Walton School of Medicine in Bentonville announces founding dean, CEO

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 7,948 views 

Sharmila Makhija

The Alice L. Walton School of Medicine (AWSOM) announced Monday (Feb. 13) the hiring of Dr. Sharmila Makhija as its founding dean and CEO. Makhija will begin the job in May 2023.

First announced in March 2021, the medical school is a standalone sister organization of Bentonville nonprofit Whole Health Institute, created in 2020 by Walmart Inc. heiress and philanthropist Alice Walton.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Makhija to the AWSOM team and to the region,” Walton said in a statement. “Her background and commitment to medical education will advance our work in equipping physicians to tackle challenges of the 21st century by focusing on the physical, mental, social, and emotional health of the people and communities we serve.”

According to the release, Makhija’s expertise utilizes a collaborative approach across the healthcare delivery system. She is a surgeon and women’s health expert, most recently working as department chair of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health, professor of gynecologic oncology, and the Chella and Moise Safra Endowed Chair at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in Bronx, N.Y.

“Sharmila has an impressive career that spans academic, clinical, and business settings — and tremendous success in inspiring teams and communities,” said Walter Harris, president of healthcare transformation for Art and Wellness Enterprises (AWE), a services organization supporting nonprofits founded by Alice Walton, including AWSOM and Whole Health Institute. “Her leadership and passion will promote the vision to transform medical education and care, starting with creating a new pipeline of physicians.”

AWSOM is being built on approximately 20 acres east of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art along Northeast J Street, north of First Presbyterian Church.

Construction of the 154,000-square-foot building will start this spring. Polk Stanley Wilcox is the lead architect for the project. Crossland Construction is the general contractor.

“The opportunity to build a medical school from the ground up, with the vision of philanthropist, Alice Walton, is a dream come true,” Makhija said in a news release. “Healthcare delivery is fractured and in need of transformation so that all Americans can have access to the respectful care they deserve. Training the doctors of the future, within a culture of diversity and inclusivity, is central to that transformation. Our goal is to build a new medical school and be a leader in improving health and wellness. I can’t wait to meet the wonderful community of Northwest Arkansas and get started!”

Makhija earned her B.A. in chemistry from Cornell University, her medical degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and completed her obstetrics and gynecology residency at the University of Louisville Hospital and a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

She received her executive MBA from Emory’s Goizueta Business School. She has held faculty positions at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she continued as a WRHR scholar, tenured associate professor and received the medical education award and the Argus Teaching Award from the medical school.

At Emory University, she was division chief of gynecologic oncology, a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar, and the Leach Endowed Chair in obstetrics and gynecology. She served as department chair of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health, tenured professor of gynecologic oncology, and the Donald E. Baxter Endowed Chair in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

While at the University of Louisville, she was the chief medical and operations officer for the Center for Women’s and Infants and an instructor for the course “Economics of Health Sector Management” at the UofL College of Business, executive MBA program.

She presently serves on the board of Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit founded by Christy Turlington Burns focused on improving maternal health care worldwide; the Clinical Leadership Committee of the American Hospital Association; and as deputy editor of JAAPI, a peer-reviewed medical and healthcare journal of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI).

Makhija has received numerous awards for her dedication to women’s health, including the Spirit of Achievement Award at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Humanitarian Hero, Good Housekeeping.

An international expert on gynecologic cancer, Makhija’s hiring is notable because, according to the most recent data available from the Association of American Medical Colleges, women account for 16% of medical school deans.

Pending accreditation, AWSOM will welcome its first class of students in 2025.