After conducting an extensive national search, UT Tyler has chosen Dr. Brigham Willis as the first dean of UT Tyler’s new school of medicine.
UT Tyler President Dr. Kirk Calhoun, who made the announcement on Wednesday, said Willis will oversee the seventh medical school in The University of Texas System and the first in Northeast Texas. Beginning his role in February 2022, he will guide the Health Science Center in all things related to medical care and will ultimately be responsible for the success of the medical students.
Willis said in a statement he is humbled by the honor to serve in the role of helping guide the school through its inception.
“It is with great pleasure that I accept this role as founding dean of the new medical school in Tyler,” he said. “East Texas is in great need of top-quality physicians to address significant healthcare disparities in the region, and I am so impressed with the passion and support of the university and the community of Tyler in making this school a reality. Recruiting from the region offers opportunities for students in the area to complete medical school and residency training right here in East Texas. I cannot wait to get started.”
The official interviews began with 25 well-qualified applicants, which were then narrowed down to 11. From those 11, four were chosen to visit in person and ultimately Willis was selected.
The university worked with a national search firm for about two to three months to select the founding dean. Dr. Julie Philley, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs for the UT Health Science Center, played an important role in the hiring process and said Willis had characteristics that stood out.
“He just has a passion for people and he has a passion for rural communities and helping to identify the right students to enter medical school and the people that will ultimately help stay and take care of our citizens and our families,” she said.
Calhoun said the university is fortunate to have had a large and diverse selection of candidates to consider for the dean’s position, and Philley said she enjoyed meeting such passionate and fun people around the country then ultimately choosing the right person for East Texas.
“Dr. Willis impressed us with a depth of knowledge in both clinical operations and medical education, and I am very pleased that he has accepted the role to lead our faculty and educate our students,” Calhoun said.
According to Philley, Willis is a pediatrician who specializes in critical care for children and babies and he will help lead and guide medical students in East Texas. Willis has also worked at medical schools in Arizona and in California.
“We recognized early on that he was a top contender,” Philley said.
Willis currently serves as senior associate dean of medical education at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine. He was also previously associate fellowship director for pediatric critical care medicine at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and chief medical education officer and ACGME-designated institutional official at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
A graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, Willis received his graduate degree from Arizona State University. He earned his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and completed his residency at Children’s Hospital and Research Center, Oakland, as well as a pediatric critical care medicine fellowship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Willis was selected as a Master Educator by the Class of 2015 at the University of Arizona, the highest teaching honor bestowed at the college. He also received the award for top educator at the University of California, Riverside in 2020 and 2021.
The announcement of Willis’ new role comes after the R.W. Fair Foundation last week announced 40 incoming medical students will receive four-year scholarships to cover the full tuition of every student enrolled in the inaugural class of the new medical school.
“We hope that these students will ultimately be physicians that care about primary care and about mental health. We’ve been focusing on mental health for a long time at the Health Science Center,” Philley said, adding the university wants to help tackle the mental health crisis in East Texas.
Though the new school of medicine is still waiting on accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), the university is expecting to obtain permission by the end of February to begin recruiting students for the first class in June 2023.
Following permission from the accrediting body, Philley said the goal is to begin the interview process in the summer of 2022, ultimately for the students to begin classes the next summer.