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UNM Health Sciences Center chancellor to step down

Dr. Paul Roth, the University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center chancellor and the longest serving dean of a school of medicine in the United States, announced Wednesday that he plans to retire. (Albuquerque Journal File)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The longest serving senior administrator at the University of New Mexico plans to step down next year.

Dr. Paul Roth, a longtime leader of the UNM Health System, who holds various top roles on the medical side of New Mexico’s flagship institution, made the announcement Wednesday. He will stay in his current roles until his replacement is in place.

Roth, 72, is stepping down as dean of the UNM medical school, chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center and chief executive officer of the UNM Health System. Add up all those hats Roth wears and he oversees nearly 10,000 employees and a $2.2 billion budget.

He’s been a fixture at UNM for more than 40 years. He came to the university in 1976 for a family practice residency program and became a professor of emergency medicine in 1993. For the past 26 years, he’s been the dean of the medical school – which makes him the longest-serving medical school dean in the United States – and he’s been chancellor of health sciences for 14 years. He also filled in as acting UNM president in 2010 when former President David Schmidly had a health crisis.

“When I look back on those years, it’s incredible to think of all we have accomplished together,” Roth wrote in a letter to colleagues. “While there are still key projects that are close to my heart that have not been completed, I feel it’s time to retire and transition the HSC and School of Medicine to new executive leadership.”

Roth’s career has also included time as an ER doctor. He helped create a disaster relief team that responded to natural disasters and the 9/11 terror attacks. The med school student body grew by 30% during Roth’s tenure and the hospital went from 423 beds to 527, according to a UNMH news release.

Roth has been a constant at the UNM Health Sciences Center at a time when the main campus has had a revolving door on its president’s office. UNM is on its eighth president since 2000. And recently, an entire new leadership team has taken the reins at UNM’s main campus. President Garnett Stokes, Provost James Holloway, top officials overseeing finance and enrollment and five of the seven university regents have all taken over in the past 20 months or less.

Roth, in the letter announcing his retirement, expressed confidence in UNM’s new leaders.

“Transitions are hard, but rest assured that the president and the regents fully support the wonderful work you all are doing, as well as the many initiatives and partnerships we are currently engaged in negotiating,” he said.

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino said Roth’s tenure created stability at UNMH, which the senator said had both positives and negatives.

“One of the positive things is that the Health Sciences Center has grown and established a real reputation for itself,” he said. “The negative thing is that because he’s been there for very long, the complaint is that some of the departments under him have not had a change in leadership when perhaps they needed it.”

Ortiz y Pino said Roth worked to make UNMH serve residents all over New Mexico, not just in Albuquerque. And he said he hopes the next leader tapped to replace Roth carries on that tradition.

He said lawmakers from all over the state came to trust Roth.

“There’s a level of confidence in the information that he brought to the Legislature,” Ortiz y Pino said. “When we had the resources we were eager to make them available to the Health Sciences Center.”

Roth will go before lawmakers again, because he said he has more to accomplish before stepping down. That includes his previously announced proposal to lobby the Legislature so UNM can offer free medical school for students who commit to practice in New Mexico for four years after they finish their residency program. And there are plans to build a new UNM Hospitals tower, a 48-bed, $400 million expansion that is yet to break ground.

“One of the things I am proudest of is shepherding a medical school with students who come from, reflect and serve New Mexico, and I remain committed to removing any barriers that might keep us from expanding that mission,” Roth said in the letter.

He said that after his retirement he plans to work part time in the School of Medicine directly with students.

Stokes, in a message to the university community, said Roth has been a trusted member of her senior leadership team and a source of wisdom and stability at the university.

She said there will be a national search for his replacement and that Holloway will chair that search committee. Roth is making about $675,000 per year. His contract ends in June.

“It would be impossible to overstate Paul’s contributions to health care and education at this university and throughout New Mexico – generations of students, graduates, patients and citizens are forever changed and grateful thanks to his ethical and transformational leadership,” she wrote in the message.

Roth has served as chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges Council of Deans; he is a member of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which accredits all U.S. and Canadian medical schools; and he is a board member of the Association of Academic Health Centers.

Roth is also on the board of directors for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, and has been the chair of that board.

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