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Top physicians, faculty recruited to UB

Downtown Campus

More than 3,000 permanent jobs are expected to be created in the region as a result of new medical school projects on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, including the opening last fall of UB’s new Clinical and Translational Research Center, and construction of the new home for the medical school. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published June 19, 2014

Buffalo is reinventing itself and leaving its Rust Belt image behind with a new crop of talented physicians and faculty members recently recruited to all units of UB, especially its growing downtown medical campus.

In the past five years, the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has recruited nine new department chairs and they, in turn, are helping to bring in new faculty. Over the next five years, the university plans to hire a total of 250 new faculty members across all academic units, 100 of whom will join the medical school. 

The new recruits are embracing not only new professional opportunities at the university, but also Buffalo’s growing reputation as an increasingly attractive place to live and work. The hiring is a key component of UB 2020, the university’s strategic plan that is transforming not only the university, but also the city around it.  

It’s a scenario that is, happily, becoming more common across the university, thanks to the institutional vision expressed in the UB 2020 plan and the shared leadership of President Satish K. Tripathi; Michael E. Cain, vice president for health sciences and dean of the medical school; and Provost Charles Zukoski.   

Together, and with unprecedented commitments from New York State, they are helping to transform Buffalo and the university into a destination for world-class health care and biomedical research.

Major New York State investments to this effort have included Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s NYSUNY 2020 bill, a historic piece of higher education legislation signed into law in 2011 that is enabling the university to pursue the next phase of UB 2020. In addition, the governor has pledged $1 billion to Buffalo to attract new industry. The state has identified $100 million in economic-development projects in Buffalo through the work of the Regional Economic Development Council, co-chaired by Tripathi.

Since being named UB’s 15th president in April 2011, Tripathi has made achieving the vision of UB 2020 his top priority. With support from NYSUNY 2020, Tripathi has led efforts to recruit and hire faculty from all over the world, relocate the medical school to the growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, build and open new facilities across the university’s three campuses and enrich the academic experiences of students.

More than 3,000 permanent jobs are expected to be created in the region as a result of new medical school projects, including the opening last fall of UB’s new Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and construction of the new home for the medical school in downtown Buffalo.

“This is a tremendously exciting time to be at UB and in Buffalo,” Tripathi says. “UB now, for the first time in its history as a public institution, has the ability to plan on a five-year horizon, which is transforming the way we plan for our collective future. As a result, there’s a great deal of progress moving forward at UB—and moving forward because of UB in our Western New York community.”

New faculty at the medical school are being hired with resources provided by NYSUNY 2020 and a $40 million gift in 2011 from a medical school alumnus—UB’s largest gift ever.  

“During the past four years, the medical school has been hiring about 50 new faculty per year,” says Cain, “and about 40 percent of the space in our new Clinical and Translational Research Center will be occupied by new faculty.”

The medical school currently has 715 full-time faculty; Cain expects the school to employ approximately 850 full-time faculty by 2016 as the new medical school opens downtown.

“Very few people in the course of their careers get to be part of building a new medical school,” says Cain. “The faculty whom we recruit can sense momentum at UB and in Buffalo. They are excited by the possibilities we put in front of them. The respected faculty we already have on board help to recruit others who are at the top of their game.”

In fact, it’s not long before the new department chairs and faculty, who just arrived on campus themselves, become recruiters. “Our newest recruits have great credibility with prospective candidates and are most enthusiastic in talking about how things worked out very well for them in moving to Buffalo,” notes Kenneth M. Blumenthal, senior associate dean for research and graduate education in the medical school.

Buffalo’s pluses include the affordable cost of living and the ease of living in a small city. Cultural attractions also help convince candidates and their families to relocate.

“For example, the fact that we have a philharmonic orchestra is almost unheard of elsewhere for a city of our size—and the other musical venues and theater options are excellent,” says Blumenthal.

Buffalo’s charms are helping UB attract promising scholars in all academic disciplines, including Justin Read, associate professor of romance languages and literatures. “Buffalo is a big city, but it’s also a small town,” Read says. “There’s an authentic sense of community here. And the arts scene in Buffalo is incredible. For a city of this size to have the artists that it does is simply amazing.”

Animesh A. Sinha, an expert in immunological tolerance and autoimmunity in skin diseases, came to UB in 2011 from Michigan State University. Sinha is the Rita T. and Ralph M. Behling Professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at UB and at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Attracted by the professional opportunities at UB, including the department’s new labs within the 170,000-square-foot CTRC and the building of a new medical office building for outpatient care, Sinha says the city itself has been a very pleasant surprise.

“During the recruiting process, my wife and I realized the hidden gem that Buffalo is in terms of lifestyle and locale,” Sinha says.

