First, urologist Ralph V. Clayman, MD, wasn’t interested in leaving Washington University in St. Louis to become a Chair until the opportunity arose in the newly formed urology department at the University of California–Irvine (UCI) School of Medicine.

Then, he wasn’t interested in becoming UCI’s medical school dean. But 10 years later, Dr. Clayman continues to make his mark as one of only two urologists in the nation to become a medical school dean.

When did you first come to UCI School of Medicine?

Dr. Clayman: In January 2002. Until then, urology was a division under the department of surgery, and I made it clear that I would not be able to come onboard unless it was a department. I’d been at Washington University for 17 years, and I was very happy there, and I had made a decision a long time ago that I would never, ever accept a chair unless urology was its own department.

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Why was that a deal breaker?

Dr. Clayman: As a division, you are part of another department. You do not have your own infrastructure, and you are beholding to the chair of that department, not to the dean of the school of medicine. But as a department, you have your own chief administrative and financial officers, and are more in control of your finances; also the person to whom you speak directly is the dean of the school of medicine. It elevates your discipline to a whole different stratum in the university.

So they made it a department in order for you to take on the role of chair. Did that rub some people the wrong way?

Dr. Clayman:  I don’t think that happened at all.  First, when you become a department chair you often have a more favorable recruitment package and can hire more faculty and provide additional resources to the faculty who are already at the institution.  Second, in my case, Dr. Wilson, the Chair of Surgery, was very kind and supportive throughout the process.

How did you become dean of the medical school just seven years later?

Dr. Clayman: We had a vice chancellor of health, who was responsible for both the school of medicine, in essence serving as dean, and, for the entire medical center; however, the hospital did have its own CEO in place who reported directly to the vice chancellor of health.

In 2009, the vice chancellor stepped down and instead of recruiting for another vice chancellor, our leaders elected to change the model for the health enterprise to that of a dean of the school of medicine and a CEO of the hospital who would then work together and report directly to the Provost and the Chancellor of the university. An internal search for the dean was then initiated. I truly had no interest in the position and indeed when first asked to interview, I declined. 

Why weren’t you interested this time?

Dr. Clayman: Because I was very happy being the chair of urology. I was having a great time. Our department had gone from not being named among the top 50 urology programs in U.S. News & World Report, to being named among the top 20 programs within a matter of five-six years. The department had a great faculty and we were doing some really innovative things, so I was very happy, and I saw no reason to change.

But then the search committee asked again if I’d speak with them with regard to the school of medicine and the medical center. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to take on the role of interim dean. While reluctant, I realized that I had had a wonderful seven years at UC Irvine and I felt that I had a debt to the institution and if they felt I could be of service in this manner, then it was something I should do.