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Karen Kim named next dean of Penn State College of Medicine

Kim comes to crucial leadership role at Penn State from the University of Chicago; will start Sept. 1

Karen Kim, MD, vice provost for research at the University of Chicago, has been named dean of Penn State College of Medicine, effective Sept. 1. Kim was selected following a national search, and will succeed Kevin Black, MD, who has served as interim dean since 2019.

Kim is the Sara and Harold Lincoln Thompson Professor of Medicine, associate director of community outreach and engagement for the National Cancer Institute-designated University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center, and founder and director of the Center for Asian Health Equity at the University of Chicago. She previously served as inaugural dean for faculty affairs for the university’s Division of Biological Sciences. Her educational and research interests include health disparities, cancer prevention and control, population and precision health, and implementation and dissemination science. Kim brings more than 25 years of wide-ranging clinical, educational and research expertise with her to this crucial leadership role at Penn State and is a nationally recognized leader in Asian health disparities.

“Dr. Kim’s outstanding service over more than 25 years as a clinician, teacher, mentor, administrator, and community-minded leader and advocate for health equity make her a perfect fit for this role,” said Justin Schwartz, PhD, Penn State’s executive vice president and provost. “In her discussions with the hiring committee it became immediately clear that Dr. Kim’s experience and vision will help to advance Penn State College of Medicine’s mission and increase community impact, in service to all Pennsylvanians, and with a focus on those who are members of rural and minoritized communities statewide. We could not be more excited to welcome Dr. Kim to Penn State and the College of Medicine.”

Kim will lead the College of Medicine in furthering its education, research and clinical missions, and will maintain and continue to build a strong culture of innovation and team-based interdisciplinary collaboration. She will play a critical role in shaping the clinical environment of the health system and will collaborate with Penn State Health CEO Stephen M. Massini to advance important new and continuing initiatives across the University, including the other health science colleges.

“Penn State has an excellent track record as a leader in interdisciplinary research and I want the college to continue to build partnerships and add to those collaborative successes,” said Kim. “I have spent my professional career in Chicago, but even as an observer in the Midwest it has always been plain to see that the love people have for Penn State is palpable, and that its reputation as a leading public research university is outstanding. To have the opportunity to be a part of that is amazing – I am excited to join my colleagues in the college to build on their success and further Penn State’s impact across Pennsylvania and beyond, including among underserved rural and underrepresented populations.”

As dean, Kim will lead a college of about 1,400 faculty, 1,600 full- and part-time staff, an enrollment of approximately 1,000 students (medical, physician assistant and graduate) represented at both the Hershey and University Park campuses, and approximately 590 resident trainees and 140 fellows as part of the learning community at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

In addition to being Penn State College of Medicine’s first woman dean, Kim joins a small number of Asian women in leadership positions across U.S. medical colleges, and will be the first Korean American woman serving in such a role nationally.

“I am delighted to welcome Dr. Karen Kim to Penn State, and to my leadership team,” said Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi, PhD. “Her track record of success, in service to others, speaks volumes about Dr. Kim’s qualities as a leader and visionary. She is taking the helm of a college of medicine that produces cutting-edge research and helps to advance understanding of health sciences across many disciplines. The college’s educational and research excellence are part of what attracted me to Penn State, and Dr. Kim is the ideal person to lead continued growth, with a focus on interdisciplinary research, community outreach and impact, and service to underserved populations across Pennsylvania, the U.S. and internationally. At a time when there is a growing need for qualified physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals in Pennsylvania and nationally, the educational and research missions of the college have never been more vital.”

In addition to serving on Penn State’s President’s Council, the Academic Leadership Council, and the Council of Academic Deans, Kim will serve as co-chair of the University Health Sciences Council to advance the college’s and the University’s research portfolio and interdisciplinary education programs in biomedical and health sciences. She will serve as the chief academic and administrative officer of the College of Medicine, with a focus on working with department chairs, other leaders, faculty, staff and students to advance the college’s educational programs; strategically growing the research portfolio (basic, translational, clinical and population health); ensuring cutting-edge primary and subspecialty clinical care; actively engaging in the community; and continuing to invest in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging across the enterprise.