After new recruits get past stereotyped notions of snow and chicken wings, they warm to some of Buffalo’s best characteristics: It’s an extremely friendly and family-friendly city with nice homes, and it’s easy to get around, even during rush hour.

“Recruits not familiar with Buffalo see the lakes, the shores, skiing, boating, golfing, hiking, proximity to Toronto, flights to everywhere and great summers.  They see the perks that other cities don’t have—all in one location,” says Mark Lema, chair of the Department of Anesthesiology.

Steven Dubovsky, chair of the Department of Psychiatry, who came to UB in 2004 from the University of Colorado, tells recruits about how collegial the entire university is. “I introduce them to the faculty and residents, and let the department speak for itself. Most candidates fall in love with the faculty,” he says.

Even Buffalo’s many ex-pats, who still have great affection for their hometown, help sell candidates on the region’s plusses.

Gil I. Wolfe, the Irvin and Rosemary Smith Professor and chair of Neurology/Jacobs Neurological Institute, came to UB last winter from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. He says a couple he knows from Western New York who now live in Dallas “still hold this region close to their hearts.”

“They confided to me that at one point while in Dallas, they strongly reconsidered moving back to Buffalo. My discussions with them provided reassurance that Buffalo had its own charms and assets, and that in no way was it a mistake to move here. Listening to their perspective and knowing that they continued to be quite fond of the Buffalo area was very helpful.

“Once I met the medical school leadership and faculty, heard their vision for the future and appreciated the unique era of growth commencing on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, my initial hesitancy was reversed,” says Wolfe.

John Tomaszewski, who was hired in 2011 from the University of Pennsylvania as UB’s new chair of pathology and anatomical sciences, also was initially hesitant. “Buffalo was kind of off the beaten path,” he says, “but things evolved over the interview sequence.”

He, too, began seriously considering UB and Buffalo when he met the people who would be his colleagues. “After hearing about the university’s vision for the future and the infrastructure that had been put in place to support it, I started to connect the dots and I realized there were a lot of opportunities. It was like a diamond in the rough. Things are coming together. It’s quite dramatic.”

The new recruits agree: It is the people at UB who were the reason they began to seriously consider relocating to Buffalo. “The candidates we bring here are attracted by the talented department chairs and the faculty they meet during the course of their interviews,” confirms Cain. “Bringing in new talent only enhances that upward spiral.”

Anne B. Curtis, the Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chair of the Department of Medicine, arrived in Buffalo in the fall of 2010. Since then, she has chaired searches for new chiefs for the department’s divisions of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition and Nephrology. She also is chairing searches for division chiefs of geriatrics and palliative medicine and hematology, and she co-chaired the search committee for Zukoski.

“What’s making it easier to recruit to Buffalo is the energy about building the new medical school on the growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus,” she says. “We have a new medical school being designed by a renowned architectural firm, a new Women and Children’s Hospital soon to be constructed, and a new medical office building going up. We have many new department chairs enthusiastic about the potential here.

“I believe we have already reached a critical mass that is attracting attention across the country.”

New recruits to UB praise the consistent vision expressed by Tripathi, Cain and other medical school administrators. And they admire the way this vision extends beyond the university to Western New York and the state capital in Albany.

“The leadership alignment here is a huge plus,” says Tomaszewski. “The potential of UB’s strategic plan, UB 2020, was a consistent story from SUNY to President Tripathi on down through the ranks and into the community. It’s a coherent, consistent story that resonates with people. The key is that the university’s leaders are in alignment with where we all want to go and how to get there.”

Teresa Quattrin, chair of the Department of Pediatrics agrees. “Potential leaders look for a reality where the culture is the same at different levels within an organization,” she says. “In recruiting new faculty, I make a big point of the fact that the leadership at UB pays great attention to making sure that all players are pulling in the same direction.” Quattrin, an internationally known physician-scientist and an expert in childhood diabetes and obesity, was named department chair at UB in 2010.

Other new department chairs and directors hired at the UB medical school are:

  • James (Jay) D. Bangs, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. He came to UB from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School, where he was professor of microbiology and immunology.
  • Vanessa M. Barnabei, chair of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics. She came to UB from The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, where she was the Patrick and Margaret McMahon Endowed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of general obstetrics.
  • Margarita Dubocovich, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, who pioneered the discovery of drugs to assess the functional role of certain melatonin receptors. She was the first department chair Cain hired, joining UB in 2008 from Northwestern University.
  • Lawrence Wrabetz, former head of the myelin biology unit at San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, who was appointed director of UB's Hunter James Kelly Research Institute in 2010. Wrabetz came to UB with his wife and co-researcher, Laura Feltri.