Under Krouse, UTRGV’s fledgling med school became crucial amid pandemic

Dr. John H. Krouse, Dean of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, poses on the UTRGV campus on Friday, June 25, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

EDINBURG — Dr. John Krouse, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine’s dean, officially stepped down from his post Friday after four years at the helm.

It has not been a leisurely four years for Krouse — he says it feels more like he’s managed to cram a decade worth of work into his time with the university.

That work has paid off. The Valley’s fledgling school of medicine isn’t so fledgling anymore.

The school has hundreds of students. It’s had two classes graduate already. It’s faculty is approaching the 200-employee mark, UT Health RGV operates 25 clinical sites and six outreach clinics compared to the sole clinic it had in 2017, there’s a podiatry school on the way and the foundations of a research institution have been laid.

In the last year in particular the school of medicine and its efforts have gone from an investment that’ll pay off someday to an immediate necessity.

The university was on the forefront of COVID-19 testing, test analyzing and vaccination drives. People depended on it.

All of that, Krouse says, is why the last four years have felt more like 10.

“It was definitely a fast pace,” he said, chuckling. “There were definitely a lot of things that needed to get done.”

The road that led Krouse to the Rio Grande Valley was hardly predictable. The only child of a World War II pilot turned prison warden, Krouse grew up in Pittsburgh.

Krouse wanted to be a musician. He got his bachelor’s in music from Carnegie Mellon, playing the clarinet and oboe and the tenor saxophone in jazz groups.

“It’s very hard to have a career in music unless you’re really in the top .1%,” Krouse said. “It’s very challenging.”

So he switched gears. Krouse liked — and still likes — making things work better, and people work better. He’s a natural facilitator, an avid planner, the kind of person who likes looking at how a system or organization works and finding ways to make it work better.

Krouse decided to put those attributes into the service of medicine.

He got his PhD in psychology and went to med school at Harvard, spending nine years in Boston.

After that he went into private practice for 12 years, moving down to Florida and building a five-doctor practice. He focused on sinus disease and did a lot of writing, publishing books and journal articles, but he missed the academic environment.

Krouse left Florida for Detroit, becoming a professor at Wayne State in 2001. He wanted to keep climbing the academic ladder, so after a time he went to Temple University as chair of otolaryngology.

A month into that gig he got a letter informing him that the residency program was going on probation.

“That’s a big deal, when your residency program goes on probation,” Krouse said.

The crisis was an opportunity for Krouse. He convinced the relevant people to defer the probation decision for a year and managed to fix the program. It never did go on probation.

“I think I got to be known there at Temple as someone who could fix issues. Someone who could solve these kinds of problems when they come around,” Krouse said.

That reputation earned Krouse a variety of other academic titles and responsibilities over the next few years. He got his MBA, a useful tool for someone guiding multi-million dollar medical programs, and realized he was sitting on a resume of someone qualified to be the dean of a program.

Krouse put his name out, went through a couple of interviews and eventually got an interesting call from a recruiter.

“She said, ‘Yeah, there’s a position open, it’s in Texas, UT Rio Grande Valley,’” Krouse remembers. “And I said, ‘Where’s the Rio Grande Valley?’”

Krouse wasn’t sold at first, but the newness of the Valley’s medical school attracted him to it. It was a blank slate — the school had all the potential of being a quality medical school, it just needed someone to steer it there.

“The folks here were doing a good job, they knew the areas they wanted to get into, but really just getting there was the next step,” Krouse said.

Krouse started in the summer of 2017. A typical week would start with a meeting of his executive team, where they’d go through a work list, assign people work, and lay out goals. Krouse would spend the rest of the week meeting with chairs and executives, signing contracts, mentoring students and working with different hospitals.

The pandemic added to that workload. There were more meetings, about testing sites and vaccination clinics, and Krouse was tasked with drawing up coronavirus policies for the university.

Always one to capitalize on his time, Krouse managed to become a certified sommelier during the pandemic.

“Not traveling, not seeing the grandkids, not going anywhere. So when we were able to get the work done I was home. So what was I going to do with my time at home? I could watch TV, sit outside, or I could read about wine,” he said.

That commitment to using time well, to efficiency and planning, played a large role in Krouse’s four years as dean. It wasn’t always easy for him, or for the people around him.

“I think it’s tough,” he said. “I think I’m demanding. I think I’m very outcome oriented. I think I expect a lot from my people. I think there are those that thrive in that situation, and it really brings out their best, and I think there are those who feel really intimidated and challenged by it.”

By all appearances that attitude has paid off.

On Monday the Liaison Committee on Medical Education announced the UTRGV School of Medicine had been granted provisional accreditation status, bringing it one step closer to being fully accredited. Krouse is particularly proud of the school’s clinical program and its research enterprises, both of which have begun to flourish. He’s proud of its people too, students and staff he’s had the opportunity to mentor.

Krouse is also proud of the role it played in the pandemic. The school’s pandemic efforts, he said, are likely the way it’s served its community most directly so far.

“I think what we did and what others did in the Valley was really limit this terrible disease to the extent we could,” he said. “We had a bad summer last summer, there’s no question about it. I think if we and others had not been as aggressive it would have been much worse.”

With the pandemic gradually receding and the school of medicine in fine fettle, Krouse says he’s content with his decision to hang up his spurs. He did what he set out to do at the university, he said, and he’s ready to spend a little more time with his family and his pastimes — travel and wine.

“It’s time,” he said.

That doesn’t mean Krouse will be leaving anytime soon. He’ll stay on as a professor, and is particularly looking forward to spending more time mentoring students and staff.

Last week a student from Wayne State reached out to Krouse, asking for advice. Krouse told her — a total stranger — that he’d be happy to talk. They’ve got a Zoom call on Monday.

The ease of access is almost shocking. Next week Krouse will undoubtedly be busy handing over the reins of a multi-million dollar operation with hundreds of employees and students to his successor.

And yet, the generosity’s totally in character. Just John Krouse trying to make the system flow a little more smoothly.

“That’s the most important thing I do,” he said. “Out of everything else, I think the most important thing I can do is work with the next generation of students and help them where they want to be.”