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Puliafito tapped as new dean of Keck School of Medicine

by Jon Weiner

Carmen A. Puliafito

Photo/Don Milici

Carmen A. Puliafito, a Harvard University-educated ophthalmologist, has been named dean of the Keck School of Medicine, effective Nov. 1.

Puliafito, who also earned an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, currently serves as director of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

He has overseen the doubling of the eye institute’s faculty size, an increase from 34th to 14th in National Institutes of Health funding within a three-year span, and the reclaiming of the top position in U.S. News & World Report’s eye hospital rankings from the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

“I am honored to be part of the leadership team at the Keck School and at the University of Southern California,” said Puliafito (pronounced puhl-ee-ah-FEE-toh). “The Keck School is poised to become a leader in American medicine. I was attracted by USC’s extraordinary commitment to the Keck School’s growth and success, a dynamic clinical and basic science faculty, superb new patient care and laboratory facilities, and USC’s unparalleled support for meeting the health care needs of the Los Angeles community.”

In addition to being dean at Keck, Puliafito will also serve as professor of ophthalmology and health management and the holder of the May S. and John Hooval Dean’s Chair in Medicine. The dean appointment is for a five-year and eight months term, and he will report directly to C. L. Max Nikias, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

“We believe this appointment heralds a moment of transformation for the Keck School,” said Nikias. “The school is poised for extraordinary growth, thanks to the efforts of a stellar group of faculty, staff, alumni, friends and the guidance and support of the W.M. Keck Foundation. Dr. Puliafito will now take charge as a researcher, teacher, clinician, inventor, administrator and fundraiser of singular quality�able to advance the school to the front ranks of American medical schools in terms of research, teaching and patient care.”

Describing Puliafito as an energetic and passionate visionary, Nikias pointed out that the dean-elect has achieved “revolutionary results at every point in his career. This signals this university’s ability to be an architect of the medical and biological sciences revolution that will reshape our society in the coming decades.”

Minor Anderson, CEO of USC Care Medical Group, Inc., who worked closely with Puliafito for more than four years in Miami, praised him as “a leader of exceptional integrity, intelligence, wit and passion. He is a builder and as such will be very successful building upon the many successes of the Keck School.”

Other colleagues have also described Puliafito as a rare leader whose achievements in organizational leadership, research, teaching and patient care rest on a foundation of outstanding medical scholarship and clinical practice. His research interests include vitreoretinal diagnostics, laser technologies, ophthalmic education and ophthalmology practice management. He maintains an active practice in retinal consultation and surgery.

When Puliafito was appointed in July 2001 to his current position, he was charged with reinvigorating Bascom Palmer, which had lost organizational momentum over the course of its four illustrious decades. He earned acclaim for creating and enacting a strategy for growth that would propel Bascom Palmer to new heights in clinical practice, education and research. The faculty increased from 33 members to 70. Two satellite eye centers were opened in Naples and Plantation, Florida, extending Bascom Palmer’s services across South Florida. He guided fundraising and development of a $22 million, seven-acre campus in Palm Beach Gardens that represents the most technologically advanced eye-care center in the United States.

Bascom Palmer’s clinical faculty now treats more than 200,000 patients each year and performs 10,000 surgical procedures; it also provides 24-hour emergency care and community-based care for indigent and low-income patients of Miami-Dade County.

Bascom Palmer’s research and clinical activities gathered strength under Puliafito’s leadership. Among his achievements, he:

� conducted nationwide campaigns to recruit top funded scientists and clinicians as well as promising basic science researchers who were newer to the field;

� increased the number of underrepresented female, Hispanic and African-American faculty members from nine to 25;

� strengthened the center’s research infrastructure; and

� leveraged the University of Miami’s strong neurosciences programs to establish a program in molecular ophthalmology and neuroscience.

Bascom Palmer’s research funding rose from $2.5 million in FY 2002 to more than $8 million in FY 2007. Clinical revenues rose from $16 million in 2002 to a projected $35 million for 2007. Bascom Palmer seized back the #1 ranking in U.S. News’ rankings of eye hospitals in 2004, three years after his arrival, and has since increased its lead over second-ranked Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute. Its reputational score, as reported in that magazine, is higher than any other institution in any specialty. Bascom Palmer’s education and residency program is also the most highly sought-after in the nation and is regularly named the country’s best training program.

A native of Buffalo, New York, Puliafito is married to Janet Pine, a former classmate at Harvard Medical School. They have three children: Amy, 23, who recently graduated from Northwestern University; Ben, 17; and Sam, 14.

Puliafito is an award-winning philatelist (collector and student of postage stamps), an expert on the early history of the U.S. postal service, and a runner who has completed the Boston Marathon and numerous half-marathons.

The national search process, led by Korn/Ferry International, involved 350 contacts with candidates and other sources. From a list of 55 viable candidates, 12 were brought to Los Angeles for further interviews by the faculty search advisory committee, chaired by Nikias. This led to the selection of six finalists and ultimately to USC President Steven Sample’s appointment of Puliafito.

Puliafito succeeds Brian Henderson, whom Nikias acknowledged for his leadership during several pivotal years in the Keck School’s evolution.

Henderson, an internationally recognized cancer epidemiologist, will remain on the Keck School of Medicine faculty, returning fulltime to his research endeavors.

Henderson said, “I have extended my own congratulations to Dr. Carmen Puliafito, and I look forward to working with him in the months ahead as he assumes the deanship for the Keck School of Medicine. I hope all of our faculty and staff will join me in working together with the new dean to ensure a smooth transition and continued success for our school.”

Dean-elect says top priority is ‘to listen and learn’

I am grateful to President Sample, Provost Nikias and the members of the search advisory committee for inviting me to participate in the leadership of the Keck School at this very important moment in its history. I would also like to thank my immediate precedessors, Steve Ryan and Brian Henderson, for setting the school on a course toward greatness. I enjoyed meeting many members of the Trojan Family during the search process, and I look forward to meeting many more Trojan Family members in the coming months.

We have an incredibly talented and committed faculty at the Keck School. The role of the Dean is quite clear: to support the faculty and staff and to promote an environment in which the pursuit of excellence in every facet of clinical practice, research and teaching is possible.

My first priority is to listen and learn as much as I can about the the Keck School, its faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters—your achievements, your aspirations, your concerns. I will be accessible. We will have many small group and departmental meetings, as well as the opportunity of chatting over a cup of coffee or tea, which is almost always the best way of finding out what’s going on.

Over the past few months, I have learned much about USC and the medical school. I cannot tell you how optimistic I am about the future of the Keck School on every level: the future of our hospitals, the growth of our clinical practice, the expansion of our research enterprise and continued excellence in our education efforts. I look forward to working with you.

Carmen A. Puliafito


Keck School of Medicine

Puliafito tapped as new dean of Keck School of Medicine

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