University appoints Clay Johnston as inaugural dean of Dell Medical School


Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

After a nine-month search by a committee including educators, health professionals and students, the University introduced Clay Johnston as the inaugural dean of the Dell Medical School on Tuesday morning.

Johnston, who studied at Amherst University, Harvard University and the University of California–Berkeley, is currently the associate vice chancellor of research and director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the University of California–San Francisco School of Medicine. He will begin serving as dean March 1. 

The Dell Medical School, which went into planning in 2012 and was named last year, is in the final states of design and is expected to receive its first class of students in 2016. President William Powers, Jr. said Johnston was selected in part because of his forward-thinking vision for the school.

“We had a dozen fantastic people from around the country,” Powers said. “This really garnered a great deal of interest from some very high level people. [Johnston] is innovative and open and wants to help design a medical school in a new way. He is very interested in new forms of health care delivery, and he has worked and proven himself in the institute that he heads up — in his ability to work with many stakeholders in a complex situation.”

Johnston said he will try to use his role as dean to advance the way medical schools approach health care, which he believes should be more patient-centric.

“I think medical health care is really at an important juncture right now,” Johnston said. “My vision is to create a medical school that really represents where health care should be going, not where it’s been. That’s the beauty of starting from the ground up and then being able to take a look at how health care is working, how medical centers are working and design them for the next century.”

Unlike the six existing medical institutions within the UT System, which each have their own president, Powers said Dell Medical School will be a unit of the University.

Johnston, who plans to continue treating patients as dean, said all individuals involved in the Dell Medical School project have different expectations for his performance. He said he will be expected to deliver excellent care to patients, create multidisciplinary programs intended to advocate research and turn the school and research hospital into modes for economic development in the community. Johnston said one of the first challenges he faces will be prioritizing these objectives.

“The school is going to do all of those things, but when?” Johnston said. “You can’t do all of those things from day one or year one or even year five. So the biggest challenge is prioritizing amongst these critical goals and making excellent progress in all of these areas but managing the expectations so that people understand that it is impossible to grow this thing, even in five years, to the vision that all of us have for it.”

Robert Messing, vice provost for biomedical sciences and chairman of the search committee, once worked alongside Johnston in the neurology department at UC–San Francisco. Messing said he recommended Johnston and one other individual early in the search process for the dean.

“We were faculty members in the same department, which had more than 120 faculty members and spanned four affiliated hospitals,” Messing said. “Our relationship has always been more professional than personal, and those professional interactions definitely helped me recognize him as a strong candidate. I’ve always been incredibly impressed by him whenever our paths have crossed.”

According to Messing, the search committee unanimously recommended Johnston for the dean position because of his work at UC–San Francisco.

“At UCSF, he’s been the leader of one of the largest Clinical Translation Science Institutes funded by National Institutes of Health, which takes research innovations and translates them to patient care,” Messing said. “And he directs the UCSF Center for Healthcare Value which leverages research and clinical practice to reduce costs, increase value and enable innovation.”

Seton Healthcare Family, which runs several hospitals in Austin, committed $295 million to build a teaching hospital for students enrolled at Dell Medical School last year. UT also has a partnership with Travis County Central Health, a county organization which works to give health care access to Austin’s poor. Last year, Travis County voters approved a property tax increase to support the new medical school and teaching hospital.