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Five Questions: New medical dean says friendly people, landscape brought him to ETSU

Brandon Paykamian • Aug 7, 2018 at 11:30 PM

Dr. William Block, an alumnus of the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine, was recently named interim dean of the ETSU medical school after Dr. Robert Means Jr. stepped down from the position last month.

While Means continues his research and clinical practice as a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and serves as a special assistant to ETSU President Brian Noland, Block will apply his experience as a faculty member and chairman of the Quillen Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology to lead the medical school under his vision.

On Tuesday, Block, who also served as medical director for the Midwest Fetal Care Center in Minnesota prior to 2016, spoke to the Press about his personal interests, professional life and taking his new position at the university.

Block Briefly:

Hobbies Spending time with family, distance running and traveling
Favorite restaurant Any type of international food. “The spicier the better.” 
Favorite TV shows Deadliest Catch and MASH
Cat or dog person Dog person
Pet peeves Tardiness

What got you interested in medicine?

“I knew from a young age that I wanted a profession that I could help others. I enjoyed science, and medicine seemed like a good fit. During college, I was able to volunteer on a student-run EMS squad and it confirmed that helping people through medicine was the career I was meant to follow. In medicine, every day brings an opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of others.”

What are your main goals as dean?

“Being asked to serve as dean at the medical school I attended is a tremendous opportunity. Health care in this region is undergoing enormous change with the creation of Ballad Health and the shifting affiliations of many providers during a time of regulatory and payment reforms. All of these changes have created opportunities for the Quillen College of Medicine to redefine its relationships in the community and truly become the practice of choice for the region.

“Faculty at Quillen specialize in training the physicians of the future at the highest levels. Optimizing their abilities to also deliver care to patients of the region and be a resource for other providers is key to improving the health of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. I hope to, during my tenure as dean, reshape the way ETSU is able to deliver care across the College of Medicine and the other health science colleges while continuing to emphasize our other missions of education and research. The support of the community partners, senior administrators and faculty, make the possibility of providing world-class health care within reach.”

What brought you to campus as a student and later as a faculty member?

“ETSU and Northeast Tennessee have some of the friendliest people in the country, surrounded by an awe-inspiring landscape. When I first visited the area to kayak the Nolichucky River, then to apply to medical school, it was clear there are few regions in the country blessed by such beautiful natural surroundings. As I learned more about Quillen College of Medicine and its focus on primary care, the fit for my training became obvious. Now in my third period with ETSU, totaling over 12 years, I continue to be amazed by the terrific people and the natural beauty.”

What kinds of qualities should medical students have?

“Medical students need to be led to the career by a calling to help their fellow man. They need to be intellectually gifted to handle the quantity of information they have to master and have a work ethic that will allow them to persevere for many hours during long shifts and difficult work situations. In medicine, the provider often deals with patients and families during their most vulnerable and trying times. The interpersonal skills and empathy necessary for these interactions are crucial to compassionate care and desired outcomes. A well-rounded student with a solid educational background and enhancing life experiences can often succeed in becoming a physician we would all want to see.”

Who inspires you most? 

“Every day I am inspired by the young adults I encounter, either in the classroom and the hospital or through outside friendships. My children, their friends and the students and residents I am privileged to work with truly believe they can change the world for the better. We often lose this perspective with age and life’s challenges, and the inspiration of the youth I encounter reinforces that big dreams can come true.

“Whether we impact others through health care, music, serving them a cup of coffee or passing them on the street, the opportunity for that interaction to leave a positive ripple and create a sea of change is undeniable. As a more seasoned (read older) adult, I need these connections with the inspirational youth of today to help me remember that we can go to the moon, create computers we can hold in our hands, change health care for the better and make the world a better place for all.”

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