Interviews over, Bobbitt to pick UAMS leader
Both candidates have state roots
The second of two finalists for the chancellor position at UAMS wrapped up his interview introductions in Arkansas this week, setting the stage for the selection of who will be the next leader of the state’s academic medical system.
Dr. Wesley Burks was the second candidate in as many weeks to handshake his way from Little Rock to Fayetteville, after Dr. Danny O. Jacobs made the same rounds last week as the two vie to lead the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock. Donald Bobbitt, the
University of Arkansas System president, will select the next UAMS chancellor. The University of Arkansas board of trustees may vote on the selection next month. The trustees plan to meet on Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 for a regularly scheduled meeting at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Burks, 63, has been executive dean for the University of North Carolina School of Medicine since 2015. He became a finalist for the UAMS job after a search committee winnowed a list of 25 applicants to two last month.
Jacobs, 62, is the executive vice president, provost and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
Both candidates were attracted to the idea of replacing retiring Chancellor Dr. Dan Rahn in part because Arkansas is their home state. While Jacobs was leaving his hometown of Camden at age 13 to attend school in Vermont, Burks was growing up in Conway. Burks attended Conway High School and earned his medical degree at UAMS.
“It’s a really good place with a lot of good people,” Burks said of the UAMS community. “And it has the additional quality of being home — we have kids here, parents here.”
Burks’ son, Chris, is a family attorney in Little Rock. His daughter, Sarah, serves as Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s education policy adviser. His parents live in Conway.
But beyond the allure of returning to their roots, both are interested in uprooting from their current schools for another reason: impact. UAMS has a footprint in nearly every Arkansas county and serves as the state’s primary medical research and education system.
In North Carolina, UNC competes with three other academic medical systems, Burks said.
In Texas, there are six. Burks stressed that, despite the uncertainty of any health care legislation emerging from Washington, D.C., UAMS needs to retain its dominance as the state’s prevailing medical research and education institution, and as a primary caregiver for Arkansans.
“In North Carolina, we did tertiary and quaternary care well. That got us by,” Burks said, referring to the advanced and specialized medicine practiced as opposed to primary and secondary care medicine. “But I don’t think that will be the case in the future because that doesn’t take care of the population.”
Overall, Burks perceives health care as in a tight grip of inexorable change that will continue “no matter what kind of purple plan comes out of Washington.” In his eyes, the health care landscape will consist of fewer and larger providers, as he has witnessed in health care markets across the country.
The Barnes-Jewish Healthcare System based in St. Louis is an example. It reaches all of Missouri and into Illinois, providing tertiary and quaternary care in St. Louis, and primary and secondary care at local hospitals from Springfield, Mo., to Springfield, Ill.
The University of Michigan Health System has absorbed other entities in the state via partnerships that support local entities in administering primary care, Burks said.
He said UAMS must follow a similar track by expanding into the state’s primary and secondary care markets at the local level via strategic partnerships with local hospitals that can help “take care of the right patients at the right place at the right time.”
“You hope to provide primary care to people where they live, to the extent that really high-quality care can be provided,” he said. “Then provide the tertiary, quaternary care — the really highend quality care — to be done at the hubs of the UAMS System. … And that’s how you put a system together.”
On Thursday afternoon, Burks took a quick flight to UAMS’ Northwest Arkansas campus.
And like Jacobs, Burks had encounters with old friends and peers during his Arkansas visit.
On Wednesday, former University of Central Arkansas President Tom Courtway told the Democrat-Gazette about his memories of Burks at Conway High School. Separated in age by a year, Burks had succeeded Courtway as the high school’s starting quarterback. “After I graduated, he did a whole lot better job than me,” Courtway said.
Burks bashfully said Courtway’s memory was revisionistic.
But Courtway’s compliments continued. “He’s a born leader. He’s the one that always had a level and a cool head on him, and someone that everybody looked up to and admired,” Courtway said. “Couldn’t be prouder of my friend.”
On Thursday, UA trustee chairman Ben Hyneman and board member Mark Waldrip said they had no immediate leanings between Burks and Jacobs.
“I view it as a no-lose situation,” Waldrip said. “I think we’ve got two extremely strong candidates, and I don’t think there’s a wrong answer.”
“I just think they exhibited a real good understanding of the future of health care, what’s going to be important in the changes coming down the road — and not far down the road,” Hyneman said. “The institutions that are going to be able to thrive and prosper are the ones that can see the clear path and take it.”
“I feel confident that either of those candidates will be a great leader of the campus.”
The chancellor’s salary is a maximum of $375,000 for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2018, according to Act 512 of 2017. But Arkansas Code Annotated 6-63-309 states that any exceptionally qualified individual can earn up to 25 percent more than the lineitem appropriated amount. Other money can come from private funds.
Rahn earned $630,000 annually, plus a $13,000 stipend for housing and a car.
Both candidates were attracted to the idea of replacing retiring Chancellor Dr. Dan Rahn in part because Arkansas is their home state
Dr. Wesley Burks answers questions from University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences staff and faculty members Wednesday as he visits the campus in Little Rock. Burks is one of two candidates for UAMS chancellor. He concluded a two-day visit to Arkansas on Thursday.