The exteriors of UNM facilities
By Michael Haederle

Constant Commitment

Dr. Patricia Finn Brings Health Equity Front and Center in Her New Role as Dean

Patricia Finn, MD, has lived on both coasts and, before moving to Albuquerque last summer, in Chicago. Freshly settled in the Sandia Mountain foothills, the new dean of the School of Medicine was recently transfixed by the sight of a double rainbow.

“I felt as though it was a sign that I had really arrived at home,” she says.

Since starting in her new role Sept. 1 Finn has been taking stock of her new surroundings and shaping her vision for the future. “Because I am brand new, because I am newly arrived, I can ask anybody anything,” she says.

She pronounces her new colleagues “completely awesome” due to their dedication to patient care. “You cannot clone that,” she says. “I feel really lucky, because I see this altruistic group committed to doing the right thing.”

Michael E. Richards, MD, MPA, Senior Vice President of Clinical Affairs, who served as interim dean before Finn’s arrival, says her depth of experience is proving invaluable.

“The big challenge for Dr. Finn is that she’s coming in the aftermath of significant disruptions in health care, including the pandemic and a surge in patient volumes,” he says. “She brings an approach to managing the School of Medicine that fits New Mexico and us really well.”

Most recently, Finn was head of the Department of Medicine, associate dean for Strategic Initiatives and associate program director for the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where her husband, David Perkins, MD, PhD, led the kidney transplant program. He has joined the UNM Department of Internal Medicine and co-leads the MD/PhD program in the School of Medicine.

Finn sees similarities between the two institutions. Both were safety net hospitals at state universities whose predominant patient populations were underserved and under-studied.

But she’s also attuned to New Mexico’s unique status as a frontier state with significant health disparities. “In New Mexico we have the opportunity to meet the needs of the people of New Mexico, and we should – that’s our mission – but I also think about solutions that allow us to then create a knowledge base that can be used by other states, or used globally.”

Finn traces her commitment to serving the underserved to her own upbringing as the child of hard-working Irish immigrants who settled in New York City. The family first settled in Brooklyn, then moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side – a district now known as Alphabet City.

“My dad worked in every place you could imagine,” she says. “He would have this night job, this day job.” Her mother, who was handicapped, raised four children. “That’s a history that I’m really proud of, and I love talking about it, because they taught us that grit but also respect – respect for humanity and for each other,” she says.

Education was highly valued in the household. “You needed, no matter if you were a boy or a girl in my home, to have an education,” Finn says. “That was no fooling around. Schoolwork came first. That’s probably why I’m such a nerd.”

Finn studied anthropology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, then moved back to New York for medical school and residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She considered primary care, but then came the career-altering experience caring for a young woman with severe asthma. Seeing how her patient’s troubled socioeconomic circumstances contributed to her illness was a revelation. “It propelled me to go deeper into fundamental science,” she said. “That’s been my passion and commitment, to really integrate scientific discovery with care of the underserved.”

The next stop was Boston, where she did a pulmonology fellowship at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. She completed postdoctoral work at the Harvard School of Public Health before joining the faculty at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“That’s where I started in this field of science, really integrating what I could apply to lung disease,” she says. “I really learned fundamental immunology, then applied it to clinical problems.”

Before long, Finn started getting calls to look at leadership positions. “While I hadn’t been considering leadership positions on my own, due to the support of my colleagues and others, I welcomed new opportunities.” That eventually led to a move to the University of California, San Diego, as the Kenneth M. Moser professor of medicine and director of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

She also was offered other leadership opportunities, including serving as president of the American Thoracic Society. “That’s where I started having a voice in health equity,” she says. “It’s all related to how do we make a more inclusive environment, not only in the care of our patients, but also in our science and our day-to-day encounters.”

Along the way, Finn and Perkins raised their daughter Devin, who now works for the World Health Organization. Some years back, Finn attended yoga teacher training alongside her daughter and became hooked. “It was one of the hardest and most satisfying times, because you really have to leave your vulnerability at the door – especially because your daughter is so much better at it!” she says.

After moving to Chicago in 2012, “I really embraced what were important areas for me and one was really thinking about inclusion, writ large,” she says. “The numbers showed our internal medicine residency had just 6% who were under-represented in medicine.” She worked with others to improve recruitment, and by this year, that proportion had grown to 50%.

In her research, Finn has focused on the microbiome and immune-mediated pulmonary diseases, including asthma, sarcoidosis, transplantation and lung injury, often in collaboration with Perkins. But her upbringing also drives an abiding interest in keeping patient care at the forefront of scientific exploration.


Patricia Finn, MD
My elevator talk is always about the integration of scientific discovery with health equity . . .  it’s keeping the patient at the center as we train the next generation.
β€” Patricia Finn, MD

“My elevator talk is always about the integration of scientific discovery with health equity,” she says. “Thinking about that integration, it’s keeping the patient at the center as we train the next generation.’”

As she embarks on the next chapter of her career, Finn confesses to falling in love with the New Mexico’s scenery and its people.

“Here, I can take my dog out and see the most incredible sunrises that really give me pause,” she says. “The breath that I breathe, which is based a bit on my yoga passion, is pretty extraordinary. It really does clear your mind and your heart.”

Categories: Education, School of Medicine, Top Stories