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Surgeon Colacchio is tapped as new Clinic president

While in college, he worked as a night security guard, a maintenance worker, and an OR technician at Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood, N.J. He was interested in surgery even before he knew he wanted to be a doctor. He was drawn to leadership positions, too, and served as president of his medical school class at Tufts and later as chief resident at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

But he never imagined that he would one day be asked to lead a 500-physician multispecialty, academic group practice with 30 sites in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Yet Thomas Colacchio, M.D., a professor of surgery at DMS since 1981, has become the seventh president of the 73- year-old Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic. He succeeds Stephen Plume, M.D., who has returned to full-time patient care and research.

New post: Colacchio looks forward to the challenges of his new post. "I think that one of the critical roles for leaders is to understand the pressure and stress that providers and physicians and faculty are under . . . to create the environment where they are able to do their jobs the way they wish to do them."

Clinic President Tom Colacchio has been at Dartmouth since 1981.

He does not see himself as having all the answers, however. "I don't think leaders always dream up the solutions, but rather the people who are closer to the problems are the ones who actually identify the solutions. I think leaders who are effective facilitate the ability of people to see those [solutions] and then encourage and provide them with the resources necessary to accomplish them."

He admits that it is getting ever harder to fund the teaching and research that are central to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock mission. "It's a continuing struggle to find ways to achieve the teaching and the research and still be fiscally viable," he says. "We're in a transition where we need to recognize that we have to shift some of the financial support for those activities away from what had historically been operational revenues."

Colacchio is also eager to "embed the educational mission more deeply into the components of the organization that are outside Lebanon." He would like to see more DMS students working in Dartmouth-Hitchcock practices throughout the region as well as in community hospitals that are members of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Alliance. He hopes to help practitioners appreciate "that there is a lot of value in participating in educating students."

It is also important for "people in the broad reaches of New Hampshire and eastern Vermont to feel that Dartmouth Medical School is their medical school, feel a sense of ownership and membership, and see that there's something nice about being able to participate in the activities we have."

He has high praise for the Dartmouth Community Medical School, initiated last year. "The response to that has been outstanding. I think that is a small example of the potential that exists. . . . There will be a whole variety of ways."

Patients: Colacchio plans to continue seeing patients—one day a week in the office and two days a week in the operating room. "I think that maintaining a clinical practice is critical to being able to understand what's going on in the delivery of health care. I love to practice medicine. That's who I am."

Colacchio was chief of general surgery from 1984 to 1996 and currently chairs the Clinic-Hospital Board of Governors. A native of Jersey City, N.J., he earned his M.D. at Tufts in 1975 and did his residency at Columbia- Presbyterian and a fellowship in academic surgery at Columbia. He has a particular interest in surgical oncology and has done research on colon cancer; he is also past chair of the American Cancer Society's national Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Therapy Committee.

Laura Stephenson Carter

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