George “Skip” Wilson III, MD, remained quiet yet attentive, listening closely to the discussion during a recent Executive Committee meeting of the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.
He didn’t speak on the particular matter at hand, but was ready to chime in and answer questions, if needed. The focus shown went hand in hand with the type of dependability, stability and guidance colleagues said he exhibited during his lengthy career at UF Health.
Wilson, who was senior associate dean for clinical affairs at UF COMJ, has retired after working on the UF Health Jacksonville campus since 1987. In those 30 years, he held a multitude of positions and helped grow and steer the college during both challenging and fruitful times. His last day was June 30.
In the days leading up to his retirement, campus leaders showered him with gifts and recognition via special reception events. During the Celebration of Education graduation ceremony, Wilson received a special plaque commemorating his efforts over the years.
“It was very much appreciated. It was not something I expected,” Wilson said of the fanfare, particularly that special moment toward the end of graduation. “It makes me feel good that at least some of the things I tried to do, people appreciated.”
Clinician, teacher, administrator
Wilson came to campus in 1987 as an assistant professor in the family medicine residency program at what was then known as University Medical Center. He became program director three years later.
From 1995 to 2010, Wilson served as chair of community health and family medicine at UF COMJ, seeing patients at UF Health Family Medicine – Lem Turner and UF Health Community and Family Medicine – Jacksonville. He intended to retire in 2010, but Robert C. Nuss, MD, the dean at the time, asked him to stay on part time as the college searched for a new department chair. Wilson then remained on campus to help the new chair acclimate.
That transition took Wilson into 2012, when he was asked to help lead a special project to improve orthopaedics and surgery. He was later named senior associate dean for clinical affairs, meaning he also served as president and CEO of the faculty practice plan. However, he gave up clinical practice that year.
“That was a big transition for me. I started to miss seeing patients,” he said. “And I’ll always miss the people — the physicians, the nurses, the staff.”
When Daniel R. Wilson, MD, PhD, stepped down as COMJ dean in spring 2016, Skip Wilson; Guy Benrubi, MD; and Linda Edwards, MD, were tapped to guide the campus while UF Health leaders searched for a new dean. Benrubi is senior associate dean for faculty affairs and Edwards is senior associate dean for educational affairs.
Benrubi, who is also chair of obstetrics and gynecology, said Wilson has always been dedicated, fair, tireless and well-informed.
“All of these qualities were invaluable during the transition period between deans,” Benrubi said. “His steady leadership enabled us to navigate this very difficult time, which — in addition to routine matters — was also full of unexpected emergencies.”
Leon L. Haley Jr., MD, MHSA, who began as dean in January, said he leaned on Wilson’s expertise while acclimating to a new university and health system.
“Dr. Wilson assisted me with information and documentation about the college and the practice plan,” Haley said. “But more importantly, he shared his knowledge, wisdom and history of the organization. It has given me great insight into our organization and helped me get up to speed quickly.”
Looking back and moving on
Wilson said he feels good about some of the changes he helped make while overseeing the practice plan, including the way revenue is distributed.
“Now, I think the way we run our business is much more equitable across all the departments,” he said. “Everybody is treated the same.”
Over his three decades, Wilson has seen the campus grow immensely. For instance, the building his office is in — the Learning Resource Center — didn’t even exist back then. He says it’s amazing to think about how the campus has evolved and expanded.
However, Wilson said a constant has been the struggle for government funding for the hospital. UF Health Jacksonville is one of just a few safety-net hospitals in Florida. But unlike other facilities — such as those in Tampa and Miami — there’s not an independent tax district here that can better help UF Health Jacksonville offset the cost of providing care for the medically underserved.
“We are seriously underfunded, and that’s the biggest challenge,” Wilson said. “But we still have the responsibility of providing care for a challenged population. We’ve got the people, the intellect and the ability to do it. We just don’t have the money. That’s what I’ve seen for the last 30 years.”
But as he speaks about his time at UF Health, Wilson later pivots to what lies ahead for him in retirement. He plans to spend a lot more time in Colorado, where he owns a home and loves to ski in the winters and hike during warmer months.
More scuba diving is also on his to-do list, as is overseas traveling. He’ll soon be vacationing in France and wants to visit Australia and Norway within the next few years. He looks forward to sharing these moments with his wife, Judy.
“You get to a point in life when you know you’re ready to step away, and I’m definitely ready,” he said. “It’s time to do something else.”
Though he’s now gone, Edwards said Wilson’s commitment and tenacity will always be remembered, and she’s glad to have had the opportunity to work with him.
“Dr. Wilson’s dedication was evident in his tireless efforts on behalf of the college and the practice plan,” Edwards said. “I’ll miss his positive attitude, even in the midst of challenges.”