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Keck School Dean Stephen J. Ryan to step down

Stephen J. Ryan, dean of the Keck School of Medicine, steps down as one of the longest-serving medical school deans in the country.

After serving 13 years—longer than any dean in the history of USC’s medical school—Stephen J. Ryan announced his resignation as dean of the Keck School of Medicine and Senior Vice President for Medical Care, effective June 30, 2004 (see related story, page 2).

He will return full time to ophthalmology as president of the USC-affiliated Doheny Eye Institute, where he has an active research lab, and as the Grace and Emery Beardsley Professor of Ophthalmology.

In his letter to faculty, Ryan expressed his appreciation to everyone affiliated with the Keck School. “I have greatly enjoyed working with the dedicated faculty, staff, students, and supporters of the Keck School of Medicine over these past 13 years,” he wrote. “It has been a privilege to work with all of you during my time as Dean. The commitment and hard work of so many have been key to the survival of our medical school—saving our school in the very difficult times of the mid-1990s and then building to the tremendous success of the Keck School today. This is the right time for a change.”

Ryan is one of the 10 longest serving deans in the 126 medical schools of the Association of American Medical Schools.

USC President Steven B. Sample credited Ryan with “having done more during the past three decades than any other person to transform the Keck School of Medicine from a department of the county government, with only a loose affiliation with USC, into a nationally ranked research medical school that is an integral part of a distinguished private university.”

During his tenure as dean, the Keck School of Medicine underwent a remarkable transformation.

• Overall research funding increased from $72 million in FY93 to $149 million in FY02.

• The average grade point average of entering medical students improved from 3.47 in FY92 to 3.61 in FY03 and cumulative MCAT scores went from 29.2 in FY92 to 32.4 in FY03.

• A new, innovative medical student curriculum was introduced.

• The Keck School established a joint M.D./Ph.D. program with Caltech.

• Private practice revenue for the USC faculty physicians increased from $39 million in FY92 to more than $100 million in FY03 (from $67 million in FY92 to $148 million in FY03 including University Children’s Medical Group).

• Fundraising reached record levels, including the $110 million naming gift from the W.M. Keck Foundation—at the time, the largest gift ever to a medical school.

• Campus expansion commenced with more than 585,000 square feet of new research space including the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, the Harlyne J. Norris Cancer Research Tower and Research Building 3, along with new clinical buildings—USC’s Healthcare Consultation Center II and the USC University Hospital Norris Tower, being built by Tenet Healthcare. USC’s partner, Los Angeles County, is on target for its 600-bed, $820 million replacement facility slated to open in 2007.

• A Board of Overseers, made up of some of Southern California’s most respected business leaders, was established to guide the school’s progress.

“I have admired his leadership, enthusiasm and vision,” said David Lee, chair of the Keck School Board of Overseers. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with him and providing occasional advice to him as he has taken on these ambitious challenges. I have great respect for his capabilities and what he has contributed to the Keck School of Medicine.”

A member of the prestigious Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, Ryan was named in 2002 to the joint National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine panel convened to evaluate the organizational structure of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Ryan had previously served as chair of the USC Department of Ophthalmology from 1974 to 1995. He is a member of numerous ophthalmologic organizations and has served as president of many, including the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology and the Macula Society. He is the founding president of the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research.

Ryan graduated from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He completed his residency and chief residency at the Wilmer Ophthalmologic Institute at Johns Hopkins, where he later was assistant and associate professor of ophthalmology. He completed a fellowship in ophthalmic pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

USC recruited Ryan in 1974 as the first full-time chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and the youngest department chair in the medical school. After arriving, Ryan took the first steps toward establishing private practice for USC’s full-time faculty. He initially saw patients in a colleague’s Wilshire Boulevard office, later at the new Doheny Eye Institute when it opened in 1975 and in the Doheny Eye Hospital, which opened in 1985 and was expanded in 1992.

In 1991, USC leaders asked Ryan to serve as medical school dean after Robert Tranquada stepped down following the opening of USC University Hospital. After emphatically refusing the job, Ryan agreed to fill in for six months. After repeatedly declining the deanship, he was named permanent dean in 1993.

