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One on One: Lowered life expectancy doesn’t stop this N.C. native

By D.G. Martin

“Life expectancy in the United States dropped a staggering one year during the first half of 2020,” according to last week’s news reports.

For males the average life expectancy is now 75.1 years and for females, 80.5 years.

This means that several of our most important national leaders (President Joe Biden, 78; U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 80; and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 79) are past their life expectancies.

For most of the rest of us, the approach of our eightieth birthday is a time of retreat, not a time for taking on challenging new ventures.

Not so for an 80-year-old North Carolina native who recently became the founding dean of a new medical school in the planning stages. The school is a joint venture between Belmont University and Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), both based in Nashville.

Belmont President Bob Fisher explained the rationale for the partnership, “A College of Medicine is the natural next step in Belmont’s health care offerings. HCA Healthcare will bring world-class expertise to Belmont’s College of Medicine, offering our students extraordinary faculty instructors and a pathway to residency and clinical placements.”

The new dean, William Bates, grew up near Charlotte, attended Derita School and graduated from North Mecklenburg High School. He attended UNC-Chapel Hill on a Morehead Scholarship and stayed in Chapel Hill for medical school.

Why would an 80-year-old, mostly retired medical educator want what promises to be a challenging and probably exhausting leadership task? Those of us who knew Bates, now called “Bill,” as a high school student have part of the answer. He was always eager to succeed at every opportunity from academics to athletics to service. It is fair to say in a positive way that he was driven and willing to take on the hardest tasks.

Why would the organizers of the new medical school look to an older man when the job will certainly require the energy of someone much younger?

A quick look at Bates’ resume provides an answer.

In addition to a distinguished academic record in obstetrics and gynecology at several excellent medical schools, Bates served in high-level medical school leadership positions, including dean of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and vice president for medical education and research at the Greenville S.C. Hospital System.

Just as important, I am sure, is Bates’ business experience and acumen. He developed a system of electronic medical records for obstetrician-gynecologists called “digiChart OB-GYN.” He organized a business that sold the product to doctors on a subscription basis.

This sort of background in teaching, medical practice, management and business is golden for a medical school dean. But I think Bates sealed the deal by combining his prior experiences and his realistic vision for necessary changes into a plan for the launching of the new medical school. His plans were not general goals, but specific details showing the role of each member of the faculty, what courses would be taught at each level, what expenses would be and how they would be funded.

For instance, he even outlined the admission requirements for entering students: “In addition to compassion, empathy, interpersonal and communication skills and leadership, what are the academic prerequisites for admission to medical school? I think the following: Liberal Arts: English (writing and literature), social and political sciences, art, music, foreign language, philosophy, religion, economics. Sciences: Biology (8 hours), chemistry (16 hours), physics (8 hours) Mathematics: Calculus I (3 hours) and preferably, calculus II (3 hours).”

Bates’ willingness to take on this new task and his enthusiasm for it is inspirational, although a little daunting for this high school classmate. But I can hear what our North Mecklenburg teachers would say if they were still alive, “I always knew that William was going to be a big success.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sundays at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 5 p.m. on PBS North Carolina (formerly UNC-TV). The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and other times. The Sunday airing will be preempted during upcoming fundraising campaigns.

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