Just call Dr. Mart McMullan a "fixer."
Since becoming senior advisor to the University of Mississippi Medical Center vice chancellor during Dr. Dan Jones' tenure, McMullan has been tasked with turning around areas that need improvement or even a makeover. That has ranged from jump-starting the pediatric congenital heart program to enticing top physicians to join the Medical Center's staff.
McMullan, who retires at the end of June, has used his decades in private practice and vast people skills to craft solutions that make the Medical Center a better place for patients and employees alike. Since 2005, he's had the ear - and the trust - of department chairs and faculty that allowed him to "push the right buttons to help people," said his UMMC School of Medicine classmate, former vice chancellor Dr. James Keeton.
"He would come to me and tell me things when there was no way I could have known that," said Keeton, who served as Jones' chief of staff before succeeding him as vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine in 2010.
"For a Rebel, he's certainly a Bulldog," said Dr. Mike McMullan, director of UMMC's adult congenital heart program and one of Mart McMullan's distant cousins. "He's so tenacious. He makes things happen."
Mart McMullan arrived at UMMC following a 32-year career at Baptist Hospital in Jackson. "I came here at age 65 thinking, 'I don't want to be an old doddering fool,' " McMullan said.
"Mart McMullan spent most of his career fixing hearts in his role as a cardiovascular surgeon. It was the combination of that will to fix things, his strong local and national reputation, and his gentlemanly charm that drew me to recruit him to be a part of our leadership team," said Jones, who became chancellor of the University of Mississippi in 2009. On Sept. 14, Jones will end his tenure at Ole Miss and join the Medical Center Sept. 15 as director of clinical and population sciences at the Mississippi Center for Obesity Research.
The plan was for McMullan to continue in surgery. Jones, however, asked him just weeks into the job to be his senior advisor, focusing on clinical functions. Not long after, McMullan got a title befitting a troubleshooter.
"It was Jimmy Keeton who started using the 'czar' word," McMullan said. The two were interns - Keeton a year ahead of McMullan -- under the late Dr. James Hardy, the pioneering scientist and transplant surgeon.
He was asked "to come up with a way to get the congenital heart program running again," McMullan said. So, he sought help from Dr. Richard Jonas, a well-respected cardiac surgeon at Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C. Jonas came to UMMC twice monthly to operate and train Medical Center doctors, "and we even sent our people up there for a couple of weeks," McMullan said.
McMullan helped to fine-tune the bariatric surgery and wound care programs. "Both services have undergone a revolution," he said. And, he played a role in UMMC's establishment of specialty clinics in Tupelo, Grenada, Hattiesburg and Gulfport.
Perhaps one of McMullan's greatest legacies to the Medical Center, though, is his recruitment prowess. He attracted "outside cardiologists and other specialties from the community, which had never happened before," McMullan said.
Mart McMullan said he drew on the experience of longtime cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. James "Jim" Cox, a trailblazer in ablation treatment of atrial fibrillation. "He told me when he became chief of cardiac surgery at Washington University in St. Louis, he had no cardiologists to work with," McMullan said. "So, he recruited two of the busiest cardiologists in St. Louis."
That gave him and then-University Hospitals and Health System CEO Dr. Will Ferniany "the idea to start fierce recruiting," McMullan said.
The two convinced Dr. Bryan Barksdale, past chief of staff at Baptist Hospital, to join the UMMC faculty. Barksdale in turn brought three fellow cardiologists with him. Other recruits during McMullan's tenure included Dr. Jorge Salazar, who arrived in 2010 from Texas Children's Hospital in Houston to be chief of congenital heart surgery at Batson Children's Hospital.
Mike McMullan had left the Medical Center in 2007, becoming a partner in a local cardiology practice. "He would talk to me about it every time we ran into each other," Mike McMullan said of his cousin's determination to bring him back into the fold, which happened in 2014.
And, Mart McMullan assisted Keeton in attracting Dr. Charles O'Mara, now associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs, in 2013 as Keeton's special adviser. O'Mara had spent the last five years on the staff at Baptist Hospital.
"They trusted Mart," Keeton said of the local medical community. "He'd been in private practice longer than me, and he could tell the story of the Medical Center out there so we were able to recruit great physicians."
"Right now, the adult and pediatric cardiology divisions are the strongest they've ever been. He's certainly had a part in growing both of those programs, and in developing the new University Heart," Mike McMullan said. "A lot of that has to do with his charisma. He is the reason I developed my love of cardiology."
It's no surprise McMullan has another avocation lined up, one that's definitely not for, in McMullan's words, "an old doddering fool." He will assist the Office of Development in an advisory capacity to encourage members of the community to remember the Medical Center in their wills and estates.
McMullan "will be wonderful at that," said Keeton, who stepped down as vice chancellor in March and now serves in an advisory capacity to his successor, Dr. LouAnn Woodward. "The bottom line is, he cares about improving the health of Mississippi. This is his way of doing that.
"The Medical Center is better because he was here."