Dr. Howard J. Federoff
Dr. Howard J. Federoff, UCI’s new vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, speaks at this year’s Match Day event as Dr. Michael Prislin, associate dean of student affairs at the medical school, looks on. Steve Zylius/UCI

As it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, the University of California, Irvine salutes the great achievements that built a world-class university while continuing to look toward a brilliant future. And in one significant way, that future will be realized through the vision and drive of Dr. Howard J. Federoff.

He officially joined UCI in July as the vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. It’s a significant and demanding job, one made more complex by historic shifts in health policy and emerging practices in patient care and clinical research that are dramatically changing how healthcare is provided and received in this country.

By definition, Federoff oversees the UC Irvine Health enterprise, which includes UC Irvine Medical Center and its affiliated clinics, the School of Medicine and the health-related academic programs in nursing sciencepublic health and pharmaceutical sciences.

But for all intents and purposes, he is Orange County’s top doctor. He leads the county’s largest and highest-rated hospital as well as its only medical school, one widely acclaimed for cutting-edge research and influential approaches to education.

In addition, Federoff is spearheading the campaign to create schools of nursing science, public health and pharmaceutical sciences – and, eventually, bring all these parts together in a cohesive enterprise.

“It’s like a new day,” he says. “The Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act is requiring that UCI have a nimble, responsive health organization that also excels through education and research. To do so, we need to have all our areas pulling together in the same direction to meet the needs of our community.”

“It takes a very special person to oversee such a vast effort,” says Chancellor Howard Gillman. “I am convinced that we found the very best person in the country to take on this vitally important responsibility. Dr. Federoff is an extraordinary leader, with vast experience in research, education, clinical practice and philanthropy. He will ensure that UC Irvine Health will grow dramatically in scope and stature and have an ever-stronger impact regionally and globally.”

Federoff previously held top administrative positions at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and, before that, served at the University of Rochester in New York City, but UCI has long been on his radar. As a scientist, he has advanced research in the areas of gene therapy and neurodegenerative diseases, and in the early 2000s, Federoff was invited to be an adviser for UCI’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Last year, he spoke at the 30th anniversary event for the ADRC, which is part of the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders.

“I had seen the evolution of translational science at UCI, and I was impressed with the caliber of work and the leadership here,” says Federoff, who is board-certified in internal medicine and endocrinology & metabolism. “UCI had made an enormous amount of progress, and I could sense things would be accelerating with Chancellor Gillman. So when the vice chancellor position opened, I thought the job would be very intriguing.”

During meetings with the search committee, “Howard outlined a clear, bold, 30,000-foot vision of UCI yet at the same time had a pragmatic operational understanding,” says Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, the Danette “Dee Dee” Shepard Chair in Neurological Studies, who was on that panel.

“He drew a proposed path for UC Irvine Health in elegant, uplifting brushstrokes and provided concrete steps for that path, and it compelled us to follow in his footprints,” she adds.

Federoff accepted the offer in early March, and before assuming the position full time, he made numerous brief trips out here from Washington. Many met him for the first time at the medical school’s Match Day event, on March 20, where he made some public remarks.

“Busy” doesn’t begin to describe Federoff’s first month. The short version of his to-do list included: hiring a new CEO for UC Irvine Medical Center to replace the retired Terry Belmont; acquiring and reviewing initial proposals for the nursing science, public health and pharmaceutical sciences schools; and creating a strategic plan for the entire enterprise.

A key objective during his first year, Federoff says, is to recruit leaders who bring “big halos” and large national reputations with them that can drive clinical and research growth in their respective areas.

And from what he’s seen of his new home, this vision of growth – both quantitatively and qualitatively – can become a reality.

“Orange County is one of the most interesting places in the country – but with enormous disparities,” Federoff says. “And being the only academic medical center here, we are the only ones who can address the wide range of health issues facing county residents. We have fantastic opportunities ahead.”