Kim also will serve as a director ex officio of the Penn State Health board and as a member of the board’s finance committee. In addition, she will serve as the physician-in-chief of the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. In these roles, she will be responsible for appointing department chairs and other leaders of clinical programs at the medical center, participating in budget and strategic plan development, and supporting physician staffing and compensation decisions for Penn State Health in collaboration with Massini.

A focus on equity in medicine

As vice provost for research at the University of Chicago, Kim works with faculty and deans to develop research strategies, support and enhance research funding, and manage large-scale research infrastructure. She has built interdisciplinary, multi-investigator research teams across disciplinary boundaries resulting in an unprecedented increase in large interdisciplinary research awards and expenditures, establishing a new level of success during her time at the University of Chicago. Her own research focuses on generating the evidence to reduce cancer disparities among racial and ethnic minority populations by utilizing community-engaged health services research methods and accounting for the impact of social determinants of health.

Since 2014, a core focus of Kim’s career has been her work as founder and director of the University of Chicago Center for Asian Health Equity, an academic community partnership and the only research center dedicated to the study of Asian health disparities in the Midwest. She established the center to provide an innovative national platform for advancing the health of underserved communities through community-engaged health research, training and policy strategies. Under her direction the center has helped to meet critical community needs, focused on addressing research challenges that impact vulnerable populations and advocating for inclusive innovation.

“This is a body of work that I am passionate about, and I certainly plan to continue this work at Penn State,” Kim said. “Similar to Pennsylvania, Illinois has a large rural footprint and I am interested in creating opportunities to meet the needs of these diverse and underserved populations. Our work in the Center for Asian Health Equity began with a motivation to address, through research and advocacy, regional Asian health disparities, but our focus has broadened, and in the intervening years we have built a pan-coalition to study underserved and vulnerable populations.”

For more than 20 years, Kim’s research to focus on the rigorous development and evaluation of multi-level strategies to advance health equity has been continuously funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute. Her work has attracted funding from industry and foundations, including the American Cancer Society and the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. Kim currently leads one of the nation’s largest pragmatic trials focused on multilevel interventions to increase colorectal cancer screening among underserved and rural populations.

Kim is a leader and advocate for the advancement of women in medicine, having served on the advisory committee for the Office of Research in Women’s Health for the National Institutes of Health, a national committee to ensure representation of women in science, medicine and research; and is a past fellow of the Executive Leadership for Academic Medicine program in the Drexel University College of Medicine.

In addition to her research, Kim is deeply committed to civic engagement and has dedicated significant time to advancing health through service to numerous nonprofit organizations and national boards. She serves on the board of directors of the Cook County Health and Hospital System, one of the nation’s largest public health systems, where she chairs the patient safety and quality committee, and is president of the Asian Health Coalition.

She has been nationally recognized for her advocacy and policy work, and received the International Women’s Leadership Award, the Chicago Foundation for Women Impact Award, and the Cancer Prevention Laurel for Increasing Health Equity. She also has received numerous educational awards, including Best Teaching Faculty among medical students and gastroenterology fellows, and Fellow in the Academy of Distinguished Medical Educators at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. She also has received the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division’s Distinguished Leader in Diversity and Inclusion Award, and the university’s John D. Arnold Mentor Award for sustained excellence in mentoring medical students, among other accolades.

Kim earned her doctor of medicine degree from Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine with honors; she holds a master’s degree in neurobiology/physiology from Northwestern University; and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.

Kim will succeed Black, who has served as interim dean of the College of Medicine since 2019.

“On behalf of my entire leadership team, I want to thank Dr. Black for his exceptional service to Penn State. His leadership came at a critical time, and he was one of the key voices to lead the University’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic,” Bendapudi said. “I also want to thank Dr. Black for his instrumental role in bringing Dr. Kim to Penn State. We are grateful for his many contributions and outstanding service to Penn State and the College of Medicine.”

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