Breaking New Ground

Kayse Shrum, DO, takes charge at Oklahoma State University

Native Oklahoman Dr. Shrum is the first and youngest woman to lead a Tier 1, four-year public research institution in Oklahoma.

Kayse Shrum, DO, a native Oklahoman, has always been highly invested in her home state. Not only did Dr. Shrum earn her medical degree at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine (OSU-COM), but she went on to practice medicine near her hometown community as a pediatrician.

Dr. Shrum would eventually become the youngest and first female president of the OSU Center for Health Sciences, where she helped establish the new OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation and the National Center for Wellness and Recovery—two institutions that are positively impacting education and public health in Oklahoma.

In July, Dr. Shrum became president of Oklahoma State University, making history as the first woman to lead a Tier 1, four-year public research institution in the state of Oklahoma. Her milestone comes at a pivotal time for the university. OSU faces notable tasks that include navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, adapting its college experience for the post-COVID world and meeting the evolving needs of its state and local communities as well those of the nation. With Dr. Shrum’s first few months as OSU president coming to a close, The DO took some time to check in with this ever-so-busy physician/executive.

When you first started your career as a physician, did you ever imagine one day you would return to your alma mater as an educator — let alone its president?

A guiding principle of mine has always been making a difference with what I’m doing. That impact is so important to me — it’s what gets me up in the morning. I’ve had such an interesting career journey. Originally I thought that being a pediatrician was giving back, and it was — but I actually knew fairly early in my career that I could have a tremendous impact as an educator. While I loved working directly with patients and their families, I soon realized I could impact an entire generation of physicians as a professor, and later as dean and then president of the OSU Center for Health Sciences. So while I certainly never imagined I’d eventually become president of the OSU System, I pivoted pretty quickly to being an educator. I’ve loved every minute of it.

What are some university projects/activities you look forward to resuming once the COVID-19 pandemic is fully behind us?

We know how important human interaction is and the university experience is all about meeting new people and expanding your horizons. As much as we can within CDC guidelines, we are working hard to have a normal fall semester with athletic events and other gatherings in person. As a physician who is now a university president, I’m asking our campus community to get vaccinated. State law prohibits us from requiring vaccinations but we are strongly encouraging it — and launching an incentive campaign with a raffle for prizes for students who show proof of vaccination.

While COVID-19 forced many changes this past year-and-a-half at institutions like OSU, has there been a positive impact in certain areas, where some changes may actually become permanent?

Most of us can identify some positive takeaways from the adjustments we had to make the last 18 months. For those of us in higher education, we became much more nimble than we ever thought possible, making decisions faster and changing our processes. The shift to fully learning online was by far the biggest change, and we certainly learned a lot from that. As a land grant university, OSU puts a high priority on access, so expanding how we offer online courses will continue to be something we look closely at in the years to come.

How might initiatives from your previous role, such as the National Center for Wellness & Recovery and the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation, fit into your broader vision for the university?

Both of those successful initiatives came from listening, collaborating and building strong partnerships to solve challenges our state is facing — the addiction crisis and how to educate more rural physicians in Oklahoma, particularly those with a Native heritage. I’ll continue to lead with that philosophy of collaboration and partnership in this new role as president of the OSU System. This is how higher education continues to play a key role in adding value to our state, nation and world.

How do you see OSU’s commitment to campus wellness rising to meet the challenge of this upcoming academic year, with many young adults still adjusting during a very difficult time in our nation’s history?

Many college students land on campus with pre-existing mental health issues—providing resources for them has always been a priority at OSU. But the pandemic’s impact on mental health took this to a whole new level. I’m committed to ensuring we have the capacity to meet those needs, and my leadership team is in the process of creating new strategies around this topic. As much as we can safely bring people together this academic year, I think that will certainly also have big implications for improving our students’ mental health.

While your executive responsibility is no longer exclusive to the OSU Center for Health Sciences, do you expect a continued high level of involvement with OSU-CHS?

Most definitely. I have a superstar team of leaders at OSU-CHS who are taking the reins and in whom I have an immense amount of trust. Medicine is a key tenet in our land grant mission of research and service, so the work going on at the medical school plays a strategic role in our priorities as a system. The Center for Health Sciences is also where I got my start, and my relationships there run deep. I very much look forward to staying involved with the innovative initiatives going on there.

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