Keck Graduate Institute hires founding dean for new medical school

A man in a suit wearing glasses smiles.
Dr. J. Mario Molina was named the founding Dean of the KGI School of Medicine. (Courtesy of Keck Graduate Institute)

Keck Graduate Institute appointed Dr. J. Mario Molina as the founding dean of the KGI School of Medicine on Aug. 15, according to a news release and faculty profile on Keck’s website. 

Molina comes to the 7Cs with 20 years of experience as the former CEO of Molina Healthcare, a Fortune 500 health insurance company founded by his father, which provides health care to low-income individuals, according to the news release. He’s also worked in medical education and been recognized for his achievements by prominent media outlets.

“Dean Molina’s passion for re-thinking medical education aligns with KGI’s core value of innovation,” KGI spokesperson Ivan Alber said via email. “We are excited to partner with him on this transformational endeavor that will positively impact not just KGI, but all of the Claremont Colleges.”

But Molina’s legacy hasn’t been all smooth sailing.

Molina Healthcare’s board of directors fired Molina and his brother, CFO John C. Molina, in May 2017, citing poor financial results and difficulties keeping pace with competitors, according to the Los Angeles Times. Shares in the company jumped over 20 percent after the announcement.

Analysts said the move could clear the way for Molina Healthcare to be acquired by a larger insurance company, according to the Times. 

Molina said he was blindsided when the board fired him, according to an LA Times business column. On the day of his firing, Molina planned to inform the board, whose members’ average compensation exceeded $372,000 in 2016, that he saw them as overpaid and underqualified.

In 2017, Molina was “virtually the sole health insurance chief executive in the country” who vocally defended the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, according to the Times column. 

Molina said his political views made the board “uneasy,” specifically pointing to board member Ronna Romney, a longtime Republican official who is Mitt Romney’s former sister-in-law, according to the Times column. 

Molina did not respond to requests for comment before press time. 

Prior to running Molina Healthcare, Molina was a faculty member at the University of Southern California, where he earned his medical degree in 1984, according to the news release. He’s also a trustee of the John Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Over the years, Molina has earned several accolades for his work at Molina Healthcare. 

In 2005, Time Magazine named Molina one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in America. In 2016, Modern Healthcare, a business publication about the healthcare industry, listed Molina among the 100 most influential people in healthcare.

At Molina Healthcare, Molina focused on providing health care to impoverished Latinx people by employing bilingual physicians, providing brochures in several languages — including Chinese and Cambodian — to serve California’s Asian population and running 24-hour nurse advice lines in Spanish, according to the Time article. 

“The experiences I have gained confirm both the need and the timely imperative at KGI to transform medical education by providing students with the academic, technology and self-awareness tools to become compassionate physicians and to advocate for the good health of the communities they serve,” Molina said in the news release. 

KGI President Sheldon Schuster praised Molina’s previous work.

“He has an immense amount of experience in serving Southern California communities, and we are confident in his ability to develop an innovative medical school for the 21st century,” he said in the news release.

Molina’s hiring is another major step forward for KGI’s plan to add a medical school, which was  announced in July 2018.

Molina wants to change the traditional approach to healthcare education by teaching the intersection of multicultural competency, population health research and commercial innovation to prepare physicians for community care, according to the news release. 

The search and recruitment process for Molina’s position cost $100,000, according to an information packet on the school’s website. The school received a $5 million donation from an anonymous donor for the first phase of its medical school project. 

The school also received a $250,000 grant from the Hearst Foundations — which provides philanthropic resources for organizations in the fields of culture, education, health and social services — the school announced last year. KGI aims to raise more than $50 million in total for the school.

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