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New Department of Medicine chair showcases power of positivity

When Dr. Thomas Ma first assumed the role of chair of the Department of Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, he wasted no time making changes.

“I'm here to break down barriers and open doors,” Ma said.

Ma left the sunshine of New Mexico for the snow of Pennsylvania in January to assume the post. He previously served as chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University of New Mexico – Health Sciences Center (UNM-HSC) and executive director of the UNM-HSC's Center for Digestive Disorders, Center for Digestive Diseases Research and Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Ma was also director of the New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System's Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology. He succeeds Dr. Robert Aber, who led the department for 13 years before stepping down as chair in 2017.

“Dr. Ma stood out as the top candidate for this position because of his world-renowned research in gastroenterology and his proven leadership,” said Dr. Raymond Hohl, Penn State Cancer Institute director and co-chair of the search committee for the Department of Medicine chair. “We are very excited to have his expertise in advancing research and progressing the Department of Medicine as a whole.”

Just three months into his new job, Ma launched a major new initiative to transform the process of educating medical students. He noticed physician burnout was an issue and empowered faculty and residents to suggest how to reduce hours and workload and raise the medical school and medical center's energy level.

“I went all in on this because, as a medical school, our core mission is to train future doctors. It's our intrinsic value that we do that,” he said.

Ma says the opportunity to have an impact on a bigger stage is what led him to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the College of Medicine.

“I loved the direction the dean is going, which is to improve our research presence, growth and opportunity on the education side and to improve the clinical side,” Ma explained. “I knew I could take it to a higher level here. I saw the potential, and Dr. Hillemeier has a clear vision.”

Read more on Penn State Medicine.

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