Dr. Cecil O. Samuelson Jr. is moving up, lock, stock and stethoscope.
He is relocating from the dean's suite on the main level of the University of Utah's School of Medicine to the second-floor hospital offices reserved for the university's vice president for health sciences.After an intensive nationwide search for a new health vice president, university officials settled on the hometown candidate. Samuelson had been dean of the medical school since February 1985 and on two earlier occasions served as acting dean.
A stethoscope is, in fact, symbolic of Samuelson's philosophy about the whole business of health and science. They count most at the point where they are applied, he believes - where a patient is involved.
He has divided his medical career among administration, education and practice, but all to the same end - that the health sciences benefit people.
As a student at the U. in the early '60s, he switched from engineering to medicine as a career because it allowed him to "to combine science with the opportunity to do something for people." And despite moving up the administrative ladder, he continues to be actively involved in the medical school's rheumatology and gerontology programs because he doesn't want to lose sight of what health sciences are really all about.
His selection of rheumatology as a speciality is, again, indicative of a commitment to the practical applications of medicine.
"As a medical student, it was clear to me there were many people with muscle and joint problems and few doctors to care for them," he said. Nudging from a respected instructor, Dr. John Ward, long-time head of the rheumatology program at the U., helped Samuelson solidify that observation into a career choice.
As a student, Samuelson made another observation that affected his approach to a medical career. Some teachers were exceptional, some not so good. When he complained, he was told to "quit complaining and do something about it." So he did. He pursued a master's degree in educational psychology - "a course or two at night, a couple of summers' work" - while getting his medical training.
After receiving dual degrees in 1970, he moved on to Duke University for advanced training. In 1973, he returned to join the medical staff at the U. While filling appointments as dean of the medical school (in 1977 and again in 1984) he developed a first-rate gerontology program and continued work as a practitioner and researcher.
Samuelson steps into the vice presidency at a time of considerable challenge. His first objective will NOT be to find a replacement for himself in the dean's post of the medical school. A search at this time, when the specters of tax initiatives hover around future budgets like vultures, would probably be futile, he said.
"We're not going to embark on a search until our finances are settled," he said.
The same question colors all his plans and hopes for continuing to build on the health sciences programs at the U. Administrators are keeping a wary eye on key staff people who are the glue making programs cohesive. If those key people jump ship, a significant "brain drain" could occur, university officials say.
"The exodus has started," Samuelson said, "but so far, our triumphs are more significant than our defeats." Although some choice faculty members have sought greener pastures, recruitment has successfully shored up the health sciences units.
One of the medical school's faculty members left this year not because of his own salary, but because his children were in elementary school classes with 38 children, Samuelson said. "He felt he couldn't hold his kids hostage" to the economic situation that plagues Utah.
Concern for the future and a sense of pessimism is contributing to faculty unease, Samuelson said. Utah used to be considered an upbeat place, but the rest of the country no longer views the state positively, sometimes because Utahns' own rosy glasses have become clouded.
"We've become embarrassed to be Utahns."
The degree of pessimism being expressed is not warranted, Samuelson said, and is a disservice to the excellence that continues to predominate, particularly in the U. health sciences components. He rates the actual decline "maybe from an A-plus to a B-minus" - still good enough to justify plenty of optimism, particularly if a reversal in the economic picture is in the offing. Many Utahns assume there will be, and Samuelson is among that group.
"I'm very optimistic. I don't like to lose and I wouldn't have taken this job if I assumed I would be presiding over the demise of health sciences at the U."
He ticks off a list of areas in which the Utah school continues to command national and international attention: the world-class genetics program, one of the world's premier laser programs, continuing work on artificial organs, a school of pharmacy that is third in the country in research, a medical school that was the only one in the country to receive full 10-year accreditation based on exhaustive reviews, a College of Health that is "better than ever" with increasing research and a growing preventive health program that is getting national attention.
"I don't know of anyone who has the quality we do in these areas," Samuelson said. "My job is to see that our people are not inappropriately disillusioned and depressed."
At the same time, he has no illusions of his own about how passage of the tax initiatives on this fall's ballot would affect health sciences at the U.
"We have the potential to slowly slip out of sight - the potential to become mediocre."
He clings to the hope that Utahns won't allow that to happen and for the future sees "not numerical growth, but continued excellence in selected pockets, with significant growth in some programs that will continue to distinguish the Health Sciences Center."