Wayne State College Graduate, Dr. Jeff Harrison, Named Chair of UNMC Department of Family Medicine

Jeff Harrison, M.D. – a key figure in Nebraska family medicine for more than two decades and a 1983 graduate of Wayne State College – will be the new chair of the University of Nebraska Medical Center Department of Family Medicine.

The announcement was made Jan. 8 by Bradley Britigan, M.D., dean of the UNMC College of Medicine, following a national search to find a successor to Michael Sitorius, M.D., who is stepping down after 30 years as department chair. The appointment is effective Jan. 13. 

“The search produced some high-quality candidates,” Britigan said. “In the end, Dr. Harrison stood out as the perfect person to move the department forward as we begin this new decade. As vice chair of the department for the past six years and residency program director for the Rural Training Track for the past 22 years, he knows family medicine, and he knows Nebraska. 

“I’m totally confident that Jeff will be able to take the baton from Dr. Sitorius and continue to make the Department of Family Medicine one of the shining departments in the College of Medicine. With Jeff’s longstanding experience, it will allow for a smooth transition, and I’m sure he’ll hit the ground running to ensure that the department continues to meet the primary care needs of our state. 

“I am excited about the ideas that Dr. Harrison has laid out for strengthening our efforts in value-based care, new models for primary care delivery, and leadership development in the department,” said Jim Linder, M.D., CEO of Nebraska Medicine.

Britigan had high praise for the work of Sitorius over the past three decades. Under his leadership, the department:

Grew from 20 full-time faculty and 36 resident physicians to more than 50 full-time faculty and 68 residents; 

Received the University of Nebraska Departmental Teaching Award in 2007 and was ranked among the top primary care programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report; and

Initiated several key programs, including the Nebraska Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP) and the combined primary care residency program for family medicine and internal medicine. 

“Dr. Sitorius has done a magnificent job in running family medicine. He has left an imprint on the entire state that will last forever. We are delighted that he will continue to serve on the faculty and see patients while also serving as senior adviser to the chancellor on rural health.” 

A 1988 graduate of the UNMC College of Medicine, Harrison served a brief stint as an emergency medicine physician at Midlands Hospital in Papillion before joining the family medicine faculty in 1995 as clinical assistant professor and medical director of the Mission Village Clinic.

In 1998, he was asked to oversee UNMC’s Rural Training Track (RTT) program in which family medicine resident physicians receive training in one of five rural communities – Grand Island, Kearney, Norfolk, North Platte and Scottsbluff. Currently, 22 family medicine residents go through the RTT each year. The family medicine residency spans three years. 

From 2004-2014, Harrison took on additional duties, overseeing the entire residency program for family medicine. Since 2017, he has served as associate dean for admissions for the College of Medicine.

“Dr. Harrison will do an outstanding job,” Sitorius said. “He has a lot of leadership experience. He’s a fair person, a forward-thinker, and he has a tremendous amount of respect in the department and throughout the state of Nebraska.”

In taking the helm of family medicine, Dr. Harrison laid out a number of goals including recruiting new faculty, growing the department’s academic and research presence, and seeking additional opportunities for collaboration. He saluted Britigan for providing additional resources to help achieve these goals.

“I know I have big shoes to fill – what Dr. Sitorius accomplished is unprecedented around the country. Our department is in great shape, yet we still have many opportunities,” he said. “Meeting the primary care needs of a predominantly rural state like Nebraska poses some unique challenges. Nebraskans can rest assured that UNMC takes this responsibility seriously and is committed to doing whatever it takes to get the job done. 

“The health care model is changing from volume-based to value-based. The reimbursement of physicians is no longer based on the quantity of patients they see, but rather the quality of care they provide. We need to make sure the physicians we turn out are trained to meet this changing environment. I think it’s especially critical that we look for new opportunities to collaborate with other UNMC departments and other colleges such as pharmacy, allied health and nursing. Together we are stronger.”

Harrison said family medicine has accumulated a tremendous amount of data in the area of rural health education.

“I think this is where we need to focus in expanding our research,” he said. “This is important information that we need to get published in research journals,” Harrison said.

To help accomplish this, Harrison said the department hopes to build the administrative infrastructure to assist faculty in developing research articles. 

Over the past 11 years, Dr. Harrison has been part of the UNMC team that has tried to teach the family medicine model to China through the Tongji University School of Medicine in Shanghai.  

“China is a huge market for many enterprises in Nebraska,” Harrison said. “By sharing our expertise in family medicine, it provides great exposure for our state. If the state can sell more agricultural products in China because of this exposure, we all win.” 

Like many family medicine physicians, Harrison has a strong rural background. 

A native of Corning, Iowa, he moved to Norfolk when he was 14. 

“Our high school football coach was my biology teacher,” Harrison said. “He was the first person to suggest that I think about becoming a doctor.”

His first venture into health care was as a student athletic trainer for Norfolk Senior High School. 

That’s when the privilege and responsibility of caring for others hit home,” he said.

Ironically, Harrison’s career path as a longtime administrator in family medicine has limited his actual time as a clinician. 

“I’ve had to live vicariously through the graduates of our rural residency programs who go on to practice in Nebraska,” he said.

Harrison becomes the fifth chair of the UNMC Department of Family Medicine.

The Wayne Herald

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