Leading his alma mater to new heights

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Priorities, challenges and personal time

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Spring 2012 issue (pdf)

A conversation with the Medical College’s new Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President, alumnus Joseph E. Kerschner, MD ’90, Fel ’98. Dr. Kerschner’s appointment as dean was confirmed on Nov. 18, 2011, and he was installed on Feb. 15, 2012.

Joseph E. Kerschner, MD ’90, Fel ’98, newly installed Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President, stops to chat with M2 John Davis, M1 Allison Dahlgren and M2 Clark DuMontier outside the library.
Joseph E. Kerschner, MD ’90, Fel ’98, newly installed Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President, stops to chat with M2 John Davis, M1 Allison Dahlgren and M2 Clark DuMontier outside the library.

Q:  What factored into your decision to become a candidate for Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President?
A:  It was my time as Interim Dean that convinced me that I should consider the position going forward. There were some very challenging financial and personnel decisions that needed to be made soon after stepping into this role. With the excellent team in the College’s central administration and the support of President Raymond, I was able to navigate these challenging waters successfully. This really provided me with a snapshot that I had the aptitude to lead in this way. I have always looked upon leadership roles as chances to be a servant leader and to give back to the institutions that have given me so much. With my history at MCW, its importance to Milwaukee and Wisconsin, I couldn’t think of a finer way to try and give back, so I accepted the challenge with great enthusiasm.

Q:  What did you learn as Interim Dean that will serve you most in your first year as the permanent Dean?
A:  This is an incredibly complex job that requires someone who will listen to the faculty and staff closely to be able to make difficult choices and decisions. Also, MCW has incredible resources with a very bright future, but it is the people of MCW—faculty and staff—rather than some magnificent new plan from the Dean’s Office, that will bring us success.

Q:  What do you view as the most critical role you have as Dean of the Medical School?
A:  I focus on the Four Ps: People, Programs, Planning and Practice. Each of these Four Ps is crucial, but there is a reason I have put people first. It is the most critical. Recruitment, retention and development of faculty and staff are the most important ways in which the Dean can lead MCW forward. We strive to enhance diversity, keep our incredible people here and bring new stars to shine on this campus.

President and CEO John R. Raymond, Sr., MD, presents the Dean’s medallion to Joseph E. Kerschner, MD ’90, Fel ’98, at his Feb. 15 installation.
President and CEO John R. Raymond, Sr., MD, presents the Dean’s medallion to Joseph E. Kerschner, MD ’90, Fel ’98, at his Feb. 15 installation.

Q:  How would you describe your leadership style?
A:  I am a collaborative individual who believes in surrounding myself with outstanding people, providing them with support but allowing them to have autonomy to use their incredible talents to succeed for themselves and the organization.

Q:  You join John S. Hirschboeck, MD ’37, MS ’41, and Michael J. Dunn, MD ’62, as deans who are also alumni of the medical school. What does it mean to you to be in this role at your alma mater, and what unique vantage point might it give you?
A:  It is one of the greatest possible honors in academic medicine to be able to serve as dean of the medical school from which you graduated. There is an absolute connection to those who have walked these halls as students, and I have heard from many, many former classmates and alumni since being named dean relating this connection and a positive response to having an alumnus as the leader of their medical school. It does also provide a history and understanding of the culture at MCW, which is important in a leadership position such as dean, not only for making decisions but also for communicating with people who have been and continue to be connected to the College.

Q:  What can the Medical College do to further engage alumni, and what part can alumni play in advancing the College’s missions?
A:  Alumni are among the greatest assets of the College. They are ambassadors across the U.S. and the world of the great things they experienced and that are still going on here at MCW. The College needs to ensure that we have very open lines of communication to engage alumni, keep them informed of the incredible advances in research, medicine and education occurring on this campus and to listen to their feedback and ideas about the future of the school. Through this dialogue, the alumni can assist in shaping our strategic directions, our missions and our future. The College will also need to rely on its alumni to carry the message that MCW will not be able to thrive without increased philanthropic support to achieve each of its four missions of clinical care, research, education and community engagement.

Two eras of leadership (L-R), President Emeritus T. Michael Bolger, JD; President Raymond; Dean Kerschner; and Dean Emeritus Michael J. Dunn, MD ’62.
Two eras of leadership (L-R), President Emeritus T. Michael Bolger, JD; President Raymond; Dean Kerschner; and Dean Emeritus Michael J. Dunn, MD ’62.

