Picture this: You’ve worked at the same university for years, you’re well-liked by your colleagues, and your career is humming along. Then one day someone offers you a job somewhere else. And at that moment, like many an ambitious academic, you’re faced with an age-old question: Should I stay or should I go?
Peter J. Hotez, an internationally-known expert in neglected tropical diseases, recently made the decision to go. After 11 years as a professor at George Washington University, he’s moving to Texas to be the founding dean of a new School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Hotez, who says such an institution is the first of its kind, will also be on staff at Texas Children’s Hospital, where he will lead a team of researchers in developing vaccines for diseases such as hookworm and others that affect the world’s poorest populations. He will start work in Texas on August 1.
“It was a hard decision,” said Dr. Hotez, who will leave behind his post as chair of George Washington’s department of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine. “My years at George Washington have been the greatest decade or so of my life.”
But the prospect of living out a professional dream that first took root in his childhood was too good for Dr. Hotez to pass up. “I’ve been interested in tropical diseases ever since I was a teenager,” said Dr. Hotez. Back then he spent hours in the pages of Manson’s Tropical Diseases, a guidebook of warm climate diseases that was written by the founder of the tropical-medicine field.
Like most dream jobs, Dr. Hotez’s came about unexpectedly. After visiting Texas Children’s Hospital several times, Dr. Hotez said he was invited to do grand rounds (a presentation given by a doctor who talks about the treatment of difficult clinical problems) by Mark W. Kline, physician-in-chief at Texas Children’s and head of pediatrics at Baylor. After that visit last October, Dr. Hotez said he began to talk to Dr. Kline about the kinds of advancements he wanted to make in the field of tropical medicine. “He told me, “You can do that here,” Dr. Hotez said, recalling the conversation.
The 20 researchers Dr. Hotez will lead — some of them fellow faculty members from George Washington — work with the vaccine-development program of the nonprofit Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington, D.C. Dr. Hotez, a pediatrician, is the institute’s president and will remain so. Although the vaccine-development program is relocating to Texas Children’s Hospital, the rest of the institute’s advocacy and education programs will stay in Washington.
As for Baylor College of Medicine’s newest school, plans are to roll out a tropical-medicine diploma first and then a master’s of science degree. “We’re not going to try to build all this in a day,” said Dr. Hotez, who will also hold an endowed chair in tropical pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital and serve as chief of a new section of tropical diseases in the department of pediatrics at the medical college.
Dr. Hotez is looking forward to continuing to develop the world’s first vaccine for hookworm disease. His new locale is the perfect place to develop and test other such vaccines, Dr. Hotez said, since Texas is home to pockets of people who are infected with tropical diseases that often go undetected.
“All of this is just an exciting new assault on the diseases of the poorest people,” Dr. Hotez said.