Dr. Charles B. Cairns

By Christy Krueger –

Dr. Charles B. Cairns came to the University of  Arizona in 2014 as vice dean of the College of Medicine – Tucson and assistant vice president of health sciences. After a national search in 2015, he took over the position he holds today as dean of the college. Prior to his move to Tucson, Cairns spent his professional career in North Carolina, Colorado and California.

He is a nationally recognized leader, researcher and educator in emergency medicine and critical care, serving in university leadership roles. His research interests include the host response to acute infections, asthma, trauma and cardiac resuscitation.

Positions he has held include professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of North Carolina; associate chief of emergency medicine at Duke University and director of emergency research at the Duke Clinical Research Institute; and director of the Colorado Emergency Medicine Research Center at the University of Colorado.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Cairns held faculty and research positions at Denver Affiliated Residency in Emergency Medicine, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, University of North Carolina and Duke University.

Cairns has received numerous awards, including Arizona Business Leader, 2017; Outstanding Contribution in Research Award of the American College of Emergency Physicians in 2000, and the 2014 John Marx Leadership Award, the highest award of the Society for American Emergency Medicine.

He has published more than 200 articles, appearing in such prestigious journals as New England Journal of Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, Circulation, Journal of Trauma and Science Translational Medicine.

While attending Dartmouth College, Cairns was recognized as a National Merit Scholar and a Daniel Webster Scholar. In 1980, he was an NCAA Division I national finalist in cross-country. He still enjoys staying fit today and has a treadmill desk set up in his office at the College of Medicine – Tucson.

Q. What is the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson’s niche nationally?

A. We truly are one of the nation’s leaders in precision medicine, as evidenced by the large NIH All of Us grant and the groundbreaking research performed here. We’re also internationally known as one of the centers of excellence for pulmonary, asthma and allergy research and internationally known in cardiac resuscitation.

Q. Talk about blending clinical initiatives with research and education.

A.We strive to fully integrate clinical and research excellence. As an example, we recently developed 10 strategic initiatives in research. These are built on the foundation of what are important initiatives for health care in Arizona, where the strengths in science at the UA are, and what are the health needs in Tucson and in Arizona now and in 10 years. We look for people who have led multidisciplinary teams and inherently link clinical needs and research. I’m not sure if any other medical schools have such a strategic and comprehensive approach.

Q. Can you give examples of how the college has adapted to changes in health care in general?

A. We’ve been an example to the country in the transformation of healthcare. The hospital and the college have been partnered since their founding in 1971. As a result, the UA Health Network was a successful healthcare delivery organization with a vibrant academic portfolio and stable finances until 2013. Then market forces, healthcare finance changes and technology upgrades led to a compromised position, same as many other academic medical centers. Banner Health has recruited high-quality providers and developed unique healthcare delivery systems, and in 2015 we started our partnership, designed to adapt to the changing landscape.

Q. What changes did you bring with you?

A.To successfully navigate new partnerships and address our missions in this healthcare market, we incorporated a number of changes – to structures, education, training, research and governance. Some important components are a new curriculum for medical students to expose them to clinical medicine and engage them in communities earlier in their training. We have incorporated research processes to take advantage of opportunities available by working across Banner’s 28 hospitals. We received the NIH All of Us Research grant because we made this change. We’ve increased the number of opportunities for faculty to be directly engaged in the direction and governance of the college. And we incorporated new promotion tracks to recognize scholarly excellence in healthcare delivery and innovation.

Q. Does having innovation attract faculty?

A.Having innovation has been critical in attracting the best faculty and students from all over the world to Tucson. These innovation programs are recognized globally as a forefront of medicine, and they provide a foundation for our research, educational and training efforts.

Q. Are most medical schools associated with a hospital like here and are all your faculty members involved with research?

A.Most major medical schools closely associate with a hospital to form academic medical centers. All of our faculty are engaged in academic activities. Most UA College of Medicine – Tucson professors are involved with research, but some focus mainly on education and training.

Q. What are your thoughts on new University of Arizona President Robert Robbins and his support of moving the college into the future?

A.I look forward to working with President Robbins on the evolution of the College of Medicine – Tucson, as well as academic medicine and healthcare delivery. That will enhance all of our endeavors and benefit the people we serve in Arizona and beyond.

Q. What is the College of Medicine celebrating in its 50th year?

A.Our record year of excellence and impact. We’ve had a record number of medical school applicants, up 50 percent during my time here, a record number of promotions, up 30 percent, record number of faculty and the remarkable record of  innovation and research with grants, funding, publications, patents, licensing and startups up by more than 25 percent.

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