Dean Revealed: Questions for Talmadge King

By Anne Kavanagh UCSF Magazine

Dean Talmadge King with a group of colleagues and students.

Photo: Elisabeth Fall

International lung disorder expert, visionary leader, Harvard graduate, member of prestigious scientific societies – and now dean of UCSF’s top-ranked School of Medicine. Talmadge King Jr. assumed the helm of the school in July, after almost 20 years in leadership positions at UCSF, including chair of the Department of Medicine. We wanted to know what makes this impressive physician-scientist tick, and he was happy to oblige.

What makes a great leader? 

You have to be passionate about what you do. You have to find the right people and put them in the right positions. You also have to understand people and how they work, because your job is to help them succeed. I’m hoping I have some of those features and can share them and help make life better for everybody.

What’s your vision for the School of Medicine?

For education, my vision is to guide our students to the greatness we know they can achieve. For research, it’s to have the resources and structure in place so our scientists can innovate and move forward. For clinical care, we should constantly be asking, “Is there a better way of doing this? How can we help our patients and help other physicians do a better job with their patients?”

What motto do you live by? 

My mother used to always tell us “Just be nice.” One of Maya Angelou’s quotes that resonated with me is, “You shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” Another is, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

What’s the best part about being a grandfather?

I have two granddaughters, ages 5 and 9, and it’s being able to spend time with them without worrying about all the things you do as a parent. You just allow the pure joy of the relationship to exist. And when I’m tired, I can take them back to their parents!

What book are you reading at the moment?

The Digital Doctor, by my friend and colleague [UCSF Professor] Bob Wachter. The other one on my bedside is Missing Microbes, which is about how antibiotics are destroying the microbiomes in our bodies.

What excites you about showing up to work every day?

Meeting the amazing individuals who work here. There are so many people who are dedicated to making the world a better place. That makes it fun to come to work.

If you could change one thing about medicine, what would it be?

It takes a long time before people benefit from advances in medicine. If we could figure out a way to do really good research, figure out things that change people’s lives, and then get them to the people faster, that would be really helpful. I also think health care in the U.S. should be universally available to everybody. It’s the right thing to do and also the most cost effective.

Who’s had the biggest influence on you?

I’ve been married to my wife, Mozelle, for 47 years. I have to say that she keeps trying to make me a better man. It’s been a hard job. Professionally, it’s hard to name one person. At every step, there was someone who really was helpful to me. 

Any brief words of wisdom for those just starting their careers in health care?

If you really believe that you want to work in an environment where you can help people, this is one of the few where you can do that on a daily basis. You can make a difference and actually see that difference in the lives of the people you touch. It’s a tremendous career.

Cover of UCSF Magazine: left corner reads “UCSF Magazine, Fall 2015”. Illustration of the silhouette of a man; behind him is a beautiful blue sky with fluffy clouds; inside his head is a stormy scene where the brain would be with a tree branching out from the brain area; white birds fly in to the storm. Text next to photo reads: “A New Way Out of Depression”. Text below photo reads: “Poverty’s Vexing Cycle; Kid-Size Dosing; When Disaster Strikes”

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