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Q and A with Craig Kent, MD

K. Craig Kent, MD, is the executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Virginia. He is responsible for overseeing all UVA Health operations and reports directly to the president.

A researcher, educator and physician, Kent is an internationally recognized leader in academic medicine. He was elected to the 2019 class of inductees into the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine. 

The UVA Medical Alumni Association recently had the opportunity to ask Dr. Kent about a variety of topics related to UVA Health, his advice for current medical students and trainees, and the global pandemic.

You arrived at UVA in February 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As you’ve gotten to know the teams at UVA Health and the School of Medicine in particular, what has surprised you the most?

Before arriving, I knew of UVA’s outstanding reputation. It was no surprise to find that this reputation for excellence was true. However, UVA Health has exceeded my expectations in every possible way. Our faculty and staff are incredibly dedicated, compassionate, and willing to make every sacrifice to make UVA Health the best that it can be.

In April, UVA Health announced changes in response to the financial impact of COVID-19. These measures ended in July, with an announcement that the structure and function of the health system would be reviewed. How would you assess the overall financial performance of UVA Health at this time?

First, I have to thank all of our faculty and staff for their incredible sacrifices during these difficult times. Over these past few months, I have witnessed an incredible willingness to help others, provide care, and support co-workers and the community. Without the dedication of our UVA Health team members, we would not have been able to end our financial mitigation measures and resume clinical care more quickly than any other organization that I know of across the country. Thank you to all of our 13,000 employees for returning to work so quickly to provide care to the many patients in need, both those with COVID-19 and those without.

We continue to have financial challenges, and, currently, we are undertaking a process of organizational redesign that will allow us to be more effective and efficient going forward. This will prepare us well for strategic planning, which we will launch later this fall.

The training of medical students and house staff has been impacted by COVID-19 and social distance protocols – everything from how fourth-year students will interview for residency to where students/trainees are learning and taking exams. What is your advice to current students and residents on how to manage these challenges and expectations?

Our medical students and house staff are truly incredible and have proven themselves to be resilient and resourceful during these difficult times. The skills that they have gained, including learning to be adaptable, are not only important during the current crisis, but will also be essential as they navigate healthcare over their 30-year careers. My advice to medical students and housestaff would be to find the life lessons where you can. Although it may not feel like it, you are gaining valuable experience in dealing with uncertainty and managing crises. The healthcare industry is fast paced, complicated, and often unpredictable. Being able to adapt to new situations and crises will serve you well in the future.

Additionally, this pandemic has revealed a great deal about how healthcare systems function, both the good and the bad. With this newfound knowledge and experience, you are now better equipped to provide care and help healthcare be efficient and equitable going forward.

What are your concerns as students begin to return to Charlottesville and the community’s population increases significantly for the first time since the pandemic began?

I am hopeful that if we all work together and respect one another’s health and safety, we will be able to bring students back to campus safely. We are trying to do right by our students and by the community, and we need everyone’s help in making this happen. If we follow the guidelines, I am hopeful that we can control the spread of the virus. These are uncertain times, and in many situations there is no clear-cut pathway to take, but if we work together, maintain social distancing, and adhere to safe mask practices, we will be able to contain and treat any new cases that we find.

In June, you announced that UVA Health was launching the search for a Chief Diversity and Community Engagement Officer. Can you talk about this new role and any specific goals you have?

I am extremely excited to welcome the Chief Diversity and Community Engagement Officer to UVA Health. There are many efforts across our health system aimed at improving diversity and inclusion, eliminating health disparities, and connecting with our community. Our Chief Diversity and Community Engagement Officer will support and enhance these efforts collaboratively and thoughtfully.  This individual will work closely with Kevin McDonald, UVA’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in support of the broader goal of creating a shared diversity, equity, and inclusion framework across UVA.  It is our hope that the Chief Diversity and Community Engagement Officer will wake up every morning thinking about how to further improve diversity within the health system and how the health system can better partner with our university and community.

UVA researchers have made a number of COVID-19 discoveries and overcome obstacles to reach these breakthroughs. Can you give us an update on the status of research labs (COVID-related and not) and how they are being impacted by the pandemic?

Research was initially disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are fortunate to have been able to resume our research efforts quickly after the initial shelter in place orders.  The research enterprise is following strict CDC guidelines so that work can continue in a safe manner. We have many among our UVA Health ranks who are contributing impactful discoveries that are helping us navigate this crisis. I continue to be impressed with the high quality of research that is produced by faculty in our Schools of Medicine and Nursing.

UVA Medical Center was recently named the #1 hospital in Virginia for the fifth straight year by U.S. News & World Report and eight specialties also received recognition. As you look back on your first six months at UVA, what do you feel are the key successes of UVA Health in 2020?

I feel so lucky to work at a place that provides such exemplary care to our patients in need. I am so proud of all of our UVA Health team members. Being ranked as the #1 hospital in Virginia is an honor and a true success for all of our healthcare workers. As an academic medical center, we care for all patients regardless of their socioeconomic status. We provide care ranging from basic primary care to the most complex patient care. Because of the quality and strength of our clinical programs, patients come from all over the state, region, and nation to receive care at UVA. Many of our care programs, which are enhanced by our cutting-edge research, facilitate the foremost care that can be provided anywhere in the world.

Every day I see successes in our health system that, although less public, are no less important. Despite these difficult times, I have seen our UVA Health community come together to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and give one another strength during challenging moments. There are truly too many successes to name, which is a testament to the compassion and dedication of our faculty and staff.

Published: September 14, 2020