UF College of Medicine announced its first female dean, Dr. Colleen Koch, Oct. 30, becoming the fifth UF Health college to be led by a woman.
A search committee chose Koch, currently Johns Hopkins Medicine’s chair of the department of anesthesiology and critical care medicine, after an eight-month national search. When Koch begins on Jan. 10, she will fill an over two-year vacancy for the UF position.
Koch will transition her job at Hopkins during the interim. The academic and research diversity and growing opportunities at UF compelled her to leave Hopkins and apply for the dean position, she wrote in an email.
At the College of Medicine, Koch hopes to increase interdisciplinary collaboration between the college’s 24 research departments and integrate more students and employees into the UF Health system, she wrote.
“I would also like to leverage the opportunity for inter-and cross-disciplinary collaboration in the education space,” Koch said.
Koch envisioned opportunities where the UF Warrington College of Business lends its knowledge on organizational behavior, management and leadership to the medical curriculum on health systems or the data sciences and engineering departments educates students about applying new technology in patient care.
Koch is also eager to use UF’s new $20 million AI partnership to build up the College of Medicine.
“The COM partnership with the UF’s Artificial Intelligence initiative is an amazing opportunity to accelerate innovation in research, education and patient care and become a national leader in AI in the health sciences,” she wrote.
Koch will develop a Roadmap to Diversity, which will include unconscious bias and cultural competency training and recruiting diverse employees. She said she wants the movement towards diversity to be data-driven.
“We know diverse teams perform better, diverse companies and their boards perform better financially, and diverse and inclusive environments provide an opportunity for role modeling, recruiting, and retaining talented learners and faculty,” she said.
Twenty-one UF Health college deans and College of Medicine faculty, students and chairs on the search committee narrowed from 45 candidates to seven.
With input from the committee and College of Medicine, UF Health President Dr. David Nelson, selected Koch from the finalists because of her impressive track record of building up Johns Hopkins anesthesia department, data-driven leadership style and ability to integrate health systems, he said.
“She has a fantastic track record,” Nelson said. “Being at big academic funnel systems and leading the three mission agenda that we have.”
The College of Medicine is UF’s largest college, with 1,300 faculty and $220 million for research, Nelson said. The college has academic, research, clinical and philanthropic responsibilities.
“It's a really big job, and somebody who's operationally efficient, which she has shown herself to be at Hopkins,” Nelson said.
Until Koch takes her position Jan. 10, Dr. Joseph Tyndall will continue to sit as the interim dean while a transition team keeps Koch informed and involved in major changes in the college, Nelson said.
Dr. Julia Johnson, UF College of Pharmacy’s dean, co-chaired the position’s search committee.
The committee limited the number of finalists invited to have in-person interviews and took a two month break in April and May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson said. COVID-19 adaptability also factored into what the committee looked for in candidates.
“We did talk a little bit more about crisis management and financial constraints I think people certainly expect to have because of COVID,” she said.
Koch said that COVID-19 halted many of the usual teaching and research activities at Hopkins. With research levels returning to pre-pandemic levels in many universities, Koch said she will apply lab and classroom safety regulations at UF.
“We have learned an enormous amount with the first wave of COVID and we will be better prepared from these learnings as we face the second wave,” she wrote.
The sitting College of Pharmacy and College of Veterinary Medicine are also the first female deans in the colleges, Johnson said. The College of Nursing has had female deans since beginning, and the College of Public Health and Health Relations currently has the second female dean in its history, she added.
Being a chair of an academic department is often the stepping stone to becoming a dean, Johnson said. Women don’t occupy many chair positions across the country, keeping them from taking on the higher academic positions.
“Medicine, not unlike a lot of other disciplines, it's taken a while for women to get to the highest leadership levels,” she said.