The University of Saskatchewan came to the end of its search for the new dean of the College of Medicine after Dr. Preston Smith was announced as having accepted the position on Dec. 17, 2013.
The university’s Board of Governors appointed Smith to begin a five-year term on July 1.
In a Dec. 17 press release Provost and Vice-President Academic Brett Fairbairn said Smith was the candidate best suited for the job that lays ahead as dean of the College of Medicine.
“We have ambitious goals for our College of Medicine and Preston Smith has the combination of leadership qualities and proven academic experience that position him to succeed in the challenges that lie ahead,” Fairbairn said. “I am confident he will lead our College of Medicine to its rightful place as the flagship of our university and I am excited to welcome him to the U of S.”
Currently the Senior Associate Dean of Rural Medical Education at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Medicine, Smith is responsible for distributing medical education throughout the Maritimes, connecting and building realtionships with doctors and hospitals in the many communities and the university’s medical program. Smith also has more than 20 years of experience as a medical practitioner in Moncton, N.B.
During November 2013, Smith came to the U of S along with two other candidates for the position. Each candidate gave a 20-minute presentation of their vision for the College of Medicine. On Nov. 4, Smith spoke of the college as it would be in 2020 — no longer facing accreditation issues with strong leadership roles and a research intensive mandate.
Smith said he first had his eye on the U of S when he met Dr. William Albritton, the previous dean of the College of Medicine, at a strategic planning event in 2010. The similarities between the U of S and Dalhousie appealed to Smith, who said the similarly sized universities both try to spread medical education across a wide, rural area while working within two large cities. The College of Medicine’s history of social accountability and work with the community also appealed to Smith.
The similarities between the two universities “were all [the] kinds of things that resonated with my experience and my values,” Smith said. “Also, the commitment by both the province and the university to see the College of Medicine succeed was a huge factor in my interest in the job.”
Getting the College of Medicine off of probation is Smith’s first priority once he arrives at the U of S. Having already dealt with accreditation issues at Dalhousie, Smith said strong leadership and goal setting led to that probation being lifted within two years. In 2009 Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine was put on probation but, after a massive overhaul of the curriculum, full accreditation status was regained in 2011.
“The biggest thing about getting past accreditation is providing people with a vision of what the college of medicine could be and getting people behind the idea of going for that,” Smith said.
“We had a vision that we weren’t just going to get past accreditation, we were going start a new curriculum, we were going to start a new campus and we were going to do it all really, really well.”
Smith said that although the U of S has already progressed quite far with the College of Medicine’s new curriculum, he will use all of his previous knowledge for its application.
“My experience in dealing with implementing a new curriculum is making sure that there is widespread communication, good back lead development and above all, attention to detail about making sure that new cases are ready for the students when students need them [and] the lectures are ready well ahead of time,” he said.
Aside from tackling accreditation issues, Smith said increasing the college’s comparatively low research funding is his other top priority. In order to do so, he will begin recruiting for the new position of vice-dean of research in the months leading up to his arrival.
All three of the College of Medicine’s vice-deans along with numerous department heads and the chief operating officer have yet to be filled with permanent candidates. The intent was to wait until the new dean was chosen so that they could fill the positions as they see fit.
“For me a big part of that first year will be getting that leadership team established and my first priority there would be the vice-dean of research,” Smith said, adding that he would then move on fill the remaining positions as the year goes on.
Albritton retired from his position as Dean of the College of Medicine in July 2012 after serving two terms. Since then, Lou Qualtier and Colum Smith have been the college’s acting deans.