best in the country,” Zeppos said. “His unyielding support of cutting-edge research has distinguished Vanderbilt as an institution that knows no bounds in advancing scientific and medical discoveries. Harry has been a titanic, transcendent, transformative leader of this great Medical Center.”

During Jacobson's tenure, the Medical Center has taken on and met new challenges. The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, already one of 41 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in the United States, became the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Tennessee in 2001.

In 2004, the state-of-the-art Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt opened, offering the most comprehensive care for children in the state. It has been recognized as one of the premier children's hospitals in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and Parents magazine.

Most recently, Jacobson has overseen the establishment of Vanderbilt Health at One Hundred Oaks as a second campus for outpatient clinics and services in a 440,000-square-foot campus extension.

In recent years, VMC has become a national leader in biomedical informatics, creating novel techniques for linking information into diagnostic and treatment processes in a more cost-efficient and streamlined manner.

Among the many honors VMC has garnered under Jacobson was its listing last year on U.S. News & World Report's “honor roll” of hospitals — an honor reserved for a select group of institutions labeled by the magazine as the “best of the best.” Vanderbilt ranked 15th in the nation in the 2008 issue of “America's Best Hospitals.” Also, in February Vanderbilt University was included among Fortune magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Last year Jacobson was chosen by Modern Healthcare magazine as among the 50 most powerful physician executives in the United States. In 2002 he was elected into the prestigious Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. He is also a leader in the field of technology transfer, having chaired the board of the Vanderbilt University Technology Corporation.

Balser served as associate vice chancellor for Research at the School of Medicine from 2004 to 2008, a period of extraordinary expansion that moved Vanderbilt into 10th place in NIH funding among U.S. medical schools.

He previously served the clinical enterprise during a period of marked expansion of the surgical and intensive care services as chair of the Department of Anesthesiology.

He also has been an innovator and leader of educational programs, serving as the first associate dean for physician scientist career development in the School of Medicine.
According to Zeppos, Balser has distinguished himself in every leadership role he as assumed.

“He is a leader, a clinician, a researcher and a mentor with the energy and insight to shepherd us to an even greater level of achievement nationally and internationally in the years to come.

“Jeff knows and understands Vanderbilt's culture and is committed to the core principles, values and missions of our institution and our community. I have the utmost confidence in Jeff's ability to move every part of the Medical Center forward and to continue the path of progress that Harry has blazed,” Zeppos said.

After receiving his M.D. and Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt in 1990, Balser trained as a resident in Anesthesiology and as a fellow in Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins, where he joined the faculty in 1995. He returned to Vanderbilt in 1998.

“As an alumnus of both our medical and graduate schools, Jeff is deeply committed to the lives and careers of our faculty and staff, and to our growing number of students and trainees in the sciences and health care,” Zeppos said.