The Head of the Medical School in UCD, Professor Bill Powderly, has stepped down from his post to take up a new position at Washington University, Missouri, stating that he is leaving partly because he found it extremely difficult to recruit top-class doctors to return to Ireland because of malfunctioning health and education systems. 

Powderly explain his reasons for stepping down are a combination of personal factors and due to frustration at government cuts to research grants, making it more difficult to attract top researchers to Ireland. Powderly said it is now “extremely difficult” to recruit top level academics to come to Ireland because of the budget cuts implemented by the government.

“I think there is a lack of recognition at a senior level in Government of the wide-ranging jobs that senior academics do. And the Health Service Executive doesn’t understand education and research or care about it,” commented Powderly.

Powderly is the second senior medical academic to leave Ireland in the past six months, following Professor Dermot Kelleher, who resigned from his role as Dean of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin, to go to Imperial College London in June.

Powderly’s resignation comes at a time when there is growing worry about Ireland’s ability to compete with other international academic institutes, with all top-level universities falling in the rankings over the past three years.

He said the last 15-20 years were a “golden era”, when Irish universities were able to attract “serious international talent back to this country.” He also stressed that recently announced salary cuts to senior academics would be a major deterrent to recruitment of top level researchers.

Powderly was one of a number of professors to sign off on a letter to Minister for Health James Reilly and Head of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, earlier this month, outlining the effect that capping the salary of clinical academic professors to €145,000 could have.

The letter read: “Typically we try to recruit such individuals from academic departments at major institutions outside of Ireland – USA, UK, Europe and Australia. Since they will have already established positions elsewhere, we must be able to offer attractive opportunities for them to come to Ireland. Salary is therefore an important component of recruiting – the proposed salary will be non-competitive for such individuals.”

Powderly, a UCD graduate and world authority on HIV and infectious diseases, returned to UCD in 2004, having spent 22 years in the US. He started his career at the School of Medicine at Washington University in the 1980s and later served as co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.

Powderly begins his new role as Deputy Director of Washington University’s Institute of Public Health in January 2013, where he will hold an endowed chair, the J. William Campbell Professorship, and lead the clinical activities of the infectious diseases faculty and fellows.

A spokesperson for UCD refused to comment on Powderly’s departure.