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UNTHSC's New Prez March 1, 2013
By Carolyn Poirot
When the University of North Texas Board of Regents offered Dr. Michael Williams the job of interim president of the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth on Dec. 21, he says, he asked for two things:
“I said, first, ‘Don’t handcuff me. Let me go about doing the work that the president needs to do,’ and second, ‘I don’t expect any guarantees. Just let me get to work and see what I can get done,’” Williams told the Fort Worth Business Press. “I definitely intend to be a candidate [for president], and I intend to be competitive.”
As part of his quest to earn the fulltime job, Williams already has met with Fort Worth leaders including members of the UNTHSC Foundation, the school’s Board of Visitors and “a lot of students,” who were concerned about efforts to merge UNT’s flagship campus in Denton and the UNTHSC in Fort Worth into a single institution of higher education, under one president.
“It [the merger] is now off the table for the long, foreseeable future,” Williams said Feb. 22. “I don’t expect it to come back in any form unless it proves to be a good thing for everybody involved.”
The merger proposal “got legs of its own,” Williams said. “It got political and became a hot item. No one let the facts get in the way of sharing a good story. All it was doing was distracting us from the bigger issue of expanding to offer an M.D. degree program in addition to our D.O. degree program.”
Williams is a 1981 graduate of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, one of five schools within UNTHSC; others are the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, School of Public Health, School of Health Professions and soon-to-open UNT System College of Pharmacy.
In addition to his D.O. degree, he earned an M.D. degree from Ross University in Dominica, an island member of the British Commonwealth, an MBA from Duke University and a master’s degree in health care management from Harvard University. Born and raised in Fort Worth, he graduated from Richland High School, attended Tarrant County College and earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas Wesleyan University.
Williams was on the UNT Board of Regents last summer when regents called for a study of the merger proposal. Dr. Scott Ransom, then president of UNTHSC, and V. Lane Rawlins, president of UNT, were asked to lead the study and make recommendations to the regents.
However, regents took two scheduled votes on the merger off their agendas and in late December they voted to terminate Ransom, reportedly for undermining the study with his UNTHSC supporters in Fort Worth.
Supporters said that Ransom never took sides on the merger issue or tried to influence them, but that they opposed the merger and/or any attempt to move the health science center’s administrative leadership to Denton – or to Dallas, where UNT also has an academic campus and is establishing a law school.
“When the subject of a merger first came up, I approached it as, ‘If we are looking at any major changes, we need to look very carefully at the risks and benefits for everyone involved,”’ said Williams, who served on the board of regents for 15 months, until his appointment as interim president.
“The board is confident that Dr. Williams will serve as a successful and stabilizing force in moving this institution forward,” said Jack Wall, board chairman. “He brings remarkable academic, clinical and executive leadership experience to this role. His communication skills, first-hand knowledge in fostering a network of high-quality primary care services, proven abilities in financial management and perspectives of both M.D. and D.O. medical training will be valuable assets for this institution.”
When asked to serve as interim president, Williams said, he immediately quit the UNT board and asked for 60 days to resign from his job as CEO of Hill Country Memorial Hospital in Fredericksburg, wrap up business matters there and transition into his new job.
He split his time between Fredericksburg and Fort Worth for the first two months but is now at UNTHSC full time.
In announcing his appointment, the board said it will “conduct an evaluation and search process prior to naming a new president.”
The board is “thinking through some sort of search – but I’d be the last to comment on that, and should be,” Williams said in the recent interview.
Williams, 58, is board-certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology in both anesthesia and critical care medicine. He practiced medicine in Dallas for several years, moved to Fredericksburg to practice anesthesiology in 1995 and grew the practice to eight providers. In 2008, after serving on the board of Hill Country Memorial for five years, he quit his practice to become chief executive officer of the hospital.
“I didn’t set out to be a hospital CEO, but I always enjoyed the managing partner roll of my practice,” said Williams. He says he often looks to successful business practices to find solutions in health care problems.
“In both medical education and health care, there has been a real lack of business approaches. Health care organizations have been slow to recognize that they are, in fact, businesses,” Williams said.
“I am pleased and honored to be able to return to my home town and lead the Health Science Center in this capacity,” he said. “It is a great opportunity to be the first Fort Worth native and first TCOM alum to serve as president. …We have a number of opportunities to further elevate our national profile, academic quality, breadth of programs and cooperation with other health care providers.
“My predecessors all raised the profile and enhanced the education offered here,” Williams said. “It just keeps getting better and better. … We will tighten our vision and focus even more on doing things really well. How do we become the world leader in primary care – not just one of the top 10, but the very best – if that’s truly our mission?”