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Soares named founding dean of UTHealth Houston School of Behavioral Health Sciences

Soares named founding dean of UTHealth Houston School of Behavioral Health Sciences
(Graphic by UTHealth Houston)

Jair C. Soares, MD, PhD, a renowned academic leader and physician-scientist in the field of psychiatry, has been named the founding dean of UTHealth Houston School of Behavioral Health Sciences, effective today, Feb. 1.

As the inaugural dean of UTHealth Houston’s seventh school, Soares will build the school’s platform and infrastructure in preparation for its first students, who are expected to begin coursework in the fall of 2025. With a focus on training, understanding the underlying mechanisms and treatments of mental illnesses, and a commitment to providing the highest standard of care for patients, his vision for the school is to create an unprecedented pipeline for health care workers in mental health specialties to provide critical services for Texans.

“Dr. Soares’ mission to train the next generation of psychologists, social workers, and behavioral health support workforce is inspiring and timely, given the well-documented state and national shortages in these critical positions,” said Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, UTHealth Houston president and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair. “With his leadership, this new school and the university as a whole are poised to make a tremendous impact in behavioral health — leveraging the incredible strengths of our clinical programs with the academic rigor and research excellence for which we are known.”

Soares, a board-certified psychiatrist, has championed the advancement of behavioral health education, research, and care at UTHealth Houston since 2009 when he became professor and chair of the Louis A. Faillace, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School. He now also serves as vice president of behavioral sciences at UTHealth Houston, director of the UTHealth Houston Center of Excellence on Mood Disorders, and the Pat R. Rutherford, Jr. Chair in Psychiatry at McGovern Medical School. As executive director of the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center and UTHealth Houston Harris County Psychiatric Center, Soares leads the largest academic behavioral health complex in the country. In addition, he oversees psychiatry services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Harris Health Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.

In 2023, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved UTHealth Houston to move forward with establishing the School of Behavioral Health Sciences. Among Soares’ first responsibilities will be to institute its founding programs, recruit faculty, and begin building the school’s reputation as a leader in behavioral health sciences.

“This school is a bold solution to one of the most pressing health challenges of our time, and I am honored to serve as the founding dean to usher in a new era for behavioral health,” Soares said. “The time is right, and UTHealth Houston is the right place to serve the needs of those in the state of Texas and beyond.”

The school plans to concentrate on degrees not currently offered at the university, such as advanced clinical psychology degrees, and certificate programs for psychiatry technicians, community health workers, and licensed chemical dependency counselors. Plans also include dual degrees with Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston, McGovern Medical School, UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, regional universities, and community colleges. Hybrid and online-only learning options will expand education opportunities for students.

“More than one in five adults live with a mental illness and more than one in five youth either currently or at some point during their life have had a seriously debilitating mental illness,” said John M. Zerwas, MD, executive vice chancellor for health affairs at The University of Texas System. “We are grateful for Dr. Soares’ leadership in helping establish UTHealth Houston’s new School of Behavioral Health Sciences. His expertise in developing curriculum and building effective health care teams will position the new school to help meet our state’s imperative need for highly trained behavioral health providers and enhance patient care.”

Soares received his medical degree from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and completed a residency in general psychiatry at the Western Psychiatric Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Subsequently, Soares received a brain imaging fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine, and went on to earn a PhD in medical sciences at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

Prior to joining UTHealth Houston, Soares served as a distinguished professor and director of the Center of Excellence in Research and Treatment of Bipolar Disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and as a deputy chair for research and mood disorders division chief within the Department of Psychiatry at UT Health San Antonio.

Throughout his academic career, Soares has published more than 350 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and has held editorial positions at a number of national and international medical journals, including serving as co-editor in chief of the Journal of Affective Disorders and the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports. His research projects have received sustained funding from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the pharmaceutical industry, and private foundations. Soares is vice president for the National Network of Depression Centers, and also serves on the executive council, finance committee, and travel award committee for the International Society for Clinical Trials Methodology. He is a past president for the American Association for Chairs of Departments of Psychiatry, as well as the International Society on Affective Disorders.

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