Made for medicine
New dean Dr. Daniel Wilson brings passion and experience to UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville
By Matt Galnor
When your dad’s the doctor — the doctor in a small Iowa town — you’re going to get your share of exposure to medicine.
That’s even if you don’t trail your father around on house calls, which Daniel Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., did regularly.
Wilson remembers when one of the local police officers who moonlighted as a tree surgeon came to the house after a chainsaw mishap. The man knocked on the door with one hand, trying to pin the other on his thigh hard enough to stop the blood from gushing everywhere. It didn’t work.
“Vi,” the man said to Wilson’s mother, Viola, “is Doc here?”
“Things like that happened all the time — all the time,” Wilson said.
It was the start of a passion for medicine that has taken Wilson to the newest challenge in his career: vice president of the UF Health Science Center-Jacksonville and dean of the UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville.
Wilson started Feb. 1, coming from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where he was chair of psychiatry for 12 years.
David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of the UF&Shands Health System, said Wilson’s combination of academic and hospital experience made him the top choice.
“He’s a great fit,” Guzick said. “He blends all of the needs of an academic health center.”
Wilson wants to continue growing research and “wave the University of Florida flag” more in the community, touting the academic health center as a place everyone would want to seek care.
His past positions include being on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and serving as medical director for Ohio’s nine mental hospitals with Integrated Health System. However, it’s an experience in Iowa some 30 years ago that Wilson still draws on.
Wilson was 20, preparing to head back to Yale University and continue pursuit of his anthropology degree. His father died and Wilson stayed home to be executor of the estate.
He started transferring his father’s medical practice to another physician, wading knee-deep into financial and legal matters.
“That was a baptism by fire and quite an interesting initial foray into health care administration at age 20,” Wilson said.
A local attorney and family friend guided Wilson through the process. He taught Wilson not to fight every fight, but to focus on the most important areas.
Now that Wilson is leading the Jacksonville campus, with nearly 400 faculty spread over a 10-city-block campus and clinics throughout North Florida, the need to focus is even clearer.
“I think there is high regard in the community for what Shands and the university are doing, but I think it is perceived more as a safety net hospital than appreciated for the full range of what’s going on here,” Wilson said.
Wilson points to the UF Proton Therapy Institute as a prime example. Not only do people travel hundreds of miles for this technology, but also every patient is part of a massive clinical trial, Wilson said. That blend of clinical and research activity helps get academic health centers on the map and should be replicated in other areas, Wilson said.
After earning his medical degree from the University of Iowa, Wilson completed his residency as a joint appointee of Harvard and the Massachusetts General and McLean Hospitals. He stayed on faculty at Harvard for seven years, leaving to join the University of Cincinnati and become medical director of the Lewis Center of the Ohio Department of Mental Health — one of the country’s most notoriously troubled hospitals at the time.
“I guess I went into it thinking I would learn a lot and the place was so close to failure that if it collapsed, no one would blame me,” Wilson said, laughing. “And if there were some successes, it would be all to the good.”
While there, he was part of a yearlong program in health care leadership, learning from hospital and health executives about the business and administration of medicine. He and others turned Lewis around, which Wilson says was a key development in his career.
Wilson’s hospital experience is a plus for Shands Jacksonville President and CEO Jim Burkhart.
“I really see this as a partnership, and I think Dr. Wilson does, too,” Burkhart said. “I see us really speaking as one voice, with one set of overarching goals to accomplish here.”
After leaving Ohio, Wilson built the psychiatry department at Creighton before being recruited to Jacksonville. He was drawn to the position by the quality of faculty, staff and administrators on campus.
“There is a sense of mission, both academic and service, that is very impressive,” Wilson said. “It speaks to how special many people feel about the work they’re doing here, despite the challenges that exist.”
He’s continued to build on his career, keeping the same passion and interest for medicine he learned from his father.
And, hopefully, he won’t have any more patients with chainsaw injuries knocking on his front door.