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A Dean With A Doctor's Touch

A Dean With A Doctor's TouchAfter nearly a decade, John Harrington will return to teaching after leading Tufts’ Medical School. Boston.

Boston [01.06.03] Dr. John T. Harrington's medical career began in a hospital ward when he was eight years old. He had rheumatic fever, which damaged his heart and ignited his interest in medicine. More than 50 years later, Harrington has completed his tenure as dean of the Tufts School of Medicine, returning to his role as a teacher for the next generation of doctors.

"Harrington is a man with the instincts of a politician, and his political acumen mattered as much as his skill with a stethoscope in guiding a major medical school through the late 20th century and into the 21st, as he, like deans across the country, struggled to mollify often conflicting constituencies: faculty, students, donors, and, most urgently, health plans demanding that doctors do more with less," reported The Boston Globe.

In just eight years as dean, Harrington made a major mark on Tufts' Medical School.

"During his tenure as dean, the endowment more than tripled, from $30 million to $100 million," reported the Globe. "Tufts also saw research grants at the school and affiliated hospitals climb from $92 million in 1995 to $121 million in 2002. Harrington's proudest achievement is the construction of the $65 million Jaharis Family Center For Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences, the first new research center ever built at the medical school."

His successes seem all the more impressive considering the challenges facing the field of medicine when he took the top post at the Medical School in 1995.

"The period through which John has been dean has been the most challenging in my memory," Dr. Jordan Cohen - president of the Association of American Medical Colleges - told the Globe. "In order to maintain the revenue to support the other activities, clinical faculty have had to work harder, work more hours, see more patients."

And that made the task of leading a medical school even more demanding.

"There was tremendous turmoil," said Harrington, who stepped down as dean on Dec. 31. "It was a very complicated time, and walking through the minefield and doing it successfully was extremely important to me."

The Fall River native found success, just as he had done through out his medical career as a leading kidney specialist.

"Tufts thrived as Harrington oversaw a tripling of endowment and a 30 percent jump in research funding," reported the Globe. The number of endowed chairs doubled and three new combined degree programs were created. More than 700 medical students graduated while he was leading the school, and the school earned a ranking of seventh in the country for the impact of its research on medical practice.

With his tenure as dean at an end, Harrington has time to reflect on how much the field has changed since he graduated from medical school in 1962..

"In many respects, Harrington's career reflects the dramatic changes that have swept health care in the past four decades," reported the newspaper. "Patients who once routinely died now live. Students who once sat meekly in cavernous classrooms now joust in more intimate settings with their instructors. Medical schools that once were almost exclusively white and male now have more women than men and an increasing ethnic and racial diversity."

After a three-month break, Harrington will return to patient care at Tufts-New England Medical Center and to teaching the next generation of Tufts' medical students.

Teaching students and treating patients, after all, are among the things he does best. The same skills that allowed him to thrive as a dean make for a great bedside manner.

"Some physicians talk to you, and you have the sense they're out the door," Tufts' Dr. Nicolaos Madias - who takes over as interim dean of the Medical School - told the Globe. "He was there, body and mind and soul. You had the feeling he had all the time that the patient wanted."

 

 

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