Barbara Atkinson

Barbara Atkinson, MD

Founding Dean Emeritus



Dr. Barbara Atkinson is an accomplished researcher, educator and administrator in the fields of medicine and medical education. She has spent her entire career in medical school leadership, creating innovative learning environments for future physicians.

A member of the National Academy of Medicine and the only woman to head three medical schools in the United States, Dr. Atkinson is the founding dean of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, which opened with its inaugural class in 2017.

Dr. Atkinson stepped down as dean of the medical school in September 2019 and now serves as the school’s special advisor for community relations and accreditation, focusing on community outreach as well as operational excellence.

Appointed planning dean for the Kerkorian School of Medicine in May 2014, Dr. Atkinson 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. In 2015, the university raised $13.5 million in less than 60 days to fund 135 scholarships for future medical school students - including the entire charter class expected to begin classes in 2017.

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.

In 1997 she was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy (now known as the National Academy of Medicine), 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.