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Barbara Atkinson Named Founding Dean of UNLV School of Medicine

Atkinson to continue vision, plan, and development of UNLV School of Medicine with goal toward 2017 charter class.
Campus News  |  Nov 10, 2015  |  By Pam Udall
Media Contact: Pam Udall (702) 895-0719;
Dr. Barbara Atkinson

Dr. Barbara Atkinson, founding dean of the UNLV School of Medicine. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Dr. Barbara Atkinson was officially named founding dean of the UNLV School of Medicine today. The appointment by UNLV’s Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost expands Dr. Atkinson’s role in the continued development of the new medical school.

Dr. Atkinson was appointed planning dean for the UNLV School of Medicine in May 2014. Over the past 18 months, she created an innovative vision and education program for the school, garnered strong regional and legislative support, hired a core team of academic faculty and staff, and assembled a Community Advisory Board to align regional needs with the school’s mission.
“Barbara has worked tirelessly with academic and health care leaders across the state to craft a vision for the school that I truly believe will help shape the future of health care in Southern Nevada,” said UNLV president Len Jessup. “Barbara’s passion for this community combined with her experience at all levels of health care and keen sense for what it takes to build a successful medical school is crucial to our continued momentum.”

James Dean Leavitt, Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) regent and chair of the Health Sciences System Committee, said the school’s momentum furthers a statewide collaboration to expand public medical education. “One of our goals was to ensure Southern Nevada had its own public allopathic medical school,” Leavitt said. “Barbara’s tremendous experience in medical education, administration, research, and philanthropy is now helping to convert our vision into reality.”

Dr. Atkinson has nearly 40 years of experience as a pathologist, researcher, educator and medical school administrator. Most of her career has been spent in medical school leadership, creating innovative learning environments for future doctors.

“Barbara has demonstrated competence and experience we need to build a sound and steady program from the ground up,” said NSHE Board of Regents chair Rick Trachok.

Under Dr. Atkinson's leadership, the school remains on track to submit a detailed program and operations plan to its accrediting body by Dec. 1. Earlier this year, the university also raised $13.5 million in 60 days to fund 135 scholarships for future medical school students - including the entire charter class expected to begin classes in 2017.

“What makes Barbara unique is her ability to lead people,” said NSHE Chancellor Daniel Klaich. “She's authentic and honest. As a result, she has forged successful relationships with state leaders, lawmakers, community stakeholders and UNLV leadership -- fundamental for the school’s long-term success."

The opportunity to shape medical education for tomorrow’s medical student brought Dr. Atkinson out of a short-lived retirement. “I couldn’t wait to work with UNLV to develop the best medical school possible and provide physicians with the solid foundation they need to care for patients for the next 50 years,” said Dr. Atkinson.

Before coming to UNLV, Dr. Atkinson was emeritus vice chancellor and professor with the University of Kansas School of Medicine. As dean of the school and then executive vice chancellor of the Kansas City medical center campus, Dr. Atkinson refocused the school to better serve regional needs. This included opening a new campus in Salina, Kan. to address the state’s physician shortage and expanding the school’s Wichita campus from a two-year to a full four-year program. In 2012 the University of Kansas became just the 67th school nationwide to earn National Cancer Institute designation, which involved raising $500 million over 10 years.

She was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1997, and in 2010 was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. In 2011, the University of Kansas Medical Center established the Barbara F. Atkinson Professorship in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Dr. Atkinson has held faculty appointments with the University of Kansas School of Medicine and Medical Center, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel University College of Medicine), MCP Hahnemann University, and Allegheny University of the Health Sciences.

The medical school was officially established Aug. 22, 2014 when the NSHE Regents approved a two-year start up budget for the school and submitted it to the governor and Nevada legislature for approval during the 2015 legislative session.