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Fernandez and Cain appointed to new leadership positions to bolster population health and faculty development

Headshots of Maria E. Fernandez and Lisa D. Cain.
Maria E. Fern√°ndez, PhD, vice president of Population Health and Implementation Science, and Lisa D. Cain, PhD, associate vice president of Faculty Affairs and Development at UTHealth Houston. (Graphic by UTHealth Houston)

We are pleased to announce Maria E. Fernández, PhD, as vice president of Population Health and Implementation Science, and Lisa D. Cain, PhD, as associate vice president of Faculty Affairs and Development at UTHealth Houston.

“These two new leadership positions are essential to advancing the university’s mission of education, research, and clinical service,” said Kevin Morano, PhD, senior vice president of Academic and Faculty Affairs. “Both Drs. Fernández and Cain are leading experts in their fields with a wealth of experience, and we are truly fortunate to add them to our leadership team.”

Fernández, the Lorne Bain Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Medicine, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, and founding co-director of the UTHealth Houston Institute for Implementation Science, will lead the university’s efforts in population health sciences including the integration of innovations and discoveries into real-world settings.

“UTHealth Houston’s schools, institutes, and centers include world-renowned leaders in population health research and practice across disciplines,” Fernández said. “As health issues and inequities become more complex and severe, it is essential to increase collaboration and engagement to address them.

“Despite all the advances in health innovations, there is still a substantial research-to-practice gap across all health science disciplines, from public health to nursing,” Fernández said. “Implementation science, as a field, has the potential to bridge this gap and to improve health, health equity, and quality of life.”

Eric Boerwinkle, PhD, dean of the School of Public Health, said a strategic vision for improving population health that includes the implementation and scale-up of health innovations would also strengthen collaborations within the university and boost UTHealth Houston’s profile as a leader in population health sciences.

“Dr. Fernández is uniquely qualified to take on this challenge,” Boerwinkle said. “As a champion of research that improves the health of vulnerable populations, she has spent her entire career designing, evaluating, and implementing evidence-based interventions, practices, programs, and policies, and developing partnerships that meet the health care needs of underserved communities.”

In 1998, Fernández joined the faculty as an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. She currently serves as principal investigator on more than $40 million in active research funding from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the World Health Organization.

Prior to joining the UTHealth Houston faculty, Fernández earned multiple degrees from the University of Maryland, including a master’s degree in health education and a PhD in health education and behavioral epidemiology. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship in cancer prevention and control at the School of Public Health.

Cain, professor and associate dean for Professional Development and Faculty Affairs at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry, will oversee the university’s faculty recruitment, evaluation, promotion, and retention of faculty for our seven schools. She will be responsible for the implementation of innovative faculty development programs to enhance productivity and increase excellence.

“One of our goals will be to increase the collaborative engagement of faculty affairs and development offices across our schools and produce excellence and global impact that are uniquely grounded in the intellect and the heart,” said Cain, whose experience and leadership in academic health education spans 30 years. “Intellect starts in the mind but intellect combined with the heart and a sincere desire to make a difference produces a positive, great impact. It will be my honor and joy to serve UTHealth Houston and our faculty members in making such a significant impact.”

John A. Valenza, DDS, dean and The William N. Finnegan III Distinguished Professor in the Dental Sciences at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry, said Cain is best qualified for this new role — not only because of the transformative work she has done within the School of Dentistry, but also the leadership roles she has taken on more broadly at the university, The University of Texas System, nationally, and worldwide.

“From chairing groups and conferences for the ADEA and AAMC on the national level to chairing a Commission on Dental Accreditation subcommittee at the school level, Dr. Cain has all the attributes of a visionary leader,” Valenza said. “Her dedication and enthusiasm for faculty development, as well as her advocacy for education, is unmatched.”

Since joining the School of Dentistry faculty and administration in 2017 as the associate dean for Professional Development and Faculty Affairs and professor in the Department of Diagnostics and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Dentistry, Cain has been instrumental in the advancement of educational program development, including wellness initiatives. She serves as a co-director of the university’s Health Education Fellowship Program, which provides faculty training in education and teaching across the schools, and she also has served as an educational consultant on a global level.

Prior to joining the School of Dentistry faculty and administration in 2017, Cain served in multiple leadership roles at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB Health). She received her bachelor’s degree in biology at Jackson State University and her PhD in anatomy at the University of Mississippi Medical Center before completing her postdoctoral fellowship in the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The University of Mississippi Medical Center honored her with the Pillars Lifetime Achievement Award and named her a Distinguished Alumnus.

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