UCSF School of Nursing Dean David Vlahov to Step Down

By Mike Billings

portrait of David Vlahov
Photo by Elisabeth Fall

After five years leading and advancing one of the nation’s preeminent nursing schools, UC San Francisco’s School of Nursing Dean David Vlahov, RN, PhD, has announced he will step down as dean at the end of August. He will continue as a member of the school’s faculty where he will focus on research and mentoring.

Under Vlahov’s leadership, the School of Nursing has launched innovative education programs, excelled in its rankings as a top graduate school and advanced its research activity, including securing a growing amount of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding.

“Under David’s leadership, the school has excelled both in its research and educational mission,” said Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “David’s vision for education has led to an expansion of the school’s offerings that will help to provide exceptional training for the nurses of the future.”

Vlahov joined UCSF in April 2011, becoming the first male dean of the School of Nursing. He started at the University after a rich career in New York that established him as an expert in epidemiology, infectious diseases, substance abuse and mental health.

Expansion of Education Programs

Upon his arrival as dean, one of Vlahov’s top priorities was to establish a framework for nursing that reflected global health trends and reforms in health care. This resulted in creation of the Center for Global Health and an expansion of the school’s reach through new programs in Haiti and Mexico.

"The School of Nursing had made inroads in global health before I started,” Vlahov said. “I wanted to push further into the global scope of nursing, and am proud of what we have accomplished.”

In addition to the Center, the school has revived educational programs, planned for new ones and launched several minors.

David Vlahov sits in his commencement garb, with other deans sitting beside him
David Vlahov joins other UCSF deans and leaders during last year's commencement season. Photo by Susan Merrell

One of the educational innovations was a new minor in palliative care, launched in 2014 and recently funded to become an interprofessional offering. “We built the program on the decades of cutting-edge research on symptom science that the School of Nursing has produced,” Vlahov said. The school also started a diabetes minor during Vlahov’s tenure.

Additionally, the school launched an online MS degree program in Health Administration and Interprofessional Leadership and, in response to the needs of UCSF Health, reopened its Neonatal Nurse Practitioner program.

The advances in education under Vlahov weren’t just programs – they included adding tools to aid faculty in their teaching. In 2015, the school opened the Educational and Curricular Innovation Hub, which has a dedicated instructional designer to work directly with faculty. “The Hub is key to helping faculty constantly strive toward higher quality delivery and innovation in teaching,” Vlahov said.

The educational offerings started under Vlahov will continue after his departure as dean. The School of Nursing is on track to launch in 2017 a new post-master’s Doctor of Nursing Program.

Researchers and Funding

The School of Nursing’s research also excelled while Vlahov was dean. For years, it has been the top recipient of NIH funding when compared to other nursing schools and has continued to increase the grant amounts for the school’s researchers.

In 2011, researchers in the school received $8.35 million from the NIH. By 2016, the amount had increased nearly 68 percent to $14.01 million, funding major studies in symptom management, alarm fatigue and drug intervention.

“Not only has the amount our researchers received increased steadily over the last five years, but we have outpaced other schools so that this year we received double the amount of the second-place institution,” Vlahov said. “This demonstrates the incredible depth of our nursing research program here at UCSF.”

The scope of research by the School of Nursing faculty has received significant outside acclaim. Two faculty members – Kathryn Lee, RN, PhD, FAAN, and Christine Miaskowski, PhD, RN – were inducted into the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

A Life of Social Justice, Service to Society

Cole Hall auditorium filled with studens and faculty having discussions
David Vlahov participates in a 2014 student-hosted town hall event to open up a dialogue about race and racism, shortly after UCSF students launch the White Coats for Black Lives national movement. Photo by Paul Day

Vlahov’s accomplishments at UCSF build on a long career in nursing and public health, which was sparked after attending Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Vlahov said attending the historic event made him realize that he wanted to spend his life working for social justice and serving people.

Vlahov attended Earlham College in Indiana and received a bachelor’s degree in 1974. He then received 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.

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

Vlahov went on to work at the New York Academy of Medicine, where he built the Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies in several areas of research, including behavioral and community intervention for HIV prevention, and population-based studies of mental health. That work included a mental-health assessment and follow-up on 3,000 New York City residents after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He also served as an expert adviser to the World Health Organization.

Vlahov also served as the senior vice president for Research of the New York Academy of Medicine; a professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University; an adjunct professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Health Services Research at Cornell University; an adjunct professor of psychiatry and nursing at New York University; an adjunct professor of pediatrics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York; and an adjunct professor in epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“I am enormously grateful to the UCSF community for their brilliance and passion, which has inspired me over these years,” Vlahov said. “I’m also immensely proud of my colleagues and students in the School of Nursing – we’ve made great strides in advancing the role of nurses in the clinical setting and showing that UCSF is, and will continue to be, a leader in the future of nursing.”

For more campus news and resources, visit Pulse of UCSF.