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Published in CenterView on September 09, 2013
Dr. William Little
Dr. William Little

New Department of Medicine chair brings studious approach to improving patient care

By Jack Mazurak

In taking the helm of the medical school’s Department of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, interventional cardiologist Dr. William Little oversees a massive department with a broad range of faculty that includes both general internists and specialists in cancer treatment, geriatrics, hypertension, heart disease, lung disorders, immunology, digestive disorders and infectious diseases.

Little began as chair in July and plans to push forward quality of education, quality and efficiency of patient care and translation of basic-science research into clinical care.

While Little said he’ll work with each of the dozen divisions on tailored goals, his overall strategy for the department’s clinical operations looks to continue improving the quality of patient care.

“Patients are not interested in being in the hospital,” Little said. “We need to meet the expectations for a shortened length of stay. Doing that will effectively increase our capacity,”

More capacity means a greater ability to address Mississippi medical needs without building more patient rooms. It also can mean greater patient revenues, which can aid the institution’s education mission.

“I think the quality of care here can be every bit as good as at the Mayo Clinic or the Cleveland Clinic,” Little said. “We can provide care equivalent to anywhere in the U.S.

“We should be the designation for advanced care for all of Mississippi.”

Training future physicians can help continue improving the quality of care, both at the Medical Center and throughout Mississippi.

Between 2004 and 2010, the School of Medicine’s incoming class sizes increased from approximately 100 per year to 135. The first 135-member class will graduate next year and, as the school expands to 165 in the coming years, UMMC leaders plan to add residency positions.

“To supply physicians to Mississippi, we not only need to educate medical students, but we also need to focus on graduate medical education,” Little said. “Your clinical training after completing medical school greatly influences the type of doctor you become.”

The department has 89 residency positions and 64 fellowships out of a total of 569 at UMMC.

“Our educational mission is the greatest strength of our department,” Little said. “We have UMMC’s largest residency program, the largest fellowship program and the most students rotating in their preclinical and clinical years of medical school.

“There is excellence in the education at UMMC. My goal is to preserve and expand that whenever possible.”

Administrators plan to add more residency positions with the Medical Center’s recent long-term deal to manage the 156-bed UMMC Grenada hospital and through affiliations with other health-care institutions.

Though born and raised in Ohio, Little is no stranger to the southern U.S. Growing up, he spent summers working on his grandparents’ farm in rural Florida. After graduating from Oberlin College and earning his M.D. from the Ohio State University College of Medicine, he headed south for an internal medicine residency at the University of Virginia Hospital, followed by a cardiology fellowship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

He had faculty positions at UAB and at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Then in 1986, he moved to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he served as the McMichael Professor and Chief of Cardiology, vice chair of the Department of Internal Medicine and vice chair and head of the finance committee of Wake Forest University Physicians and on the Board of Trustees of North Carolina Baptist Hospital.

An accomplished researcher, his investigations have improved the understanding of the cause of heart attacks, how blood fills both normal and diseased hearts and the use of pacemakers to treat heart failure. Similarly he’d like to see UMMC’s basic science knowledge moved into clinical practice.

For example, a recent study from the department’s Division of Nephrology found testosterone infusions given to male rats helped protect against the usual damage that occurs following blockages of blood flow to their kidneys.
 Those findings eventually could move to a phase 1 clinical trial.

“One of the things that attracted me here was the outstanding basic science research being conducted,” he said. “Add that to the real medical needs in Mississippi and together you have a real opportunity for translation of research findings into health care that addresses medical needs of Mississippians.”