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VC finalists give vision for Medical Center

Published on Monday, February 2, 2015

By: Ruth Cummins

When members of the UMMC community last week heard from two longtime academic administrators at campus-wide town hall meetings, they walked out with a better understanding of the pair's ideas, goals and hopes for the Medical Center.

One of those physicians - Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC associate vice chancellor for health affairs and vice dean of the School of Medicine, and Dr. Stephen Spann, a veteran family medicine educator and chief medical officer at a John Hopkins Medicine International teaching hospital in the United Arab Emirates - this month will likely be named successor to Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs James Keeton, also the School of Medicine dean.

They emerged as finalists after an exhaustive and far-reaching search  by a committee facilitated by Dr. Patrick Smith, UMMC's chief faculty affairs officer, and his staff. The two candidates will be submitted unranked to University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones, who will present his final selection to the board of the state's Institutions of Higher Learning, possibly at the board's meeting Feb. 19. 

About 100 people were present for each of the two town hall meetings, and there was no shortage of questions for Spann and Woodward. Ole Miss Provost Morris Stocks introduced the candidates, who each gave a 20-minute presentation, followed by 40 minutes of questions ranging from how they'd support more interprofessional education to their plans for enhancing the Medical Center's research mission.


During his town hall meeting Jan. 26, Spann focused on qualities a good leader must have. He gave an overview of global and national health rankings on diseases and mortality, and brought that home to Mississippi.

“Leaders build trust by leading with integrity, transparency and fairness,” said Spann, who earned his medical degree at Baylor College of Medicine and completed a residency in family medicine at Duke University. “They paint a picture of where the organization is going.”

He pointed out that Mississippi lags internationally when it comes to infant mortality, health-care disparities between black and white residents, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. “There’s significant evidence that the reason we do poorly compared to other wealthy countries is a lack of access,” Spann said. 

“How do we deal with this, and why are we here? Leaders talk about the ‘why,’ ” he said. “My personal mission statement is to make the world a better place by improving health and health care.

“My challenge to you today … is to lead. Build great, caring relationships with the people around you,” Spann said. 

He wants to come to Mississippi because he believes in UMMC’s mission and strategic plan, Spann said. “I think you’re serious about your mission.”

And, he said, he has philosophical differences with the system of health care that impacts his current post, including the fact that challenging authority is frowned upon. “What I don’t enjoy currently is that leaders of the health-care system are moving toward a two-tiered system. I have trouble with that ethically,” he said.

It’s necessary to challenge authority, Spann said, in pursuit of what’s best for the organization and the patient.

“The first thing I’d do if I come here is to sit with you and listen, rather than be heard … and depend on you to work with me as we move forward.”


Woodward said lessons she learned growing up on a farm in Carroll County and spending long hours treating patients in the Emergency Department showed her Mississippi’s vast need for quality, accessible health care.

“My vision is simple: To continue the good work that has been ongoing to improve health care in Mississippi,” Woodward, a tenured professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, said at the Jan. 29 town hall meeting. “I don’t think there’s anything (at UMMC) we need to blow up and do over. Will we be constantly tweaking things? Of course.”

Woodward has spent her entire career at UMMC, attending medical school here and completing a residency in emergency medicine. For the last five years she has served as the Medical Center's second highest-ranking officer. 

That’s why she’s uniquely positioned for the vice chancellorship, Woodward said, joking that longtime administrators such as herself “know where the bodies are buried.”

Asked about her strengths, she said “I can be collaborative. I can listen with an open mind. But at the end of the day, I don’t have trouble making a difficult decision.”

During her years in emergency medicine, she said, “you develop a comfort level in making hard decisions. That has translated well into the work I’ve done in recent years.”

Being part of the search, she said, has given her time to ponder "what the next five years might look like."  How the UMMC community interacts with each other in its enterprise business and clinical systems is an area in need of continued focus, she said, as are infrastructure improvements to catch up with growth in other areas. “There’s got to be a commitment to bring it up to par,” she said.

She’s been asked, Woodward said, whether an internal candidate can make meaningful and needed change. She noted that Jones and Keeton both were internal candidates and transformed the Medical Center over the past decade.

“To me, the obvious answer is, my stars! Could we have had any more change? Our current direction is good and right, and our strategic plan is good.”

Town hall videos

To watch a video recording of Dr. Stephen Spann's town hall, click here.

To watch a video recording of Dr. LouAnn Woodward's town hall, click here.