Science & Research

Dennery appointed chair of pediatrics

Phyllis Dennery will move from Penn to teach, pursue lung research at Alpert Medical School

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2014

Phyllis Dennery will become the chair of pediatrics at the Alpert Medical School and pediatrician-in-chief and medical director at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in April, the University and Lifespan announced this month.

Dennery is currently the chief of the Division of Neonatology and Newborn Services at Penn and the affiliated hospital Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

She is expected to become the next Sylvia Kay Hassenfeld Professor of Pediatrics at Brown, said Glenn Tung, a member of the selection committee and professor of diagnostic imaging at the Med School. The position is fitting, as the Hassenfeld family has been involved with Hasbro Children’s Hospital for many years, he added.

“Unlike an adult who make choices for themselves, a lot of what happens to children is not of their control,” Dennery said, adding that her interest in pediatrics stems from the responsibility she feels to help these young lives.

Dennery said she looks forward to coming to Rhode Island because of the large impact she can have in such a small state.

There are “a lot of opportunities for continuity of care,” Dennery said, adding that patients will visit Hasbro Children’s Hospital for most of their early lives since it is the only children’s hospital in the state. This makes it easier for doctors to keep track of the patients and their recoveries, she said.

Rhode Island’s small size also will enable her to more readily talk to state politicians and policymakers, she said.

Dennery heads her own lab at Penn that studies neonatal lungs, with a focus on the role of a particular protein implicated in lung defense that may have negative long-term impacts if produced in high levels.

Despite her busy schedule, Dennery always makes time for research and lab meetings as the head of her own lab at Penn, said Guang Yang, Dennery’s lab manager.

“She’s very supportive in lots of ways,” Yang said. “When she’s around, you see things move forward.”

“Research is something that is fundamentally important to me,” Dennery said, adding that she looks forward to continuing her research and collaborating with colleagues at Brown while also leading the pediatrics department. Tung noted that both Dennery and the current dean of medicine and biology, Jack Elias, are experts in the study of pulmonary medicine.

Dennery sees her research mission as two-pronged: She hopes to improve individual children’s health and the health of the community. “It’s a continuum from the lab to the clinic to the community,” she added.

In addition to pursuing research and clinical work, Dennery will also teach at the Med School.

“To me, that’s fun. Having more than one thing to worry about makes life interesting,” she added.

Despite her excitement to take on many roles, one challenge she expects to face is acquiring department research funding, which has become harder to come by overall, she said. She plans to invest in research wisely to counter the harsh financial environment, she added.

The process of selecting the chair of pediatrics took about eight months, Tung said. Since former chair Robert Klein retired in June, the seat has remained vacant.

Faculty members, administrators and staff members from both Brown and Hasbro Children’s Hospital participated in the search, as the hospital and the University have a long-standing relationship. The committee considered 16 candidates from a pool of 30 people, but Dennery “(stood) out for a number of reasons,” Tung said.

“She’s the quintessential physician-scientist,” he said, noting that in her past positions she has excelled in both research and administrative roles.

“I’m extremely honored to take on this position,” Dennery said.

“My husband and I are avid ocean-goers,” she said, adding that they look forward to exploring the beaches and waterfronts Rhode Island has to offer.

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