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Following a national search, Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., was chosen to lead VUSM. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Balser named School of Medicine dean

BY: LYNNE HUTCHISON

Balser addresses colleagues as Harry Jacobson, M.D., looks on. (photo by Susan Urmy)

10/17/2008 - Balser addresses colleagues as Harry Jacobson, M.D., looks on. (photo by Susan Urmy)

New School of Medicine Dean Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., chats with medical students Sara Horvitz, left, and Sara Tedeschi at a reception following his introductory talk in Light Hall on Tuesday. (photo by Dana Johnson)

New School of Medicine Dean Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., chats with medical students Sara Horvitz, left, and Sara Tedeschi at a reception following his introductory talk in Light Hall on Tuesday. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., Vanderbilt Medical Center's associate vice chancellor for Research, has been named dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Balser, who has served as interim dean of the school since July, is a newly elected member of the Institute of Medicine and an alumnus of the school. He becomes the 11th dean of VUSM since its founding in 1875.

In addition to his responsibilities as dean, Balser will continue to serve as associate vice chancellor for Research, with continued oversight of the Medical Center's research enterprise.

“Dr. Balser has earned the respect of his colleagues in the School of Medicine, and throughout Vanderbilt, for his keen intellect, sound judgment and high ethical standards," said Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos. “I have great confidence that Jeff will continue to advance the School of Medicine to new heights of excellence, both nationally and internationally.”

“Jeff has proven himself as the chair of Anesthesiology, the associate vice chancellor for Research and as the interim dean,” said Harry Jacobson, M.D., Vanderbilt's vice chancellor for Health Affairs. “He is a leader, a clinician, a researcher and a mentor with the energy and insight to lead the School of Medicine to an even greater level of achievement in the years to come.

“I'm proud to be entrusted with this honor,” Balser said. “As an alumnus of our Medical Scientist Training Program, I am deeply committed to the lives and careers of our faculty and staff, and our growing number of students and trainees in the sciences and health care.”

Balser was born in Indianapolis, Ind., in 1962 and received his M.D. and Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt in 1990. He trained as a resident and fellow in anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins, where he joined the faculty in 1995. He returned to Vanderbilt in 1998 as associate dean for Physician Scientists. In 2001 he was appointed the James Tayloe Gwathmey Professor and Chair of Anesthesiology.

In 2004 Balser became associate vice chancellor for Research, heading a period of significant expansion that moved Vanderbilt into 10th place among U.S. medical schools in funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Balser recently was elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies (See story, page 1). Comprised of top health experts and life scientists, the IOM is a national adviser to improve health and promote health-related research.

Balser also is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, the AAMC Advisory Panel on Research, and has recently chaired the NIH Director's Pioneer Award Committee.

His studies in the journals Nature, Proceeding of the National Academies of Science and Nature Structural and Molecular Biology have established new paradigms for how the chambers of the heart contract and relax, and are yielding new targets for arrhythmia control.

Balser and his wife, Melinda, are the parents of three children: James, 18, Jillian, 16, and Madeline, 12.

Balser succeeds Steven Gabbe, M.D., who left Vanderbilt in June to become senior vice president for Health Sciences and chief executive officer at Ohio State University Medical Center.

Daniel Beauchamp, M.D., director of the Section of Surgical Sciences, headed the selection committee, which chose Balser from a group of nationally prominent candidates.

“While each applicant had an impressive academic record of leadership and accomplishment, Dr. Balser was the applicant who most impressed the committee with his energy and enthusiasm, his breadth of knowledge and interests spanning basic sciences to clinical practice, his diplomacy and his vision for the future of the School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University in its entirety,” Beauchamp said.

“The School has enjoyed remarkable progress over the past decade, increasing in its local, national and international stature,” Balser said. “While nurturing our atmosphere of cooperation and collegiality, we are now called to leadership in shaping the future of biomedical science and academic medicine. This will be an exciting period in the history of the Medical Center. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work with so many friends and colleagues in advancing our goals in health care, education and research.

“I recall sitting in Light Hall as a student in 1984, listening to Dean Chapman give a talk about the contemporary challenges in academic medicine,” Balser added.

“I remember thinking at that time how exciting it must be to be dean of the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt. I still feel exactly the same way, and I am extraordinarily grateful for this opportunity.”

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