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Q&A with Dr. Daniel Schidlow: Leading the College of Medicine Forward

October 15, 2012

Dan Schidlow
As a physician and teacher, Dr. Daniel V. Schidlow believes strongly in “learning at the bedside” – listening to what patients have to say and sharing the wisdom and observations of both experienced and new clinicians. Now dean of the College of Medicine, he’s taking the same approach and finding the best way to lead forward.

A native of Chile who first came to Philadelphia for a fellowship in pulmonary medicine at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Schidlow is used to balancing several roles. He’s an internationally recognized clinician in pediatric diseases, especially cystic fibrosis and pulmonary conditions, a researcher who has co-authored more than 180 papers, a teacher who has educated the next generation of physicians, and a physician executive who has most recently served as interim dean and senior vice president for the College of Medicine before being appointed as the new Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Dean and senior vice president of medical affairs.

He’ll use all those experiences at the College of Medicine, which stands as one of the largest private medical schools in the country with its 2,000 medical and graduate students. The college serves dual roles – that of a clinical health care provider and of an educational institution. In an added measure of complexity, it must balance the educational, clinical and research missions of the College of Medicine with its primary clinical partner, Tenet Healthcare, which operates Hahnemann University Hospital and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, where its professors and students teach and serve the local community. (The college has more than 20 affiliated hospitals and health systems throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.) 

DrexelNow spoke to Schidlow about the challenges and opportunities he’s facing as dean of the College of Medicine.

You were the interim dean before your appointment. Is there a big change to how you approach your role now?

When I got the interim role, I told President Fry I would act as if I had the role permanently, addressing the issues the way I believed the dean would. I did so for eight months in that position. However, there is a fundamental difference between an interim position and permanent, and that has to do with orientation. As interim, you engage in one-year projections and engage in conversations with people to move in the right direction. Now, I find that I’m more future-oriented with a long-term plan to go with it.

Being the interim dean gave me the opportunity to look across the college, and to interact very closely with my colleagues in the other colleges at Drexel, with the president and his cabinet, the dean’s council, and all the management and administrative leadership of the University. That has helped to inform my thoughts as to where the future of the College of Medicine needs to be. Serving as the interim was very, very advantageous to me to gain important insight into the University, president and other deans from a new perspective as a leader. It’s a rare opportunity that I was afforded.

Now that you’re looking across the college, what kinds of collaborations do you anticipate?

Even before I took on the interim deanship, I was involved in several initiatives with the University. I was part of Julie Mostov’s Global Engagement Committee. I helped review Fulbright scholarships. I had periodic meetings with a couple of the deans, particularly Marla Gold, dean of the School of Public Health, in my previous position at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. In pediatrics we had collaborative programs with the rest of the University, so I wasn’t completely foreign to Drexel.

But it still changes the moment you have a position such as interim dean or dean. Then you begin to speak about potential collaborations and partnership with the University and the leveraging of each other’s strengths.

President Fry’s University-wide strategic plan will help inform the future strategic initiatives of the College of Medicine. Whatever collaborations are already in place will grow as I plan together with other deans of other faculty. I see increasing synergy with the College of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems in education, technology and critical care. I’ve had conversations with College of Engineering Dean Joseph Hughes and we’ve had several conversations about bioengineering. We want to increase our collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences and other colleges.

The College of Medicine is already an outstanding college in terms of education. Our graduates are very successful in academia, practice and in the community. My vision is that this college will be a more integrated part of the University at large, that we will be a highly collaborative school inside and outside of Drexel. We will enhance our research portfolio, not just in medical areas but in basic science. We will continue to enhance our reputation as a medical college that leads in medical innovation.

What are the biggest challenges facing medical colleges as a whole, and how does that affect Drexel?

Medical schools are expensive to run, and research is expensive to do. Most have seen a flattening of income–certainly tuition, because we’re trying to keep it under control–and research dollars, which are going down in general in this country, which presents a challenge as many medical schools face decreasing funding streams from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. The largest source of income for medical schools is clinical revenues. We are in a peculiar situation because we don’t control the hospitals we partner with, but we have a large clinical operation.

One difference between the College of Medicine and the other colleges at Drexel is the service mission. We are an educational institution, but at the same time we are a health care provider, and this creates unique challenges that we’re trying to address. We partner with Tenet Healthcare, and we need to enhance our relationship and align the interests of Drexel faculty with that of our medical partners. The relationship between the University and the clinical partner, Hahnemann, was not always as strong as it should be, and that’s something I’ve worked to change.

You’ve been with the College of Medicine since 1994. Can you further describe the changes in the College of Medicine in the years since you’ve been there?

If we compare ourselves to the beginning of time when Drexel took over the College of Medicine, first as an administrative commitment, and then later as part of the University, we made significant progress in consolidating and strengthening the position of the college. This is a new day in the life of the College of Medicine. We have improved our relationship with our clinical partners. We have left behind any shaky ground or insecurities that came initially with Drexel’s assumption of the College of Medicine, when no one was quite sure what was going to happen.

Over the past 10 years, the college has become firmly established within Drexel, and it has gained accreditation for a long period of time. It is truly a strong organization. I must say that President Fry has demonstrated a personal commitment to the success of the College of Medicine. This commitment from the University side was not necessarily present from the beginning, and we have benefited from his presidential vision about what the College of Medicine means to Drexel.

You were a physician first. How do you make the switch to leadership role?

It’s been gradual. I first had a very important role as a physician executive at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. I reduced my clinical role at that time, but I am committed and have continued to practice medicine. I’m involved in the adult cystic fibrosis clinic at Drexel, and some of my patients have transferred over. Twice a month I see patients in this clinic.

Likewise I have continued my commitment to medical education, and I have started to become involved with the education of residents in pulmonary medicine. The part that I really miss is my chairman rounds that I used to do with medical students, where once a week I would meet with them and go on clinical rounds.

Those rounds were opportunities where I had a small group of students visiting patients. I used to say that you learn together at the bedside. I love bedside teaching and exchange with students because I saw the gleam of understanding in their eyes, and it was as enriching for me as it was for them. Now I’m trying to find new ways to stay in touch with students. I have student advisors who I meet with at lunch, and in the fall I’m starting a dean’s hour to meet with medical students and graduate students so I can attend to the their needs as well.

What are some of your overall goals for the college?

I’m very proud of the social community of our students. Everyone is engaged in some kind of community service, and we want to parallel the strategic initiative to be the most civically engaged university in the country. We want to be the most civically engaged medical school in the country.

I want everyone to know that we are one of the largest, if not the largest, private medical schools in the country. We have more than 1,000 medical students, several hundred graduate students and 750 master’s students. We serve a large population of students, and they are our main priority. We have significant research strengths in neurobiology, infectious diseases and immunology, microbiology and cancer research. We are starting translational research to enlarge our activities in translational medicine so that we can bring basic science to the bedside in the future.