New Texas Tech HSC dean shares life journey, vision for School of Medicine

If you travel to the second floor of the original Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center building, you will find the Dean of the School of Medicine office. It’s a space that has a history of housing both deans and presidents of the university and now welcomes its newest resident.

After being named dean and executive vice president of the TTUHSC in February, Dr. John DeToledo is bare except for a few trinkets scattered around the space – a reflection of the modest and soft-spoken resident.

Before being appointed to his new position, DeToledo’s journey in medicine began decades ago, 5,000 miles south of Lubbock.

Travel from Brazil to Lubbock

DeToledo was born in São Paulo, Brazil and comes from a long line of general practitioners. He said it was natural for him to attend São Paulo Medical School. He graduated in 1980, but did not stay there for his residency training. Instead, he moved to Boston.

“I was an exchange student when I was 15 and I lived with a wonderful family in Michigan and I really enjoyed the experience,” he said of his previous experiences in the United States. “Specializing in this country would open doors for me… I wouldn’t have the same opportunity if I stayed in Brazil for my specialty training.”

When DeToledo got a place at Columbia University for internal medicine, he crossed paths with his future predecessor – Dr. Steven Berk, who was a doctor in Boston at the time.

It was also during this time that DeToledo said he switched specialties from internal medicine to neurology.

“Neurology is rarely love at first sight,” he said. “Neurology is more often than not an acquired taste.”

DeToledo said 3% to 5% of medical students have an interest in neurology, which usually stems from undergraduate work done in the field. For him, however, it was different.

“Some of us start out in medicine and find an affinity with central nervous system disease and it’s almost like it clicks,” he said. “It becomes effortless to make those connections.”

After changing fields, DeToledo received additional training at Boston University and Boston City Hospital and completed his fellowship in epilepsy and neurophysiology at the Oregon Comprehensive Epilepsy Program.

After his fellowship, DeToledo remained Cornelia Wheeler’s Epilepsy Division Chief until 1992, when his adventure took him to the nation’s capital.

“I came to George Washington (University) as a junior professor,” he said.

While in Washington DC, DeToledo eventually became Chief of the Division of Epilepsy and Neurophysiology and the Neurology Residency Program Director at WGU, but his adventures were about to move abroad once again.

“I was invited to work in Saudi Arabia – in Riyadh – at King Faisal Hospital,” he said.

During his six-month stay there, DeToledo helped establish the epilepsy program at King Faisal Specialist Hospital. He returned to the United States to serve as co-director of the International Center for Epilepsy at the University of Miami in Florida.

There he met his wife, and the two would continue their journey together.

DeToledo moved to North Carolina to become Chief of the Division of Epilepsy and Neurophysiology at Wake Forest University and Chief of the Magnetoencephalography Laboratory. It was then that he received a call from an old friend – Dr. Berk – who was recruiting him for TTUHSC.

“When I received the invitation to visit, it was mainly because he was here that I came. I didn’t know much about Texas Tech or Lubbock,” he said.

But after visiting Lubbock, DeToldeo said he and his wife agreed that Lubbock was unique and attractive to them.

“The commitment of this community to support the university and the medical school – the pride our people have in this school – really impressed me,” DeToledo said. “I was invited to a reception where some local people were there, and they were so proud of Texas Tech. I said, ‘Wow, this is so different.'”

DeToledo joined TTUHSC in 2009 as the Vernon & Elizabeth Haggerton Chair in Neurology.

During his tenure, DeToledo chaired the Medical Practice Income Plan and served as chief of staff at University Medical Center, along with a position that helped prepare him to take over leadership of the medical school.

“Dean Berk offered me the opportunity to become vice dean of the School of Medicine,” DeToledo said. “From then on, I spent more time with him and was part of discussions about the vision, about the future, about the strategies for the medical school.”

DeToledo was subsequently appointed acting dean of the School of Medicine by the TTUHSC President’s Office from December 2021 to February 2022 after Berk suffered a medical emergency.

On May 26, 2023, Berk died suddenly after serving as dean of the School of Medicine for 17 years. The search was on for who would fill his shoes.

TTUHSC President Lori Rice-Spearman took another look at DeToledo and appointed him interim dean that same month.

After a national search that yielded nearly 25 candidates, TTUHSC announced in February 2024 that DeToldeo would become the new dean.

“We are fortunate to have Dr. DeToledo continue in this leadership role for the School of Medicine,” Rice-Spearman said at the time. “He has a deep commitment and philosophy to academic medicine that reflects our TTUHSC values-based culture, and he brings a wealth of expertise to the table for an academic health care institution as a physician, clinic manager and physician scientist.”

According to TTUHSC, DeToledo is tasked with leading faculty and staff in strategic planning, securing resources, and implementing and evaluating activities related to the academic, research, service and patient care activities.

“As an established educator, physician and chairman, Dr. DeToledo brings a strong understanding of the medical school and its clinical practice,” TTUHSC Provost and Chief Academic Officer Darrin D’Agostino said after DeToledo was named dean. “He is a respected leader who is committed to preparing the next generation of physicians and providing exceptional health care to the communities we serve.”

The vision of the new dean

“The dean very often communicates part of his personality to the rest of the medical school,” DeToledo said.

As a regional medical school, DeToledo said he wants TTUHSC to attract students from across the country, but focuses on reaching local students.

“This is their home for them to learn from us, and then come back to our community and serve in the community,” he said. “We are proud to attract a large number of first-generation physicians.”

DeToledo said he will also uphold the school’s tradition of creating the nation’s best primary care physicians — a feat Ivy League schools have yet to achieve.

“Texas Tech is ranked 19th in the country in this area, and we are very proud of this,” De Toledo said with a smile.

A solid foundation in primary care allows physicians to expand their skills and knowledge into other specialties, DeToledo said. However, primary care is not the only thing TTUHSC wants to be known for.

“What we want to bring to West Texas now is state-of-the-art cancer treatments,” he said.

On Thursday, the University Medical Center announced the groundbreaking of the new cancer center through a partnership between TTUHSC and the TLC2 Foundation to bring new treatments to West Texas and advance cancer research.

More: UMC and TTUHSC are breaking ground for the new TLC2 Foundation Cancer Center in Lubbock

DeToledo said the field of medicine changes every five to eight years, with the principles of the field staying the same but the understanding of how the body works changing.

“So one challenge we all have is how to keep our medical school curriculum relevant,” he said. “We are committed to providing our students with the most up-to-date, up-to-date information so we can prepare them for success when they graduate.”

When asked what he wants to emphasize from his goals for the medical school, DeToledo’s answer was simple: collaboration. He said he wants to ensure that everyone at TTUHSC works together to improve not only their learning experience, but also the health of patients and healthcare in general.

And one guiding philosophy and commitment will help DeToledo during his tenure as dean, he said.

“Texas Tech is fully committed to this region, it is fully committed to our people, it is fully committed to improving the health of our own nation in urban and rural areas,” DeToledo said. “We are focused on taking care of ourselves and giving back to our people because they have been so incredibly generous to us.”