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Building partnerships

Rick Ziegler’s eight years as dean in Duluth revolved around relationships

Not many students can say they’ve been sailing with the dean of their medical school. But Sonia Karimi can. So can Dann Bowman. “It was amazing, definitely one of the highlights of my time here,” says Karimi, a second-year medical student at the Duluth campus.

“I can’t imagine another medical school in the country that has a dean who volunteers to take students sailing,”Ziegler as a faculty member in 1972 and (below) more than 30 years later. adds Bowman, also a second-year Duluth student.

Rick Ziegler, Ph.D., who completed his tenure as dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School-Duluth Campus at the end of the calendar year, has bonded with many students as they’ve sailed Lake Superior together.He believes it’s important to foster the “extended family” atmosphere for which the Duluth campus is known.

In fact, during his eight-year tenure as dean, Ziegler took time to meet all of the medical students in Duluth—six each week—over breakfast, where students told him what was going right for them and what wasn’t. “Just talking to Dr. Z, it doesn’t take long to realize that he is a true advocate for students’ needs in medical education,” Bowman says.

Ziegler also developed close working relationships with many others—Medical School faculty, community physicians, and hospital administrators among them.

Though Ziegler has stepped down as dean, he’ll remain a familiar face around campus, continuing his 35-year tenure on the faculty.

Becoming a leader

Even before the doors to the Medical School’s Duluth campus opened to students in 1972, Ziegler was there as a young faculty member.

“I was the only microbiologist here at the time, so I put together the microbiology curriculum,” he recalls.

After conducting research and teaching for a few more years, Ziegler moved into administration in 1989. He served as assistant dean for admissions, associate dean for academic affairs and curriculum, executive dean, and interim dean before taking the school’s top job in 1998.

“It’s hard for someone who’s been on the school’s faculty since its inception to come in and be a leader,” says Lillian Repesh, Ph.D., associate dean for admissions and student affairs in Duluth and one of Ziegler’s close friends. “But I think Rick has done that very effectively.”

Creating opportunities

As dean, Ziegler sought to shift the school’s focus from rural family medicine to rural primary care and to further develop the school’s rural emphasis. His leadership led to creation of a rural mental health initiative and a rural health scholars program, a series of rural health competencies and advanced medicine courses being developed as part of the Medical School’s MED 2010 initiative.

“I have found Rick’s leadership to be creative, supportive, and visionary,” says Raymond Christensen, M.D., assistant dean for rural health in Duluth. “He is very aware of continuously evolving rural policy and delivery systems and has labored to position his campus to meet the changing needs of rural medicine.”

Ziegler has worked with University of Minnesota-Duluth chancellor Kathryn Martin to promote collaboration on scientific endeavors and student recruitment. His relationships with leaders of Duluth hospitals and clinic systems have been especially fruitful. Connections he forged with St. Mary’s Medical Center and St. Luke’s Hospital, for example, have led to more clinical clerkship opportunities for students in Duluth.

Now students may complete 26 of 56 required rotations in Duluth.

And recognizing the need to supplement erratic state support with philanthropic donations, Ziegler played a guiding role in hiring a development officer to raise money specifically for the University of Minnesota Medical School-Duluth Campus. A $1.2 million gift from the St. Mary’s Duluth Clinic Health System that now supports a chair in molecular medicine is one of several large gifts the school has received under Ziegler’s leadership.

Quick to share credit for these successes, Ziegler says, “The atmosphere and culture here are created by a partnership between administrators, faculty, and students.”

During his tenure as dean of the Medical School-Duluth Campus, Rick Ziegler, Ph.D., emphasized the importance of building relationships, including those with students.

Commitment to the school

Because the University’s two Medical School campuses became jointly accredited in 2004, the school is searching for a senior associate dean to lead the Duluth program. (In the interim, Gary Davis, Ph.D., longtime head of the Department of Behavioral Health in Duluth, is filling that role.)

“Rick has contributed greatly to this Medical School and to the mission of educating physicians for rural areas,” says Medical School Dean Deborah Powell, M.D. “I very much appreciate his dedication and service.”

Ziegler’s commitment is apparent even in his sabbatical plans: For the next year, he will work on an infectious-disease computer program for students, revise a review book on medical microbiology, conduct neurovirology research, and continue teaching virology.

“Well, it’s a semi-sabbatical,” he admits. “It’s a sabbatical while working at the Medical School.”

Students and colleagues alike say they’ll be glad to have him around.

“Humble, modest, kind—I can just keep rattling off nice adjectives, and they would all describe Rick,” says James Boulger, Ph.D., professor at the Medical School’s Duluth campus and a colleague of Ziegler’s for more than three decades. “He’s a good guy with a good sense of humor and a good sense of perspective. I believe he has always done what is best for the school.”

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