Charles “Chipper” Griffith’s workday uniform switched from scrubs to office wear when he graduated residency and joined the University of Kentucky College of Medicine faculty in 1994. Shortly after, he began making a statement with loud, colorful ties. 

It started with wearing holiday ties out of season, a snowman in the summer or pumpkins in the spring. They reminded him to “approach every day like a holiday.” 

The ties may have served as the reminder, but for Dr. Griffith, teaching was what made each day at the office feel like a holiday. He relished in the joy of seeing his mentees overcome obstacles and pursue their passion for medicine.

In July 2023, after 30-plus years impacting education at the UK College of Medicine, Dr. Griffith was appointed “Dean Griffith,” a position that allows him to make a difference for students behind the scenes. 

His title has changed and responsibilities have increased, but Dean Griffith has kept the same North Star – education. It is what he believes ties all the components of the UK College of Medicine’s mission together. 

“We were created to serve students,” he said. “They have to be at the forefront.”

That value hasn’t wavered. Under his leadership, education at the UK College of Medicine is only going to be stronger – leading to the continued advancement of health care for Kentuckians and beyond.

Dean Griffith’s journey to UK began in the 1980s as an internal medicine/pediatrics resident, but his connection to the college began much earlier. His father was a UK pediatrics resident in the ‘60s and one of the first trainees under legendary doctor Jacqueline Noonan, MD, who became UK’s first female department chair, discovered a genetic disorder (later named after her), and helped found Kentucky Children’s Hospital. 

Dean Griffith watched in awe as his father learned from strong mentors and accomplished a fulfilling medical career – which continues to this day.

In fact, Dean Griffith interviewed with Dr. Noonan when applying for residency at UK. On his tour, he was greeted by another physician who had just been on-call. Despite being up all night, eyes puffy, the doctor was incredibly friendly. That left an impression.

He and his wife, Beth Griffith, MD, eventually fell in love with Lexington, Ky. Very soon after his first day in residency, he fell in love with teaching.

Over his 30-plus years at UK, he has worn many hats: clerkship director, residency program director, senior associate dean for medical student education, and vice dean for education. Throughout that time, he has appreciated the college’s rich history. It was actually established in a cornfield, with leaders from all over the country joining forces to bring important care and research to the Commonwealth. “In our mission, we stand on the shoulders of these giants,” Dean Griffith said.

The college has since achieved many educational milestones – ones he hopes to build upon as dean. UK has spread across the state including residency programs in Bowling Green, Hazard, and Morehead; two regional four-year campuses in Bowling Green and Northern Kentucky; and the Rural Physician Leadership Program in Morehead. 

In the spring/summer of 2023, the UK College of Medicine graduated more than 200 medical students; 50 master’s, graduate certificate, and PhD students; and 320 residents and fellows.

This growth has positioned the University as a leader within the state. “UK has really embraced the mantle of being the College of Medicine for Kentucky,” Dean Griffith said. “We have really stepped up, and we need to continue to do so.”

Growth is vital in expanding opportunities for advanced training, care, and science. Teaming with the UK Vice President for Research, Dean Griffith will enhance clinical research infrastructure and build upon UK’s collaborative atmosphere. Part of this goal is to attain $100 million of research growth over five years, with a focus on clinical research.

This focus capitalizes on the success of UK’s multidisciplinary centers such as the Markey Cancer Center, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, Kentucky’s only National Institutes on Aging Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. UK’s centers bring faculty, staff, and learners of all specialties together to promote health equity, treatment, and disease prevention. 

The goal also taps into UK’s uniquely close community. Dean Griffith touts the University’s walkable distance between its medical center and several research facilities, bridging collaborations that might not have been possible elsewhere. Meanwhile, faculty tenaciously support their learners. “Students in general feel like the faculty really care about them,” he said. “I think most graduates can name a faculty member they feel close to.”

As the college creates more opportunities for learners, it must also meet demand. There were 4,198 prospective medical students who applied for 201 available spots in the Class of 2027.

The UK College of Medicine is on the verge of joining a state-of-the-art Michael D. Rankin, MD, Health Education Building with the colleges of Public Health, Health Sciences, and Nursing, and the Center for Interprofessional Community Health Education (CICHE). When the building is completed, UK will have the capacity to train more than 1,000 medical students across all campuses and stand among the largest medical schools in the country. 

This milestone is crucial for improving health care access. A 2021 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates that by 2034, physician demand will exceed the supply by 124,000 physicians. Kentucky’s health care needs are among the highest in the country, and there are many rural areas that are underserved.

By training more medical students in Kentucky, there will be more physicians equipped with the skills to address the state’s burdening prevalence of disease. The hope – and what has already been proven – is to instill a sense of purpose that motivates many to stay, pursue residency, and practice in underserved regions.

“We have the applicant pool. We have the qualified students ready to come to Kentucky and train,” Dean Griffith said. “It’s going to be really exciting to be able to do that.”

Thanks to its growth, the UK College of Medicine has built an institution capable of leading significant change, not just in the state, but across the world. 

Dean Griffith understands the responsibility of his new leadership role and the urgency of the college’s work, but he also knows that taking care of others requires staying true to his roots. 

To this day, it is not surprising to see him sport a tie-dye tie for a get-together with alumni or a Snoopy tie when giving a speech. 

He has accumulated dozens of funky ties over the years, many of which are gifts from his trainees and colleagues. They now serve as a reminder of what the UK College of Medicine is all about – providing exceptional education within a strong community. 

“We always want to work on making this continue to be a warm, welcoming, inclusive place,” he said. “The risk of growth is you become less personal, but even as we grow, we retain those close relationships, which are what make this place so special.”

Dean Griffith doesn’t need the tie to make a day at the office feel like a holiday. His favorite part of the job, including as dean of the college, is teaching and seeing his mentees shine. The college broke ground on the Michael D. Rankin, MD, Health Education Building on Oct. 27, 2023. He calls the event one of the best days of his career because of the possibilities it represents. 

The expansion of medical and biomedical programs and facilities allows the college to admit more learners. That means more opportunities for dynamic teaching. More grant-funded studies for biomedical trainees to join. More opportunities for students to gain early hands-on experience.

And as a result, better health outcomes. The vision is “all about how we can make more of those dreams come true” for the improved health of our patients.