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2 doctors quit faculty of USF medical school

LISA GREENE
Published June 9, 2004

Two prominent doctors have left the faculty of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, the latest in a series of developments prompting changes at the school.

Dr. Robert Christensen, chair of USF's pediatrics department and physician-in-chief at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, has left to work for a large hospital and health care group in Utah.

Dr. Robert Clark, chair of USF's radiology department, resigned after changing jobs at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa.

Those vacancies became public a few days after USF officials confirmed the school's anesthesiology residency program has been put on probation. The school's dean was told to resign last fall after asking faculty members to donate to a political campaign.

USF is no different than many medical schools that are seeing rapid turnover in a changing environment, said Dr. Robert J. Belsole, interim medical school dean and interim vice president of the health sciences center.

"Medicine is changing quite a bit, and we're being faced with changes in the clinical arena as well as the research arena, and you have to be on top of things, make up for things that come down from funding sources," Belsole said.

Tight funding for research and teaching positions, combined with a shortage of doctors in some specialties, makes it hard to keep medical faculty members, he said.

Christensen, a well-known neonatologist, has family in Utah and accepted a job with Intermountain Health Care that offered more research potential, USF officials said. Christensen, who is between jobs, has sold his St. Petersburg home and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"It's a great opportunity for him," said Dr. Lynn Ringenberg, director of USF's pediatrics residency program. "This was a decision that the chair felt was too good to pass up."

Christensen began looking for a job working with researchers he knew after several of his key lab researchers left, Belsole said. The pediatrics chair also is difficult because it involves working in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Belsole said.

Clark resigned from the USF faculty and as chair because he changed jobs at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, Belsole said. He resigned as chief of service for radiology service to become clinical director of its new Molecular Imaging Laboratory, according to a Moffitt memo.

"I brought Clark in and asked him to stay as chairman and he chose to resign," Belsole said.

USF's radiology department has less control over imaging equipment than departments at most medical schools, Belsole said, and that has been frustrating for the faculty. Many medical schools have their own hospital or own at least part of an imaging center.

Clark did not return calls Tuesday, and Moffitt officials had little to say about the change. Clark has been involved with Moffitt's work as part of a nationwide trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute to screen heavy smokers in an effort to detect lung cancers earlier.

Belsole has asked Dr. Martin Silbiger, a former dean and radiology chair, to become interim chair of radiology. But the departments could remain without permanent leadership for some time. Belsole said he is unsure whether he would appoint permanent chairs since he is the interim dean.

Belsole said he decided this week that he probably will apply for the permanent job. He stressed that the changes mirror challenges faced by other medical schools and said 90 of the nation's 126 medical schools have named new deans since 2000.

"You go to a meeting and the oldest dean there has only been there three years," he said.

The two empty chairs could trigger a site visit from the group that accredits medical schools, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. That group visited the school's anesthesiology program after its chair departed and recently put its residency program on probation.

Belsole said he is not worried about the anesthesiology program's future.

"Most of the citations already are taken care of," he said. "There is no citation that is really a death threat. If we get our ducks in order, we can get it reversed."

Citations against the program included having too few anesthesiologists to supervise medical residents during evening and weekends, canceling educational conferences and not having medical residents see patients after surgery.

Documents from the council say USF put a new policy for seeing post-operative patients in place last December, but that was after the site visit.

- Lisa Greene covers medicine for the St. Petersburg Times. She can be reached at greene@sptimes.com

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