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Meet the Interim Dean: A Q&A with Irving L. Kron, MD

Monday, October 29, 2018

Irving L. Kron, MD, became interim dean of the College of Medicine – Tucson in July 2018. The Dean’s Office recently sat down and chatted with Dr. Kron about his life, experience as a physician and his new role at the University of Arizona. On Nov. 9, Dr. Kron will have served as interim dean of the college for four months. 

Prior to joining the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, Dr. Kron served as chairman of the University of Virginia’s Department of Surgery. (This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in seacoast town in New Jersey then went to college in Philadelphia and medical school in Wisconsin. I spent most of my career in Virginia.

Q: Did you always want to be a doctor? 

A: I never thought I’d be a doctor. I’m the first one in my family to go to college; my dad worked in a factory. When I went to college, my major was in behavioral biology and learning theory and I realized one day that I had no idea what I would do with that. I rethought things; I knew I wanted to have a purpose in my life and decided that medical school was the way to go.

Q: What made you realize you wanted to be a surgeon?

A: Again, I never ever aimed at that. I was going to be a pediatrician; I really like kids and working with families. Then in my senior year I took pediatric surgery as a rotation and realized you could be an excellent doctor as well as a surgeon, too. I thought hard about what I wanted to do and ended up going to Maine for my general surgical training. When I got there, I got really interested in heart surgery, particularly pediatric heart surgery. 

Q: You’re now a cardiothoracic surgeon. What does that mean? 

A: Originally this specialty implied both heart and lung surgery. But my focus is more on the cardiac side; I’m a cardiac surgeon. My focus tends to be on surgery on valves as well as new innovations related to the field. 

Q: What’s your research focus?

A: Much of my research interests relate to lung transplantation. I started the program in Virginia in the late 80s. I became very interested in making sure that lungs were not injured during the transplant process.

My research focuses on trying to prevent reperfusion injury. That means, when you put a lung in, getting it to work right away. Typically, when you put an organ in after its been ischemic — where the blood supply has been taken away for a period of time — as soon as you put it in, blood flows in. Unfortunately, if the lung has been ischemic for a while, it will be injured at least temporarily. It’s critical that the lung work right away because you can’t survive without it. We have developed approaches to reducing inflammation with transplant and creating drugs that relate to that. What we’re really proud of is that some of those drugs are now being used in a clinical trial. 

Q: And all this is going on at the University of Virginia? Do you still work with them?

A: I have a non-paying appointment in Virginia. I stay up with my lab through Skype and I visit on a scheduled basis to work with my research team. Research is part of who I am; I really enjoy it.

Q: So what made you decide to break away and move to Tucson? 

A: I’d been chair of surgery there for 15 years. I also spent several years as co-chair. After I accomplished the things I wanted to do, I stepped down from those positions. My plan was to stay on and continue to do clinical activity as well as research; I thought that was a good plan. 

In January I got turned sideways when we came to visit Canyon Ranch and I saw President Robert Robbins. He has been a close personal friend for 25 years. We started talking. One of my specialties is program building and working with hospitals. President Robbins asked if I would consider doing something like that here. 

I told him I had no interest because I was pretty happy where I was, but he pointed out that I frequently complained about deans and vice presidents who don’t know anything about clinical medicine. And that’s true; I did complain about that. I started thinking about it and well, here I am.

Q: What are your goals for the College of Medicine – Tucson? 

A: It seems like there’s been so much turmoil over the last several years that it’s hard for people here to focus on the next steps. Mostly, people are just trying to survive and do the best for their research, students and patients. My hope is that we can get past putting out fires and start building. 

First and foremost, is to continue to improve relationship the relationship with Banner Health. We have to stop thinking of our relationship as “us versus them.” We are together for the next 28 years or so; we better figure this out. 

Number two: We have wonderful basic scientists and clinical people, but we tend to be siloed. I need to get our scientists and clinicians together because that makes for the best outcomes.

Third, I’d like to reward the things that are our missions. For example, research is a mission and we should celebrate it. We’re going to have a research retreat to do this. In terms of clinical activity, we should celebrate our best clinicians, so we’ve developed some Clinical Excellence Awards for our top physicians. And of course, we can't forget our mission of education. We have teaching and mentoring awards, which is great.

Q: Is there anything else have your eye on at the college?

A: I think we need to continue to promote our diversity. We’re going to have a diversity lectureship during Martin Luther King week. We’ll have a world authority who will speak on leadership and diversity. That’s really important to me. I want to make sure all students can succeed in medical school; no one should fail. 

Finally, we have some great people here. But somehow, we are not the first health care choice in the community. I want us to be the first choice for medical care. I want our own employees to want to come to the UA/Banner and I want them to come here and get the best care on earth. 

Q: What do you do in your free time? 

A: My wife and I really like the outdoors. We love to hike and fly fish. I play some tennis and am trying to learn how to play golf. We love to go out to eat; there’s some great restaurants in Tucson.

Q: What’s something interesting or unique about you that people don’t know?

A: I sat around with my wife at a campfire in Montana with Ludacris. We took an anniversary trip to a ranch out there and went horseback riding with another couple. We saw them at dinner later that night and the couple invited us to their campfire. It turned out it was Ludacris and wife. 

We love going to concerts and we even do karaoke. My wife can sing; I just sing backup.