WVSOM president reflects on new role

Nemitz reflected on his inaugural year as president and spoke to his immediate focus and goals for the remainder of 2019.

In just a few months, James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., will reach the one-year mark as WVSOM’s seventh president. And while the school’s leader has worked at the medical school for more than 30 years, one year at the helm of WVSOM seems to have gone by in an instant.

WVSOM Magazine: What are your thoughts about your time as president so far?

James Nemitz: So far, it’s going really well. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support I’ve received since becoming president. The support has been through the roof and has been from all sectors: faculty and staff, students, the Lewisburg community and those I meet throughout the state. And particularly alumni.

It still comes as a surprise that people are still congratulating me. All of this is about relationships. Many of the people I’m talking about are former students who I took care of when I was a faculty member. That is the thing I do: take care of people. As a faculty member, I took care of people in anatomy and in the lab and people remember that about me. Now, as president, I’m taking care of the institution. For me, it’s all about the people.

The fact is that support isn’t just coming from within the institution, support is coming from beyond the institution in the community and around the state. People feel like they have a connection to the school through me, and I think that’s good for the school.

You’ve been actively involved in a lot of events on campus and throughout the state. Why is it important for a president to be a participant in school events rather than deal solely with behind-the-scenes issues?

I feel that as president, part of the role is that you are the face of the institution. I think it’s important to put yourself out there. People want to see the school connected to the community; they don’t want the school to be isolated. By my going out and being more involved in the community, or things like Rotary Club meetings, the Chamber of Commerce, Greenbrier Valley Theatre or an event at Carnegie Hall, what the community sees is that the president of WVSOM supports what they are doing, and that’s important in terms of the community at large.

In terms of our students, I’ve tried to go to as many events as I could throughout my career because students appreciate it. Even though I don’t know students as well as I did when I was a faculty member, I know students appreciate it when I make the effort to go and be present. Because what that says is that I care. It’s important to share in the life of students beyond the classroom. I firmly believe that it sends a supporting message to them.

I would say the same thing with alumni events. I will participate in as many as I can because I like renewing the friendships and relationships. We are all busy, but I recognize that you also have to go out and meet people where they are. I want to go where the alumni are. I already started doing this with the Alumni After Hours events. I want to host more of those events — whether it’s a national meeting or a regional concentration of alumni — I want to continue to reach out to our alumni.

Additionally, our program is a four-year program with the first two years on the Lewisburg campus. The third and fourth years are in our Statewide Campus (SWC), which is an integral part of our institution. That program is essential in the delivery of our curriculum. The SWC is always invited to participate in campus activities, but I feel I have a responsibility to go out and be connected to the Statewide Campus. As president, I want to send a message that I care about our SWC and I think one of the ways you do that is by making the effort to be physically present. In 2018, my goal was to visit every SWC site and to have lunch with the administrative team in each of the seven regions, that also included CEOs of hospitals and preceptors. When you do things like this, you not only create goodwill and show that you care, but you learn things about what is going on and it’s helpful for me in understanding what is working and what isn’t working, what challenges we have and so forth. I am happy to say that I met that goal.

A president has to deal with many pressing issues, but what are some of the more immediate issues or goals you have for WVSOM for the remainder of 2019?

Certainly, my top priority is to work with the dean and associate deans to ensure that we have quality clinical rotations, and we do, but the point is that the clinical environment and the medical education environment is constantly shifting in the third and fourth year.

We have to be proactive in continuing to develop relationships with hospitals and clinics that we are working with and growing new ones. A lot of work has been done by the SWC staff, but I still believe as president that I have a role in sending the message that this is important, and where appropriate, meet with higher-level people like CEOs of hospitals to make sure we are developing and maintaining those relationships. It’s one of my top priorities.

My second priority is growing and maintaining residency positions. That’s tied to the first priority. There’s a connection between clinical rotations and developing residencies. One of the things our students want is to rotate in places that have residencies, so we continue to grow residency opportunities for our students. This is a challenging environment because we are past the tipping point where more people are applying for residencies than there are residency positions. So it’s incumbent on me and WVSOM to look for opportunities to grow additional residencies and then also ensure good relations so students get the residencies they want and deserve. It’s a challenging area that we need to direct our effort toward.

What are some other priorities or goals for WVSOM?

An objective in 2019 is to look at institutional strategic planning. We have already accomplished most of the goals we set in the last strategic plan that was approved in 2015. We need to evaluate where we want WVSOM to be in five years, so we are brainstorming that and putting together a vision, a roadmap for the institution. It’s always an ongoing process, but it’s important to set those goals. That will be a big accomplishment in 2019 — to create the next strategic plan, the next roadmap for the institution, and to get it approved by the Board of Governors.

Another thing that we’re looking at is what makes sense in regard to complementary programs. At the January 2019 Board of Governors meeting, the board agreed to allow the school to move forward in exploring a masters of medical education program, and I’m excited about that. It’s opened up the conversation with faculty and staff about what other programs we might want to do that are complementary to our mission.

There are many areas to talk about, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about two other areas that continue to grow and have an impact, and one is the commitment to research. We’ve built the infrastructure with the Office of Research and Grant Management and we’re seeing more research and grant activity. This is the most research activity we’ve had in the school’s history.

This is good. This is healthy. I see research continuing, and it’s an area of growth for our institution. Research is an important component of our school's mission.

Another part of our mission is serving, first and foremost, West Virginia and addressing the health care needs of the citizens in this state. So all the outreach we do is another area we are continuing to grow and have a huge impact. We have all kinds of projects going on where we impact kids as young as kindergarten through our seniors, and I think that’s really important. The Center for Rural and Community Health, which is bringing in a lot of programmatic grant money to address the health care needs of the state is, again, an area of continued growth for us, particularly dealing with the opioid crisis. We are at the table and we are one of the players at the state level in terms of addressing the crisis and doing things in the areas of education, prevention and even starting to look at the possibility of what we can do in terms of treatment and workforce development.

WVSOM Magazine: Shifting gears, let’s talk about the “Living Our Mission” campaign. You introduced it at the installation ceremony and it seems people have embraced the initiative. What are your thoughts regarding the response people have had to the campaign?

I’m pleased with the response. As we thought about the installation, I thought about what I wanted it to turn into and that was an opportunity to send a message to people. I think coming up with the bandana, which is a physical symbol, was a wonderful idea. Here’s the thing: we are living our mission. We do that each day, day after day, and we have been doing it a long time. But the other part is when I say we are living our mission, that’s more than just fulfilling our mission statement, which we do. I’m sending the message that part of living our mission is taking care of ourselves and taking care of others. That’s really the message I want to send to people. I want people to live the philosophy of A.T. Still and take care of their mind, body and spirit so they can better take care of others. It’s all about taking care of others and doing good for others. For me, that’s ultimately what WVSOM is about.

Date Added: 
Monday, July 1, 2019