Ryan saw the school through the early days of USC University Hospital and its low patient census. He worked through a series of dramatic budget cuts in the early 1990s and a near-closure of the school in the mid 1990s, in the midst of the county budget crisis and threatened closure of the LAC+USC Medical Center.

“It was the faculty who saved the school from closure,” Ryan said.

By 1997, the school had not only survived, but emerged stronger than ever. In 1998 Ryan believed it was time for a new strategic plan and appointed a task force, headed by Ron Smith, chair of ophthalmology, to develop a report card on the school’s progress relative to its 1993 strategic plan. As the strategic plan process unfolded, Ryan was engaged in discussions with the W.M. Keck Foundation, initially for support of a neuroscience research building. Those discussions escalated into a powerful idea that ultimately culminated in the foundation’s $110 million gift.

During his time as dean, Ryan continued to play a prominent role in the field of ophthalmology. His numerous awards include the Louis B. Mayer Scholar Award from Research to Prevent Blindness, Inc., The Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars, the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Senior Honor Award and the Fight for Sight/Mildred Weisenfeld Lifetime Research Achievement Award. He has authored more than 250 publications in scientific literature and has delivered more than 20 named/memorial lectures. He is the author of “Retina,” a book that is considered to be the definitive text in the field. He is actively working on its fourth edition.

From 1982 to 1985, he was a member of the NIH National Advisory Eye Council (NAEC) and subsequently chaired the Retina Panel for the NAEC. From 1975 to 1979, Ryan served as a member of the Visual Sciences “A” Study Section in the Division of Research Grants at the NIH. He is founding president of the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research as well as the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, advocacy organizations for the National Eye Institute of the NIH.

An internationally recognized expert in the field of retinal diseases and ocular trauma, Ryan has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions in support of the NIH and the National Eye Institute. His research interests focus on ocular trauma, macular degeneration, choroidal neovascularization and vitreoretinal diseases and surgery.

“I have known Steve Ryan since we were medical students and then residents together at Johns Hopkins and the Wilmer Eye Institute,” said Ron Smith, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology. “He has always been a visionary with the perseverance to follow through on his plans. The Keck School has benefited greatly from his leadership. All anyone has to do is look around the campus, which is bustling with energy and new buildings. At the same time, I am very pleased that he will be returning to his home in ophthalmology.”

Ryan said he has always looked at the ambitions and goals for the school as a relay race.

“As a long-serving dean, my satisfaction and reward are knowing that together we have positioned the school well for our successors, who will achieve our dreams for the Keck School to be among the nation’s leading centers of academic medicine,” he said.

“The Keck School will achieve its ambitious goals. This is not about the dean or one person. No one person moves the school. This is a team effort,” he said.

Ryan added, “I have been so very fortunate that the faculty, staff and students believe in the vision for the Keck School with a very bright future and national leadership. All of us need a vision or process that is larger than ourselves or any one individual. Such a vision inspires us as a team. We are blessed to have so many individuals who share our ambitious vision, that now the team of faculty, staff and students will carry forward.”

Dean Ryan’s letter to the faculty of the Keck School of Medicine

Dear Colleagues:

Yesterday, I tendered my resignation as Dean, Keck School of Medicine, and as Senior Vice President for Medical Care, effective June 30, 2004.

On leaving the deanship, I would like to thank the University—the president and the Trustees—for the opportunity to serve as dean of the Keck School of Medicine (KSOM) from July 1991.

This is a difficult letter for me since I have greatly enjoyed working with the dedicated faculty, staff, students, and supporters of the Keck School of Medicine over these past 13 years. This is the right time for a change. It has been a privilege to work with all of you during my time as Dean.

The commitment and hard work of so many here have been key to the survival of our medical school—initially in saving our school in the very difficult times of the mid-1990’s and then building to the tremendous success of the Keck School of Medicine today.

We now have a secure position as a medical school and firm platform to achieve our ambitious goals in our bright future.

Together, we have discovered how to get the most out of limited resources with hard work and collaboration.

