As he prepares to step down as dean and vice chancellor for medical sciences, Dr. Gerald S. Levey reflects on his decade-and-a-half at the helm of UCLA’s medical school and healthcare enterprise and the notable evolution that has taken place under his leadership.
I ALWAYS HOPED to someday guide the fortunes of a major academic medical center. So when I arrived at UCLA in September 1994, it was, indeed, a dream come true and the opportunity of a lifetime.
I soon came to realize, however, that the job I accepted would not be exactly the job I had expected.
To be sure, there would be the opportunity as dean and vice chancellor to restructure the governance of the medical school and hospital – a top priority of mine – and to expand and build, to create new departments and enhance existing institutes, and to recruit some of the finest faculty found anywhere in the country. But the job description and discussions leading up to taking the position hadn’t really contemplated the extent of the damage that was inflicted by the Northridge earthquake, which had occurred nine months earlier. Add to that, in 1994 California was in the midst of a recession. Put those two factors together and the challenges that lay ahead from the moment my wife Barbara and I set foot in L.A. became evident.
Under these circumstances, it was essential to hit the ground running. And I did. In my second month, I met Leslie and Susan Gonda at the annual Aesculapians Ball. It was an instant connection that led to an ongoing relationship – and a major gift to build the Gonda (Goldschmied) Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center.
We also quickly launched several initiatives, including one to rejuvenate our research laboratories, which were, frankly, in terrible shape. At the same time, we entered what would become two years of discussion with the Federal Emergency Management Administration to secure funding to rebuild our damaged hospital.
Of course, rebuilding our hospital became a consuming task. The completion and opening of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in June 2008 was certainly a significant high point – the culmination of 14 years of diffi cult eff ort. It was, for me, a seminal event, and perhaps one of the most emotional. About 18 months before it was done, I was walking through the halls of the new hospital, and, despite the clutter of construction, it started to look like a hospital to me, and I knew it was going to really happen. My eyes started welling up with tears. Th e project had been so hard, with such obstacles, and more than once I was deeply concerned we might not complete the project. But my consistent mantra was we must not and cannot fail, and our team did not. On June 29, 2008, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center opened.
As significant as the opening of the new hospital was, however, it was not the only most memorable event of my life at UCLA. The other would be the $200-million gift from David Geffen in 2002 to endow the medical school, which was renamed the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in his honor. When our discussions were completed, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. It was one of the most special feelings I’ve ever experienced in my professional life. To receive an unrestricted gift of such magnitude to support programs, faculty and students was invaluable, especially when it comes to competing with private institutions for the best faculty, and it secured the financial future of the school for generations to come. It absolutely changed the history of the medical school.
Building a new hospital and endowing the medical school were not the only things that have been accomplished over these past 15 years. We have established five new departments, developed several institutes and other special programs, revamped the curriculum, recruited amazing faculty and department chairs and trained new generations of the fi nest physicians in the country. More than 100 chairs have been endowed, National Institutes of Health funding has increased three-fold and fi ve new research buildings have been built. Did I accomplish everything I wanted to do? Most, but not all. Have we left things in a better place than when we arrived? I will leave that for others to judge. What I do know is that I am thankful every day for the blessing of being able to do what I have done. After 15 years, I still can’t believe that this happened to me.
GERALD S. LEVEY, M.D.
Vice Chancellor, UCLA Medical Sciences
Dean, David Geff en School of Medicine at UCLA
The Lincy Foundation Distinguished Service Chair