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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Chancellor of UMass Medical School steps down

Dr. Aaron Lazare stepped down as chancellor and dean of University of Massachusetts Medical School today because he has developed a cardiac arrhythmia, the medical school announced.

Dr. Aaron Lazare

Lazare, 71, has headed the state's medical school since 1991, presiding over a complicated merger between its hospital and the private Memorial Health Care that was completed in 1998, as well as an expansion of research reflected in a $100 million laboratory building that bears his name.

"This is a bittersweet moment for me," Lazare said in a memo sent to faculty, staff and students this morning. "I have had an extraordinary vantage point as this institution has grown into a role as a health sciences campus of international distinction. To say that my work over the years has been professionally and personally rewarding is an utter understatement: It has been a privilege."

Feeling fatigue and an abnormal heart rhythm a few weeks ago, Lazare went to Newton-Wellesley Hospital and was diagnosed with atrial flutter, he said in an interview today. He's taking medication to regulate his heart beat and trying to cut back on the demands on his time.

"I began to think with this carrying two jobs for all this time, it might be time to step down from these very heavy responsibilities," he said. "I expect to return to health, but diminishing stress is part of the treatment."

Lazare will remain on the faculty as a professor of medical education and psychiatry, continuing his research and writing. His latest book, "On Apology," was published in 2004. His next topic is humiliation.

"I love writing and I believe I have some ideas that are worth passing on," he said.

He also hopes to spend more time with his seven children and 11 grandchildren, most of whom live near his Newton home.

Lazare joined UMass as a professor of psychiatry and chair of the department in 1982 after 14 years at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he led its outpatient psychiatry department, among other services.

A search for a successor to one of his UMass roles is already underway. In June the jobs of chancellor and dean were separated and recruitment for a dean and executive deputy chancellor was begun, leaving Lazare to focus on relationships with UMass trustees, donors and the community.

The heart condition is not the first health problem for Lazare. He had a kidney removed after he was diagnosed with renal cancer.

UMass president Jack M. Wilson accepted his resignation with sadness, he said in a statement.

"As a colleague and friend, Aaron’s well-being is of greatest importance to me, and I know that the entire University of Massachusetts community joins me in wishing him a very speedy recovery," he said. "Because the circumstances that have caused Aaron to step aside arose without warning, I will work with the campus leadership in the coming days to make arrangements for interim appointments, and will in due course define a search process for a Chancellor."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:53 AM
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