Dr. Neil Haycocks, director of biomedical science integration and associate professor-in-residence of pathology and laboratory medicine, has a passion for solving puzzles. And for the past year, he has built the UNLV School of Medicine’s educational blueprint for the biomedical sciences — perhaps his most challenging and rewarding puzzle to date.
Why UNLV School of Medicine?
Of the many reasons I could offer, foremost is the clarity of the mission. Southern Nevada lacks a great deal of health care infrastructure for a city of 2 million people, and a public medical school here in Las Vegas is going to be one key part of the solution. Joining the UNLV School of Medicine also presented the opportunity to work with, and learn from, a superb leadership team. Every day I work with individuals who have national reputations for excellence, and I would not trade the experience for anything.
What is your role at the UNLV School of Medicine?
My primary responsibility is to ensure the sciences that underpin medical practice are appropriately woven throughout the curriculum. This involves collaborating with course directors and teaching faculty to create a program that is cohesive from every angle. When we have students I will teach as much as I can, and participate in the ongoing assessment of the curriculum. Running a medical school is much like putting on a massive, four-year-long theater production, and there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make it function smoothly and effectively.
What do you hope medical students will say when asked to describe their education here?
Thoughtful and well executed. I am less concerned about how a student’s test scores change from one week to the next, and more concerned about how he or she develops across multiple domains, both professional and personal, over the course of four years. It can be difficult to see the bigger picture when you are in the middle of an intensive educational program, but I believe our alumni will appreciate the care and pains we are taking to build a world-class experience for them.
What inspired you to enter your specialty?
Pathology is a field where you solve puzzles for a purpose, namely to render an appropriate diagnosis in the interest of patient care. I completed a fellowship in hematopathology, which is the pathology of the blood, marrow, and lymphoid tissues, and that remains my primary interest. Hematopathology is a peculiar subspecialty in that it relies heavily on the integration of multiple lines of data — morphologic, immunophenotypic, genetic — to find an answer. It is gratifying when all the pieces fit together.
What one tip would you give medical students or any student?
A very useful mantra I have come across is “Plan your work, and work your plan.” Some of the most successful medical students I have known do not have extreme capacities for memorization or exceptional test-taking skills. What they do have is a knack for managing their time, prioritizing what needs to be accomplished, staying out of the proverbial weeds, adjusting course when necessary, and being disciplined over the long haul. This is probably sound advice for many aspects of life.
What goals are you working toward now?
I would classify the UNLV School of Medicine as still in its “startup” phase, meaning everyone wears multiple hats, has six plates spinning, and does whatever needs to be done. We have developed a fairly comprehensive blueprint for first 18 months of the medical school curriculum, and implementation will require continuous refinement of the plan, developing curricular content, bringing up our virtual anatomy and histology systems, constructing assessments, forging relationships with researchers, and so on.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
My diet is 100 percent plant-based.
What can’t you work without?
The world’s coffee supply.
Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why?
I have a memento from my last department chair, Dr. Stephen Wikel, who bequeathed to me a rather unsettling-appearing plastic piggy bank in the shape of Pinocchio’s head. Dr. Wikel is a very well known researcher in the area of ticks and tick-born illnesses. He also gave me a lot of the support that got me to where I am, and he has a truly amazing sense of humor. Unfortunately, Pinocchio has to face the wall, since nobody in the office likes to look at him.
What do you do in your free time?
My wife and I lead fairly quiet lives; we spend a lot of our time working on our house and doting on our two rescue dogs and two rescue cats.
In addition to constantly fooling around with puzzles and games, I periodically binge-read about some topic that I find intriguing. Lately that involves decision-making and system/process failure, usually in the context of commercial or industrial accidents. If you study what occurred at Three Mile Island in March of 1979, for example, there are innumerable lessons regarding human cognition, reasoning, and communication. Not surprisingly, they are all translatable into the study and practice of medicine.