UVI appoints first medical school dean


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ST. THOMAS - Dr. Benjamin Sachs, a former dean of Tulane University School of Medicine and a current Harvard Medical School senior lecturer, has accepted the position of the interim dean for the University of the Virgin Islands Medical School.

Sachs, who is also a senior lecturer at Massachusetts General Hospital, has a wide ranging background in clinical medicine, public health, health policy and finance administration. He also has experience in hospital management.

Sachs will be the interim dean through December, during which time he will be engaged in preparing documentation for the medical school accreditation organization for the United States and Canada, known as the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

The UVI Medical School will be the only English-speaking medical school in the Caribbean accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which will set it apart from all of the other medical schools in the region, Sachs said.

"The medical schools in the Caribbean, they're not U.S.-accredited," Sachs said. "They turn out a huge number of students, but those students have a difficult time finding residencies in the states. They're classified as foreign medical graduates."

The university plans to have 25 students in its first year. Those students will have just as much of a chance finding residencies post-graduation as those who graduated from one of the other 143 medical schools in the states.

Given that more than 43,000 students apply for medical school in the nation each year, and given that only 17,000 are accepted, according to Sachs, he expects that the school will have no problem finding students to enroll. Eventually, the school will have about 50 students per graduating class.

"By having a medical school, it will raise the standard of health care in the community," Sachs said.

From 2007 to 2013 Sachs served as senior vice president of Tulane University in New Orleans, and dean of Tulane University School of Medicine. Sachs moved to Tulane in 2007 to help rebuild the school of medicine which, along with the university, sustained some $900 million in damage during Hurricane Katrina.

Taking advantage of the post-storm crisis, Tulane and Sachs played a major leadership role in regional health care reform designed to improve both the access to and the quality of care in New Orleans, according to a UVI statement this week.

Prior to Katrina, most uninsured people received their care in the Charity Hospital emergency room. By 2011, approximately 200,000 people received their care through 68 community-based clinics, most of them newly opened, the statement said.

In 2010, then secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced a federal partnership with Louisiana and New Orleans designed to, according to the Times Picayune newspaper, place the city on the cutting edge of a new health care delivery system.

During Dr. Sachs' tenure, Tulane's School of Medicine was the recipient of the 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges Spencer Foreman Award for outstanding community service.

"Because of the dedicated and courageous faculty and administrators who returned after the storm, by 2013, all three missions of the school of medicine - education, research and clinical care - were much stronger than pre-Katrina," Sachs said at the time.

Prior to Tulane, Sachs served 29 years at Harvard University in several senior administrative positions at the Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. These positions included department chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the school and center, the Harold H. Rosenfield Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health from 1989 to 2007.

He also served as president of the center's physician organization, an organization of 1,500 physicians, from 1999 to 2007.

He has been involved in a number of international health care initiatives, including fundraising for and the development of women's and children's health centers in the Philippines, Armenia and Ukraine, and extensive work in Central and South America, the Middle East and Asia.

A native of London, Sachs is the son of Holocaust survivors. He graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, now Imperial College London, and earned a degree in public health at the University of Toronto. He worked as a visiting scientist at the Centers for Disease Control in 1980, and completed the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School in 1987.

He is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology, and maternal fetal medicine.

His goal for the UVI Medical School is to make it an institution that betters the health care available in the community, and also an institution that encourages medical research in the Caribbean.

"One has to have a long-term vision," he said.

UVI announced plans to develop a medical school in the Virgin Islands, along with the receipt of a $30 million gift from New Generation Power and its Chairman Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria to fund the school's development stage, at a Government House presentation in April.

"This in an exciting time for UVI and the Virgin Islands," said UVI President David Hall. "A medical school in the Virgin Islands would provide expanded health professional opportunities for V.I. residents, enhance the quality of clinical care in the territory, increase the academic offerings of the University in the health professions, provide more health care research in the Virgin Islands and encourage economic development in the territory."

The University estimates that $10 million from local and national donors still is needed to make the medical school a reality.

"We are extremely fortunate to have someone of Dr. Sachs's caliber, experience and expertise leading this important effort. His determination, creativity and collaborative approach are already evident. He greatly increases our chances for success," Hall said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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