Announcing SLU's Dean of the School of Medicine and Vice President for Medical Affairs
February 17, 2022
Dear members of the Saint Louis University community,
I write to inform you of my decision to appoint Christine Jacobs, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., as our next permanent Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine. Dr. Jacobs has served as Acting, then Interim Dean of the School of Medicine and Interim Vice President for Medical Affairs since February 1, 2021.
Dr. Jacobs is a talented, mission-centered leader who, as interim dean and vice president, has demonstrated her ability to effectively lead the medical enterprise. I am confident that Dr. Jacobs is a leader who will inspire our faculty, staff, students, partners, alumni, and other stakeholders, to take SLU’s School of Medicine to higher levels of excellence in research, teaching, and patient care.
Dr. Jacobs holds an M.D. from Vanderbilt University, completed her family medicine residency at Brown University, and is Board-certified in Family Medicine and Geriatrics. She joined Saint Louis University in 2008, in 2011 founded the SLU Family Medicine Residency in St. Louis, and since 2017 served as Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine.
In what follows, I review the search process and share the discernment process that led to this decision.
The Search & Decision-Making Process
An aggressive year-long national search was planned and executed by a representative search committee under the leadership of its chair, Dr. Howard Place, and assisted by the firm of Witt Kieffer. The committee invited three impressive candidates to campus for two-day interviews. Opportunities were provided for all stakeholder groups to meet and assess each of the candidates.
My decision considered the report of the search committee and the results of their candidate feedback surveys, along with outside assessments of job-related skills. I sought the viewpoints of numerous University leaders, including the search committee, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff members of the School of Medicine, partners at SSM Health, and members of our Jesuit community. I reviewed the outside assessments with a representative of the firm that conducted them, and, of course, I interviewed each of the three finalists myself.
The SLU School of Medicine and SLUCare are beacons of excellence in medical teaching, research, innovation and practice. Our dedicated and talented faculty, staff and students provide outstanding specialty and primary care to our community. They advance knowledge in critical areas of medicine and health. They treat some of the most complex medical conditions, while training the next generation of health care practitioners. They do this in partnership with SSM Health.
These organizational attributes make the permanent Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine an ideal opportunity for a person of empathy, vision, faith, transparency, collegiality, fiscal savvy and data- and mission-driven action.
In my conversations with University community members, I expressed confidence in our ability to recruit a leader who will take our faculty, staff, students, partners, alumni, and the medical enterprise to higher levels of excellence in research, teaching, and patient care.
As I noted when I announced this search in February of 2021, our vision for SLU is to be a global Jesuit university that is mission-focused, student and patient-centered, and research-driven, working with the people of St. Louis to reimagine, transform, and unify our city. The School of Medicine and the academic medical center play critical roles in that vision.
We sought a Vice President who is passionate about our work and mission, who understands the responsibilities of the role, who is wise in decision making, and who will work effectively with all stakeholders of our urban, international, research university.
We sought a Vice President who is dedicated to escalating our efforts to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive school, practice and community.
In short, the next Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine must chart a course that advances our University’s vision.
Among the very competitive group of finalists, Dr. Jacobs emerged as my top candidate.
As I considered the three finalists, I was mindful of the priorities and needs of both the School of Medicine and the University. I know that this hire will make critical decisions that chart the trajectory for the School of Medicine and SLUCare for many years to come. I believe that Dr. Jacobs is the person best positioned to make these decisions, and to lead SLU’s exceptional work in medicine, medical education, and research into the future.
Mindful of our mission and vision; the complexities presented by the initiatives currently underway; the ongoing strategic discussions and relationship with our partner, SSM Health; and the imperative to sustain our momentum across all fronts, it became clear to me that having someone who both knows us well and has already established herself as a trusted leader with demonstrated accomplishments at the VP and dean level will best ensure our future success.
In describing Dr. Jacobs’ strengths, the search committee listed:
- Handled the interim role well, and could be more effective as permanent dean.
- Chair of a department that has been very successful with community outreach, addressing health inequalities, and population health research.
- Commitment to serving the underserved.
- Straightforward approach to leadership.
These observations mirrored the strengths in written comments submitted by University community members to the survey conducted by the search committee.
In the 12 months since she became acting and then interim dean, Dr. Jacobs has leveraged the knowledge and trust she built since joining SLU in 2008. Among other accomplishments, during this time she has:
- Worked with leadership to improve the financial health of SLUCare, which is delivering its best financial performance.
- Supported infrastructure and students in undergraduate medical education, increasing medical student applications and growing support systems for Underrepresented in Medicine students.
- Implemented a strategy for research growth by creating the SOM Research Growth Steering Committee with co-chair Vice President for Research Ken Olliff, and engaging trustees and research leaders in an ambitious three-year plan that includes hiring up to 20 new SOM research faculty.
- Initiated a redesign process for clinical trials in the SOM.
- Built a culture of transparency, engagement and excellence in the SOM.
- Deepened relations with trustees, SSM Healthcare, other University administrators, and our wider community.
- Moved to begin to fill vacant and interim chair positions with exceptional candidates. As a first step, she completed a national search for the Chair of Psychiatry, with the excellent result of Dr. Erick Messias, who joined the SOM in September. She also resumed a search for the Chair of Pediatrics with the assistance of a search firm.
Dr. Jacobs’ deep commitment to mission is evident. Her letter of application begins:
My career has been guided by my core values: social justice, expanding access to health care for all, educational excellence and scholarly inquiry. I live up to those values by ensuring exceptional education for medical learners, curricular innovation and research, scholarship in the areas of medical education and the intersection of physical and behavioral health, and clinical excellence in my own practice and that of colleagues. I am committed to building strong teams and to fostering collaboration with colleagues at Saint Louis University and the broader community. We succeed together.
This dedication to mission will be realized through the inspiring vision Dr. Jacobs has for the school. In her words:
I enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to build on my current role to advance SLU School of Medicine in our Jesuit mission of education, patient care, research and community service. I envision SLU School of Medicine in 2030 as a:
- Premier health care destination for the St. Louis community and the SSM referral network.
- Academically excellent, innovative, and community-responsive training center for medical students, residents and fellows.
- Destination for excellent academic faculty.
- Home for diverse faculty, staff and learners.
- Site for research excellence in clinical and basic science.
- Place where clinical research strengthens the academic mission.
- Leader in improving the health status of the St Louis region.
- School of Medicine guided by strategic, visionary leaders.
In the coming weeks, Dr. Jacobs and I will continue to discuss the vision she presented as a candidate, and subsequently Dr. Jacobs will lead the School of Medicine in strategic planning for the years ahead. The University has committed the resources that will allow us to realize our vision for excellence.
I wish to express my gratitude to Dr. Place and the members of the search committee. Their time, energy, and attention to a search of this importance was significant. Committing to such effort during a pandemic is worthy of special recognition. Thank you to all who contributed to ensuring a successful search and to all who participated throughout the process.
As we look forward to the challenges and substantial opportunities before us, I invite you to pause and join me in congratulating Dr. Jacobs and thanking her for saying “yes” to this opportunity to continue to lead and serve at Saint Louis University.
Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.