New Medical Dean Seeks a Culture of Discovery
New WSU College of Medicine Founding Dean John Tomkowiak stands at the front of a classroom in the administration building on his new campus in Spokane. He’s smartly dressed in a gray suit and pattern tie whose dominant color is crimson. It’s his fourth day on the job, but the first time he’s had a chance to gather his employees for an initial meeting.
“Most of my waking hours are spent thinking about this place. It’s not often you get to shape a new medical school from the beginning.”
The new dean runs through many of his themes and beliefs. He talks about establishing a culture in the College of Medicine that constantly strives for excellence and avoids complacency.
“How can we do what we do better?” he asked. “We need to always ask ourselves that question.”
Tomkowiak (pronounced tom-KOVE-e-ack) is a psychiatrist by training. He urges his faculty and staff members to take care of their own personal wellbeing first, then fulfill their responsibilities to family and friends. The job, he says, should be third on the priority list.
“Take care of the first two and I’m confident you’ll be able to throw yourself fully into your work while you’re here,” he said.
Tomkowiak’s first major task at WSU will be to guide the College of Medicine through the process of gaining national accreditation for its medical school. It’s a process with which he’s very familiar. He has helped four other medical schools with accreditation, including Chicago Medical School, his most recent post.
His first visit to Spokane was a short one, one week. He’ll come back for another week later in October, then two weeks each in November and December. He’ll take over as full-time dean in January.
“I want you to strike from your vocabulary the notion of Spokane as our main campus. The other campuses also have a major stake in this.”
His first week featured an extensive series of meetings, including a two-day visit to WSU branch campuses in Vancouver and Everett and introductory meetings with community and health care leaders in those communities and in Spokane. The meetings reinforced his vision of WSU’s medical school as a statewide institution, something he shared during his meeting with faculty and staff.
“I want you to strike from your vocabulary the notion of Spokane as our main campus,” Tomkowiak said. “The other campuses (WSU urban campuses in the Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Everett) also have a major stake in this. Yes, Spokane will be the place where students spend their first two years, but we want our students who spend their clinical years on the other campuses to feel connected to those places. We are one school, one team.”
WSU’s newest ambassador
On a rainy afternoon in Everett, Tomkowiak and his companion for the day, Jeff Bell from the Gallatin Group – a consultant for the university during the medical school campaign – walk into a conference room at the Everett Clinic’s headquarters. They apologize for being a few minutes late as they introduce themselves to Everett Clinic CEO Rick Cooper and associate medical director Dr. Michael Rohrenbach. The Everett Clinic will be one of WSU’s clinical partners. Its physicians will teach third- and fourth-year medical students.
After some small talk, Tomkowiak launches into his vision of WSU’s medical school. He talks about his belief that, in addition to their academic and clinical studies, medical students should also be taught about leadership. (Tomkowiak holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University.) He says WSU medical students may be required to take a series of four leadership courses.
“Leadership education would truly help distinguish us from other medical schools in the nation”
“That would truly help distinguish us from other medical schools in the nation,” he said.
The mention of leadership training perks the ears of Rick Cooper, who says his organization spends great sums of money to teach leadership skills to its employees.
“That’s something we would be interested in working with you to develop,” he said.
Cooper asks about how many medical students WSU hopes to assign each year to Everett Clinic. The answer hasn’t yet been determined, responds Tomkowiak, He promises to continue to consult with Cooper and the Everett Clinic team as WSU works through the accreditation process. When their discussion is over, Tomkowiak slides his chair over to pose with Cooper for a picture taken by a WSU photographer. They rise and shake hands.
Tomkowiak’s engaging personality made a good impression on people during his first visit to his new campus. Staff members were impressed that he sought them out for introductions during his first day. Faculty members say they look forward to hearing more about his views about WSU Spokane’s research mission.
He vowed to hold another meeting with staff and faculty when he returns the week of October 19. Meanwhile, he has already created a prioritized list of other people with whom he hopes to meet.
Even while back in Chicago as he works through the transition to new leadership at Chicago Medical School, he admits with a smile that “most of my waking hours are spent thinking about this place. It’s not often you get to shape a new medical school from the beginning.”
Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine
WSU Health Sciences Spokane
PO Box 1495
Spokane WA 99210-1495