Q:  What has been your most rewarding moment in medicine?
A:  As a physician, the greatest moments you are going to have in your career are those personal touches between physician and patient, physician and family member. It’s the reason we all went into medicine in the first place, and it’s impossible to replace that with pretty much anything else we could do. What is exciting about the role of dean, is you have an opportunity to enhance that aspect for many other people, including clinicians in their own care, in helping the next generation of physicians reach this point, in helping our research-intensive faculty create knowledge, which makes the experience of healing more effective, and in bringing all of this great expertise into the community.

Q:  What motivates you most in your career and your life?
A:  Two things have motivated me most in my career and my life. One is to absolutely leave no stone unturned to try and do the best job I possibly can do for any task that’s asked of me. Whether in providing outstanding patient care, or turning in a research grant, or serving on a committee, or participating nationally in multiple organizations, or in my family life, I’ve always been someone who has been driven to get the most out of myself to achieve the highest level possible. It hasn’t always translated into success obviously, but at least when there have been failures, you know that you’ve worked as hard as you possibly could. I also really have been motivated to seek positions of leadership where I can make a difference, again as a servant leader, to be able to give back to the things and places that are important to me.

Priorities, challenges and personal time

Dr. Kerschner’s vision for the Medical College centers on what he calls the Four Ps, which consist of the following elements:

1) People
a) Recruit and retain
b) Development
c) Diversity

2) Programs
a) Regional leadership in subspecialty care more closely aligned with broader primary care base
b) Enhancement of mission integration
c) Cancer Center development

3) Planning
a) Commercialization of our ideas and technology
b) Research workforce planning
c) Financial planning
d) Joint strategic planning
e) Discovery Curriculum
f) Identify key strategies to enhance the progress and sustainability of our scientists and our commitment to discovery
g) Implement a new strategy for dean’s assessments to position the Medical College for growth, new partnerships and market competitiveness
h) Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin 5-year plan

4) Practice (things faculty and staff should practice as an institution)
a) Rounding with the Dean
b) Feet on the ground leadership
c) Communication, openness, teamwork

Dr. Kerschner on the major challenges the College will face in bringing his vision to fruition, and how they can be overcome:

“The greatest challenge that MCW faces is the changing landscape of clinical medicine. Our clinical practice accounts for most of the profitability at the College, and this landscape is changing. There will be increasing pressures to solve the Value Equation (Value = Quality over Cost). We can overcome these challenges by turning once again to our people and listening to their ideas about how we enhance our value. We need to become more efficient in all we do. We need to make sure that our missions are more closely integrated so that research, teaching and community engagement can be leveraged to enhance our clinical mission and vice versa. We need to look to commercialization and diversify our revenue streams. We need to invest wisely and right-size our other missions that require funding to support.”

Dr. Kerschner on his interests outside of medicine:

“My family is where I spend my remaining time that is not dedicated to the College, and I try and incorporate my interests with those of my family. I love sports and have spent a great deal of time coaching youth sports over the past 15 years. Fortunately, each of my kids has also been involved in sports, and I have had the privilege of coaching my kids as they have progressed through soccer and basketball programs. This has allowed me to spend these hours on the field or court in a way that creates an incredible bond with each of my children. When not coaching a sport we, as a family, have spent many hours as spectators of our kids’ activities including football, track, rowing, dance, theater, musical performances, etc.   My youngest daughter is in eighth grade, so this is likely to be my last year with a whistle. We love Door Country, and the family tries to spend as much time there and on Lake Michigan as possible with friends and family. We love to travel and have incorporated trips through work at times. A memorable recent trip was to the UK where I was invited to speak at the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland, and we were able to spend some time in Dublin and London, with my wife, Jane, and all three kids making the trip. The two areas for which I continue to try and carve out time are reading for leadership development and enjoyment and physical fitness. I have always been an avid reader and try to dedicate some time each day to this. I still play basketball on a weekly basis. (One ‘venue’ includes several Medical College faculty members who have the chance to box-out the dean underneath the boards). And I have a membership at the YMCA where I continue run and lift weights—often with my son—which I will miss when he travels to college.”

Videos of Dean Kerschner’s official Installation

Dean Kerschner Installation Part 1 of 3 - Feb. 15, 2012

Dean Kerschner Installation Part 2 of 3. Feb. 15, 2012

Dean Kerschner Installation Part 3 of 3. Feb. 15, 2012


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Loretta Plevak
03-30-12  7:02:49 PM

Dear Joe,

I am so proud of you and of your family for their support and the encouragement they gave you so you were able to achieve your well deserved position.

Aunt Loretta

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