With only a year under his belt as regional dean of the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, Dr. Alex Stagnaro has been busy making a difference.
Alex Stagnaro-Green, M.D., MHPE, had spent his entire career on the East Coast. He loved it. But last year, when the position of regional dean at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford became available, the New York native jumped at the chance to relocate to the Midwest.
Stagnaro-Green arrived in March 2014, replacing longtime dean Dr. Martin Lipsky, who left for a teaching position in the state of Oregon. For the past 25 years, Stagnaro-Green has been involved with medical school curriculum and education. He’s an international authority on clinical research involving thyroid disease related to pregnancy.
“I was looking for a school and a community where I could make a difference,” says Stagnaro-Green. “I wanted to be actively involved in creating the curriculum, teaching the students and having the ability to shape the environment in which they learn. I wanted to go to a place where I could be part of a community and where the college could partner with the community. Rockford fit all those criteria.”
Rockford’s new regional dean is no stranger to the University of Illinois system: He earned his master’s degree in medical education at the Chicago campus 10 years ago, and stays in contact with many of his former colleagues. “The college does an excellent job educating its students and getting our graduates to populate the rural communities in Illinois,” he says. “Now, we’re working on a strategic plan process that will change the culture of our campus.”
“Alex displays a quiet, but capable leadership,” says Mike Fager, co-chair of the Dean’s Action Council. “He clearly defines the direction he wants to go, and he definitely takes action. He was the right person at the right time for the college.”
Born in Brooklyn, Stagnaro-Green spent his early years in New York and New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and in 1983 graduated from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, formerly the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City. Following a residency in internal medicine at New Jersey Medical School, he completed a fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism at Mount Sinai. In 2005, he received a master’s in Health Professions Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Before coming to Rockford, Stagnaro-Green served as senior advisor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and professor of medicine and obstetrics/gynecology.
His specialty is thyroid disease and pregnancy. For the past six years, Stagnaro-Green has been the chairman of the American Thyroid Association (ATA) task force on thyroid and pregnancy and has served as chair on clinical guidelines on thyroid and pregnancy, which have been endorsed worldwide. He has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on the subject and is currently leading an effort to make sure that all prenatal vitamins in the United States include iodine, which is critical to normal fetal development.
“To have a person here who’s been published nationally and internationally is a feather in our cap,” says Bill Gorski, M.D, president and CEO of SwedishAmerican Health System, who served on the hiring committee to bring Stagnaro-Green to Rockford. “Alex is a real big-picture person and a strategic thinker. We have a great opportunity here with the college. In order to do that, you have to draw multiple stakeholders into the conversation. He knows there are certain barriers, but he doesn’t give up easily.”
Stagnaro-Green has been busy during his first year at the college. For starters, he’s spent considerable time reaching out to business and educational leaders. In addition, he’s started a monthly community series that covers such topics as diabetes, thyroid disease and Ebola.
He’s also revamped the Dean’s Action Council, which is made up of several community and business leaders who advocate for the college within the community. Stagnaro-Green has changed the membership process and expectations of each member, and added several community leaders to the council.
“I’m impressed with how engaged Alex is with the community, and how good he is connecting with area leaders,” says Fager, vice president of investment for Raymond James. “He’s done a great job of enhancing the college’s visibility, while demonstrating what a significant institution it is to the community. I call him a visionary.”
One of Stagnaro-Green’s biggest projects has been tackling the college’s mission and vision. He’s formed seven new committees made up of community and college leaders who are reviewing clinical activities, educational programs, areas of research, the college’s commitment to the community and the overall campus environment.
“We had 80 people from both the community and college participate in a recent strategic planning retreat,” says Fager. “It was a brilliant move on Alex’s part to be able to bring all those people together.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Stagnaro-Green still finds time to teach third-year medical students and treat patients half a day each week. “I’ve seen patients throughout my career. I can’t imagine not doing it,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m still a physician.”
Stagnaro-Green and his wife, Doreen, have two grown children, Danny and Laura, who live in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, respectively. Stagnaro-Green loves to travel. Over the years, he’s made medical presentations in countries such as Thailand, Spain, China, Australia and Argentina. In their spare time, the Stagnaro-Greens enjoy reading and volunteering.
“The transition has been seamless,” he says. “I’m impressed with the degree of philanthropy in the community. On a personal level, people are friendlier here. The parks are terrific and there are many restaurants to choose from. But we’re just as happy staying home, too.”
Stagnaro-Green is excited about the college’s future. He’s working with all three health care systems, along with Rosecrance and Crusader Clinic, to bring additional residency programs to Rockford that will include internal medicine, obstetrics, psychiatry, surgery and emergency medicine. Currently, the college has only a family residency program through SwedishAmerican Health System.
“This will change the medical community significantly, and make it much more of a teaching mecca,” he says. “It will improve our ability to recruit physicians into the community and increase the number of physicians who decide to stay here.”
Another of Stagnaro-Green’s long-range goals is to have a 24-hour wellness facility on campus that includes a walking path, wellness programs and space for exercise classes. “We want to serve as a beacon to the rest of the community,” he says. “We can’t preach wellness if we don’t model that here at the college.”
But for Stagnaro-Green, it all starts with properly training the doctors of tomorrow. He firmly believes in setting the bar high, both for staff and students.
“When you work with bright and educated students, it’s hard not to be invigorated,” he says. “I like to take an institution and develop it to where it effectively accomplishes its mission of serving people through training, research and working within the community. We have the ability to create a culture of learning within our institution. Having the opportunity to lead the College of Medicine at Rockford is a fantastic opportunity.”