Throughout the development of our ambitious plans, the faculty has led an incredible turnaround and fundamental change in culture and values in the Keck School. Most organizations fail and many go out of existence when such a dramatic change in basic core values and culture is attempted. Our Keck School made one of the most profound changes imaginable at one of the most difficult times of dramatic change in the history of health care in the 1990s.

We have worked together in developing a strategic plan and coupled this with a sound business plan. We have articulated our plan and priorities to the university and other constituencies, such as the KSOM Board of Overseers.

What makes the KSOM exciting with the opportunity to be a great medical school is not about the dean or any one individual. No one person drives or moves the KSOM. Our greatest asset is ourselves and that we have a team effort. I have great confidence in the KSOM leadership.

President Sample described the medical school in 1991 as a county medical school, i.e., functioning like a department of Los Angeles County with a loose affiliation with the University. Previous presidents and trustees of the university had chosen and developed this model for the medical school in their negotiations with L.A. County. KSOM faculty are responsible for the great achievement of leading fundamental change in the culture and values of the Keck School to align with our goal of being a private research medical school in pursuit of excellence and the highest quality. In recent years, our faculty has led the transformation so that currently our medical school functions as a private research medical school in a private research university.

I believe that the KSOM should continue to support the LAC+USC Medical Center as a partner. It is our noble mission to assist L.A. County in its charge to care for the poor. We look forward to the county’s new replacement facility in 2007.

We should continue to support LAC+USC to the degree that L.A. County desires our involvement and is willing to reimburse our faculty physicians for their contributions.

In addition to our significant presence in the public sector, we have achieved tremendous success in the private sector. Previously, we saw private patients in Doheny for eye disease and in Norris for cancer.

The opening of USC University Hospital and HCC-I in 1991 and the hard work of our department chairs and faculty working together with Tenet led to tremendous success and explosive growth such that our problems today are lack of capacity.

The new Healthcare Consultation Center (HCCII) is now opening, and a new hospital tower by Tenet—to open in July 2005—will provide the desperately needed facilities in which our excellent faculty physicians and surgeons will care for their ever-increasing number of patients.

In the early 1990s, our applications to the W.M. Keck Foundation for a grant were not successful. The Foundation observed that we did not have the strengths, such as research, or the caliber of medical schools that the foundation supports around the nation. The dramatic improvement of our medical school finally led to a successful proposal and the Keck gift for $110 million, which resulted in the naming of the Keck School of Medicine in 1999. At that time, it was the largest gift ever made to a U.S. medical school.

From my perspective, even more important than the magnificent gift from the Keck Foundation was the Keck name and the strong support of the W.M. Keck Foundation. The foundation is known throughout the nation as a leading supporter of biomedical research and science and technology.

It is known for supporting first-class science and scientists. As just one example, in Washington, D.C., the Keck Center of The National Academies provides the home for the most prestigious scientific organizations in the world. The nation’s leading scientists enjoy working in the Keck Center. We are fortunate to share the Keck name for identity and branding purposes.

The involvement and active assistance of the Board of Overseers, whose membership includes distinguished leaders of Los Angeles, including Trustees from USC, Caltech, and the W.M. Keck Foundation, guides us in the development of a truly great medical school. They believe that the Keck School of Medicine is an anchor institution for Los Angeles.

I have every confidence that the future of the Keck School of Medicine is bright and that each success will lead to ever greater prominence of KSOM. While great facilities are essential, success always comes down to people. We are blessed with truly great people in the Keck School.

I wish every success to the faculty, students, staff, supporters, and alumni, as well as the entire community supporting the Keck School of Medicine.

I look forward to my return to the Doheny Eye Institute and ophthalmology. This is the most exciting time in history to be in vision research. The tremendous success of the Doheny faculty and staff has led to Doheny being recognized throughout the world for its excellence in vision research and ophthalmology.

I take great pride in being part of this outstanding team of the Keck School of Medicine. My satisfaction and reward are knowing that together we have laid the groundwork and the platform for our successors who, as the next leaders and faculty, will achieve our dreams and aspirations for the KSOM to be among the nation’s leading centers of academic medicine.

I wish every success and happiness to the wonderful and outstanding people of the Keck School of Medicine.


Steve Ryan

Keck School Dean Stephen J. Ryan to step down

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