VTCSOM’s founding Dean Cynda Johnson reflects on 10 years of invention and success

Cynda Johnson in her office at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke, Virginia. She arrived to serve as founding dean of the school in January 2008.

Peering from her office window, there is a bustle of activity even in January. Directly outside, construction crews tear out a parking lot to make room for a new research building. Students, faculty, employees, patients, and health care providers make their way to class, meetings, and appointments. Others cross the street to grab lunch, a beer, or coffee, or make their way to their big city-style apartments with Mill Mountain and the Roanoke Star as the backdrop.

None of that existed outside Cynda Johnson’s window 10 years ago when she arrived to serve as the founding dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine — except for Mill Mountain and the star, of course. In fact, her office window wasn’t even there – the building, which now houses the school and partner research institute, was only a dream at that point.

Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic had announced their plans just a year prior in January 2007 to partner and create a new medical school and research institute. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) had recently released a report calling for increased medical school enrollments through the opening of new medical schools and expansion of existing schools to meet a projected physician shortage. It was the perfect reason for the public-private partnership to form.

“At the time, just one or two new medical schools were starting to be thought about after the workforce report came out,” Johnson, a family medicine physician, said. “In the back of my mind, I thought, I'd really like to start a medical school.”

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