Five Questions with K. Craig Kent, M.D.
Dr. Kent is responsible for overseeing all UVA Health operations. A researcher, educator, and physician, Kent is an internationally recognized leader in academic medicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and former chair (2019-2020) of the American Board of Surgery.
It's been an important year for research at UVA. What would you describe as the most promising research efforts underway at UVA Health?
So much lifesaving research is produced at UVA Health that it’s hard to pick the most promising. This year alone, our scientists have made brain discoveries that could lead to new epilepsy treatments, developed a new metric that may increase survival for heart failure patients, produced a novel approach to stop the spread of breast cancer, and conducted the largest-ever genetics study of Type 1 diabetes to identify effective drug treatments.
Still, given the pandemic's impact on all of us, I think our ongoing work to develop more effective COVID-19 treatments and vaccines shows great promise. Drs. Jen Sasson, Patrick Jackson, and William Petri are leading an FDA-approved, double-blind clinical trial on a unique treatment for COVID-19 patients with the delta variant, which targets proteins known to cause respiratory failure. In addition, Drs. Mayuresh Abhyankar and Petri are heading up work to make an intranasal vaccine. The hope is that vaccination directly into the nose will greatly reduce the easy spread of the virus. This method may also help reach the vaccine-hesitant, partly because many people just don't like needles.
Thinking of the future near and far, what UVA Health initiatives will have the greatest impact on health care and wellness for the UVA Health community?
We've made several moves recently that will have a tremendous impact on our patients and community. This summer, we became the full owner of Novant Health UVA Health System, an integrated network of physician offices, outpatient facilities, and community hospitals in Culpeper, Haymarket, and Prince William County. With more than 1,000 inpatient beds across four hospitals—including our Medical Center here in Charlottesville—an expanded UVA Health will provide even more people access to the best health care in Virginia. That means curing more patients through our advanced specialty care programs, providing broader access to groundbreaking clinical trials, developing even more innovative treatments, and educating the most talented health care workforce possible.
UVA Health also has several clinical affiliations and partnerships with many other health care institutions across the commonwealth. Our expertise across a variety of clinical services is very much in demand. In fact, most recently, UVA Health forged an expanded clinical affiliation with Centra—a four-hospital health system centered in Lynchburg that provides care to a large part of central and southern Virginia. We already work closely in high-risk obstetrics, gynecology-oncology, telemedicine for stroke patients, and dialysis. This new partnership in treating blood disorders and kidney transplants will bring even more opportunities to collaborate with local providers, host clinics in Lynchburg, and recruit specialists to conduct advanced care close to home.
How does philanthropic support help you achieve your vision for UVA Health?
Philanthropic support helps UVA Health provide lifesaving care and support our broader academic mission—from groundbreaking research and exceptional teaching to critical health outreach work in our community. Our donors help put our best ideas into action for our patients. They help accelerate innovation and discovery in our labs. They help transform how care is delivered, not just in our clinics and hospitals but also in the communities we serve around the commonwealth. Our donors also help prepare the next generation of doctors, nurses, and scientists.
To give one prominent example, the UVA Health COVID-19 philanthropic fund has supported the critical needs of our patients, frontline care providers and staff, and researchers. UVA Health has stayed consistently ahead of the curve of COVID-19. We were the first medical center in the state to develop COVID-19 testing, which supported hospitals throughout the region. In the earliest days of the pandemic, we participated in many innovative clinical trials. We opened our new bed tower ahead of schedule to treat COVID patients safely. More recently, we partnered with our local health district to ensure a broad and equitable distribution of vaccines. All this happened in part due to the philanthropic support we received.
What makes you passionate about your work?
Simply put, the people here are tremendous, and they make me passionate about UVA Health. Our medical providers and team members provide exceptional care to all who come through our doors, without fail or exception. They provide much-needed reassurance and comfort by selflessly supporting our patients and their families in their time of need. Our researchers and educators produce lifesaving innovation and educate new nurses, physicians, and frontline health care workers. By pursuing and expanding knowledge, our team creates a pathway to a better, healthier world.
I truly believe in UVA Health’s missions, and I feel grateful and humbled to lead such a dedicated team of 14,000 individuals. Our work has never been more important than it is right now, and our team truly delivers hope by placing the needs of others above their own. I’m incredibly inspired by all of the people of UVA Health.
You've had a chance to talk to many patients and their families, providers, alumni, and administrators across UVA. What have you heard that has been helpful to you in your role?
One of the important lessons I’ve learned is the value of listening and how this is critical to help shape the direction and future of an organization as large and complex as UVA Health. We want to grow and enhance our national reputation as a leading academic medical center and benefit more patients throughout the commonwealth and the nation. That’s why we just officially initiated UVA Health’s strategic planning process, and that’s why we want all those people you mention to participate in the process—from our patients and their families to our providers and our alumni and so many more. This endeavor will be most successful if everyone becomes involved. We need input on many important topics—from how we can enhance the clinical care we provide, or how we might grow our research mission, or how we can better teach tomorrow’s health care workers, or best partner with the community to meet the critical health care needs of those we serve. So, I encourage all of you to help shape our future strategy by posting a comment on our strategic planning website at onefuturetogether.uvahealth.com.
This article originally appeared in the UVA Office of Advancement's publication, Envision, in October 2021.