Emory University School of Medicine Dean Vikas Sukhatme, who is also the chief academic officer of Emory Healthcare, announced on Nov. 22 that he will be stepping down from his roles in March 2023. He held both positions for five years.
Sukhatme will remain in the School of Medicine community as a full-time faculty member. He will continue leading the Morningside Center for Innovative and Affordable Medicine, which Sukhatme co-founded with his wife, Vidula Sukhatme, to promote research, education and advocacy for affordable medical treatments with a focus on repurposed drugs. Additionally, Sukhatme will teach and contribute to the “Clinics of the Future” initiative, which is still in its early stages.
“Though it has been a distinct honor and a privilege to serve as dean of our School of Medicine, it is a 24/7 job and the last few years have been particularly busy,” Sukhatme wrote in an email to the Wheel. “I made the decision to step down because I desired to spend more time with family and to pursue activities that could rapidly result in novel, affordable and scalable medical treatments in the near future. Both the Morningside Center and the Clinics of the Future initiative aim to do that.”
He wrote in a message to the School of Medicine community that he has “tremendous confidence” in the current leadership, including University President Gregory Fenves, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Ravi Bellamkonda, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs David Stephens and incoming Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Ravi Thadhani.
Emory will announce the next steps for leadership at the School of Medicine in the coming weeks. Thadhani, who will assume his position at Emory on Jan. 1, 2023, will consult on the plans.
Sukhatme’s announcement follows a wave of administrative shifts throughout the past semester. Three out of four of Emory’s undergraduate schools — Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Oxford College and Goizueta Business School — were led by new deans this year, although Emory College and Oxford are still searching for permanent replacements. The Rollins school of Public Health also has a new dean.
Before coming to Emory in November 2017, Sukhatme worked at Harvard University (Mass.), where he served as chief academic officer and Harvard faculty dean for academic programs at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He noted in the press release that he was inspired to join Emory because of the University’s pioneering work in medicine.
“I believed — and still believe — that Emory has the right mix of faculty excellence, collaborative spirit and strategic partnerships to tackle some of the most intractable problems in medicine with a decent shot at success,” Sukhatme wrote.
The School of Medicine is the largest of nine schools at Emory, according to the press release. Sukhatme oversaw more than 3,300 full and part-time faculty and nearly 2,500 staff members. The school has over 1,000 students.
During his tenure as dean, Sukhatme focused on improving health outcomes across the globe by removing barriers to medical innovation and developing new methods for integrating research into education and patient care.
University President Gregory Fenves called Sukhatme a “transformational” leader in the medical school.
“He set ambitious goals — in training, faculty recruitment and research to treat and cure diseases — and exceeded them,” Fenves wrote in the press release. “I am grateful for the dedication he showed over the past five years. He elevated the School of Medicine and set it on a path for continued success.”
Sukhatme led the development of the School of Medicine’s Excellence to Eminence strategic plan, which has included hiring over 90 faculty who are “game changers” in biomedical science. He also worked to improve current faculty’s research through the Imagine, Innovate, Impact awards, which provides grants for proposals “with the potential to make a transformational impact in either fundamental biomedical knowledge or translational impact.” These seed grants garnered a return on investment of more than 6:1.
Stephens and other health science leaders worked alongside Sukhatme to lead the construction and programming of the Health Sciences Research Building II. The project will be Emory’s largest research building and is expected to open in spring 2023.
Sukhatme also prioritized diversity throughout his deanship. According to the press release, 30% of Emory medical students identify as historically underrepresented in medicine. In 2019, underrepresented minorities made up 24% of the M.D. class, jumping to 33.8% by 2022.
The School of Medicine also launched its first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan. Sukhatme noted that he is “thrilled” with the medical school’s progress.
“The world we’re living in today is becoming more and more fractured, but medicine has an incredible power to heal and to connect — across race, across religious beliefs, across everything,” Sukhatme said.
The second half of Sukhatme’s tenure was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that he is “so grateful and proud” for the School of Medicine’s successes despite these challenges. Under his leadership, the medical school reached a total of $588 million in research funding in fiscal year 2022 and saw an increase in the number of investigators funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“I did not anticipate a global pandemic occurring during my tenure or the ensuing tumultuous times, yet each and every one of you rose to the challenge with remarkable courage and resilience,” Sukhatme wrote. “For that I cannot thank you enough.”