"Dr. Klassen is known to all of us as an outstanding clinician and faculty member," College of Medicine Dean John Gollan, M.D., Ph.D., said in announcing the appointment. "He has distinguished himself as an outstanding researcher, having developed a national and international reputation. We are confident that he will lead the Department of Internal Medicine to even greater heights."
Said UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D.: "Dr. Klassen is top notch and challenging, a great combination for us. He will serve the department and Medical Center well as they together continue to raise our profile both nationally and internationally. Dr. Klassen served as acting chairman during my tenure as dean, while Dr. (James) Armitage was on sabbatical leave. He did an outstanding job then, and will do even better now as the appointed Chairman."
With more than 100 physicians and scientists, internal medicine is the largest department within the UNMC College of Medicine. The department is organized by disease specialty into 11 sections.
"It is an honor to be chosen to head a leadership team that will continue to enhance the national reputation of the Department of Medicine in the areas of research, clinical care, and education," said Dr. Klassen, a rheumatologist.
As department chairman, Dr. Klassen plans to expand the number of research programs obtaining peer reviewed funding from national sources; extend the nationally recognized clinical care that is delivered by the department in all of its subspecialty areas; and maintain the nationally recognized residency training program so that it continues to be in the top five programs in the country.
Since coming to Nebraska in 1982, Dr. Klassen has served as chief of the section of rheumatology and immunology; vice chairman in UNMC's Department of Internal Medicine; acting chairman of the department of medicine; and chief of rheumatology at the Omaha VAMC, in addition to his current roles at UNMC and VAMC.
Dr. Klassen is nationally recognized for his research in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease. He has been continuously funded since 1977 with peer-reviewed grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and/or the VA, and he currently holds a 10-year NIH MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) award for innovative studies in the role of immune responses in alcohol-associated tissue damage. He is only the second UNMC researcher to ever receive the prestigious MERIT Award.
Dr. Klassen also is an accomplished educator. He has written several case-based curricula that have been used by the American College of Rheumatology nationwide in educational programs for primary care physicians. In addition, he serves as course director of the American College of Physicians Internal Medicine Board Review Course, which is held annually in Chicago. Dr. Klassen has held multiple national positions with the American College of Rheumatology and American College of Physicians, as well as served as chairman of several NIH and VA research grant review committees.
The Kansas native earned his medical degree at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1973 and completed an internal medicine residency at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and a rheumatology and immunology fellowship with the Arthritis and Rheumatism Branch of the NIH. He joined UNMC and the VA Medical Center in July 1982 after teaching at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and the clinical center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
While at Iowa, Dr. Klassen was involved in initiating a bone marrow transplant program with James Armitage, M.D., and served as co-director of the transplant unit. He also was director of the Histocompatibility Tissue Typing Laboratory and developed the first ambulatory care program for the residents at the Iowa City VA Medical Center. In 1982, Dr. Klassen became chief of rheumatology and immunology in the UNMC Department of Medicine. He again worked with Dr. Armitage to establish a bone marrow transplant program at UNMC, as well as develop the section of rheumatology and immunology into an active clinical and academic unit. Dr. Klassen also established the Experimental Immunology Laboratory at the Omaha VAMC and formed the first HIV-associated clinic at UNMC.
He and his wife Jolene have four children. Three graduated from UNMC's College of Medicine, while their fourth is a third-year pharmacy student in UNMC's College of Pharmacy.