UCSF appoints new nursing school dean

By Elizabeth Fernandez

David Vlahov, PhD, RN, a pioneer in urban health research, expert in global health epidemiology and highly prolific author, has been appointed the new dean of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Nursing, one of the nation’s preeminent graduate schools.

Following approval by the UC Board of Regents, Vlahov joins the university from the New York Academy of Medicine, where he serves as the Senior Vice President of Research and Director of the Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies.

“I am extremely pleased to announce this appointment,” said UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH. “David brings an exciting combination of community-based research and intervention to UCSF, a unique blend of experience, leadership skills and interests that is highly relevant given the continually evolving landscape of health care in general and the field of nursing in particular.”

A scientist and registered nurse, Vlahov will become dean on April 1, 2011. 

“This is a very exciting opportunity,” he said. “During my visits to UCSF, I have been energized by the enthusiasm, the intelligence, the great leadership. It’s a terrific environment.”

Vlahov succeeds Kathleen Dracup, RN, FNP, DNSc, FAAN, who had led the nursing school since 2000. During her tenure, the school tripled its research grant funding to nearly $40 million, doubled its endowment to $26 million and increased enrollment by 40 percent to 724 students. Internationally recognized in the field of cardiovascular nursing, Dracup stepped down in October and returned to the UCSF faculty.

The university conducted an extensive national recruitment before selecting Vlahov, who reports to Desmond-Hellmann. He is also being appointed as a tenured faculty member without salary while serving as dean.

Vlahov will earn $350,000 in total annual compensation as well as moving expense reimbursement and a lump sum relocation allowance of $25,000. He is eligible to participate in the University of California Home Loan Program, and to receive standard pension and health and welfare benefits, including senior management life insurance and executive salary continuation for disability.

Since 2006, Vlahov has served as the Senior Vice President for Research of the New York Academy of Medicine. He also is a professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, adjunct professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Health Services Research at Cornell University, adjunct professor of psychiatry and nursing at New York University, adjunct professor of pediatrics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York and adjunct professor in epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

While at the New York Academy of Medicine, Vlahov built the Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies in several areas of research including behavioral and community intervention for HIV prevention, population-based studies of mental health, including a mental health assessment and follow-up on 3,000 New York City residents after the events of Sept.  11, 2001. While there, he has made substantial efforts in building research on urban health in the global arena, serving as an expert advisor to the World Health Organization. He is the founder and first president of the International Society for Urban Health, and has convened nine annual international conferences on the topic. The most recent Conference included 720 participants from 44 countries.

His service at Johns Hopkins University spans nearly a quarter-century in various academic leadership roles, centering primarily on epidemiology.  His study of HIV infection among injection-drug users in Baltimore, which began in 1987, is the longest-running epidemiological investigation of its kind.

He also has worked as a nurse in facilities as varied as a nursing home and the medical unit of a maximum security prison. 

In his new role, Vlahov’s responsibilities include advancing the School of Nursing’s commitment to combining research and scholarship with high quality clinical education at the graduate level, developing new ways to sustain the school’s growth, leading the school in its strong commitment to diversity, and serving as a key thought leader in the national and international nursing community.

Among his top priorities, Vlahov cited updating a strategic plan for the school, expanding the role of nursing in community practices and establishing a framework for nursing that reflects global health trends and the demands of health care reform.

“The School of Nursing has made some inroads in global health,” he said. “We’re at a time when it needs more definition in terms of practice and research.”

Vlahov said that one of his first tasks at UCSF is “to have extensive conversations with faculty and alumni” about the direction of the school and to extend that dialogue to current students. “I want to really listen to them about what they are doing, what ideas are coming out that I can use in my role as dean to communicate to the rest of university and to alumni about the richness of the nursing school culture.”

Desmond-Hellmann said that Vlahov’s research focus closely aligns with UCSF’s current and future directions, particularly with the university’s mission of advancing health worldwide.

“Not only is David a respected scientist in the areas of HIV risk and mental health following community disasters, he is also known for his longstanding commitment to addressing health care disparities through his vibrant community research and clinical activities,” she said. “He has led epidemiological studies in Baltimore, Harlem and the Bronx. His outcomes have exemplified how individual- and community-level intervention studies can address social determinants of health.”

“His interests in urbanization in both developed and developing countries will find compatible homes here in the San Francisco Bay Area and with our internationally-active faculty.”

Vlahov, who was born and raised in Washington D.C., attended the “I Have a Dream” speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, and says it so transformed him that he decided to spend his life “serving people, working for social justice and recognizing how important diversity is.”

He chose nursing as his profession because it seemed an ideal match between his scientific interests and his avocation toward public service. “I’ve always liked the idea of caring for other people,” he said. “I felt that nursing epitomized it.”

Vlahov received a bachelor’s degree in 1974 from Earlham College (Indiana);  bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing in 1980 from the University of Maryland; and a doctorate in epidemiology in 1988 from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

He is the editor of three books on urban health and author of more than 600 scholarly articles. He also serves as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Urban Health and editor for the American Journal of Epidemiology and Epidemiology.

An expert hobbyist photographer, he has been married for 20 years to Robyn Gershon, DrPH, an occupational and environmental health and safety researcher who serves as associate dean for research resources at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. They are the parents of two children, Alexandra and Alexander, and grandparents of three.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.