Mission accomplished for Robert McLaughlin

In his clinical practice and in his role as dean of the School of Health Professions at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Robert McLaughlin’s commitment clearly shines through, whether to his patients, students, faculty or staff. As he retires as of July 1, 2021, he has many accomplishments to reflect on, and also much to look forward to.

McLaughlin was named the dean of the School of Health Professions in 2015 after having served as assistant dean, but his tenure at Baylor started many years before that.

Dr. Robert McLaughlin

A practicing psychologist, McLaughlin came to Baylor to complete his internship during graduate school. His area of focus was working with children who had been survivors of sexual abuse, and Baylor’s internship program offered him the opportunity to work with a treatment program for adults who had committed sexual offenses.

“I knew that to be fully rounded, I needed to know that side of the coin as well,” McLaughlin said.

His Baylor internship allowed him to focus on working with children and adults in both inpatient and outpatient settings, providing consultation in public schools and working with adults who committed sexual offenses.

Following his internship, McLaughlin joined the Baylor staff as a research psychologist, where he worked for 10 years while also teaching and beginning clinical practice.

He then began full time clinical practice, and also had the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. David Holcomb, the head of the then Division of Allied Health Sciences in the Department of Family and Community Medicine (the division became a separate school in 2007) , on research on substance abuse prevention for school-aged children.

At that time, McLaughlin and his clinical colleagues also worked to establish a treatment program for adolescents with sexual behavior problems or who had committed sexual offenses. Their agency, ADAPT Counseling, was the first program of its kind in this region and provided group, individual and family treatment. Through the program, they contracted with several probation departments as well as Child Protective Services and helped the Harris County Juvenile Probation set up a residential treatment facility where ADAPT provided treatment services. This became the training site for trainees in psychology and other mental health professions including social work, marriage and family therapy and licensed professional counseling.

McLaughlin’s work also began to focus on gender issues, and he co-founded Gender Infinity, an educational program to cross-train professionals, including attorneys, medical professionals, mental health professionals and educators, on how to support the health and development of gender diverse children. In addition, the program provided support services to families of transgender, non-binary and gender diverse children.

“I’ve had an extraordinary opportunity to be on the vanguard of three important movements in mental health – around child abuse survivors, children who sexually act out, and pediatric presentations of gender diversity,” McLaughlin said.

When Holcomb approached him about interviewing for the assistant dean position for the School of Health Professions in 2010, McLaughlin could not turn down the opportunity.

“Dr. Holcomb had been an extraordinary advocate and sponsor for me and encouraged me to maintain scholarship while performing clinical activities, and this was an opportunity to ally with him even more closely and to be able to support him,” McLaughlin said. “A second piece of it was my continuing loyalty to Baylor College of Medicine. Baylor had been an great setting for training for me personally, where I was granted opportunities as a junior faculty member not only to participate in research but also increasingly to do more clinical education and supervision during my first 10 postdoctoral years.”

“When Dr. Holcomb asked Dr. McLaughlin to serve as assistant dean, I could not have been more pleased,” said Carl Fasser, who previously served as the director of the Physician Assistant Program in the School of Health Professions. “His communication skills and professional abilities as a clinical psychologist brought a new perspective to the administrative side of the evolving School of Health Professions. Having worked alongside Dr. McLaughlin on committees, task forces and research grants, I can truly say he has emerged a one of the most thoughtful leaders within the College. Based on personal conversations with faculty members in each of the programs within the School, I can vouch for the high level of respect for the abilities of Dr. McLaughlin.” 

“My mission in this job has been to facilitate the ability of our faculty to provide the best possible education for the next generation of health professions providers,” McLaughlin said.

Some of the areas he enjoyed the most in his role as dean include program development and problem solving. His psychology skills as a diplomatic communicator also were put to good use when negotiating sticky situations and addressing potential discord and conflict.

“In general, that’s what I really enjoyed doing. Applying a people-focused skillset to assure the best possible student and program outcomes,” McLaughlin said.

Under McLaughlin’s leadership, the School added programs in orthotics and prosthetics and genetic counseling and changed its name from the School of Allied Health Sciences to the School of Health Professions, a more inclusive and progressive name for the School.

“The School of Health Professions graduates students at the top of their game, prepared to work in the most challenging clinical situations imaginable. We also aim to educate them to adopt leadership among their peers and to be lifelong learners. We see our graduates as playing particularly important roles in providing care and in leadership within their respective professions,” he said.

“Dr. McLaughlin has markedly improved the visibility of the School of Health Professions during his tenure as dean,” said Dr. Jim Walker, director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice – Nurse Anesthesia Program within the School. “He has continued to develop (and in some cases recruit) an excellent leadership team for our programs.”

McLaughlin hopes the future of the School of Health Professions includes right sizing the current programs and broadening the platform of programs the School offers.

In recognition of his work at the College and beyond, McLaughlin earned Baylor’s Distinguished Leadership Award, presented at the 2021 Commencement ceremony.

As for his retirement plans, first on the list is to breathe deeply and rediscover relaxation and the meaning of leisure. He also hopes to rehabilitate his garden, volunteer and travel as COVID restrictions slowly begin to lift. A self-proclaimed homebody, McLaughlin also looks forward to nesting. He and his husband are looking forward to planning more home projects and opportunities to connect with family and friends.

However, McLaughlin will continue his clinical practice two days a week, his role in some professional organizations, and consultation and training opportunities.

“I’m going to miss the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with, who have greatly enhanced the richness and reward of doing a job where it’s sometimes pretty stressful and sometimes hard to find a reward, but it exists in the people and in the enthusiasm of the students,” he said.

At this year’s spring commencement ceremony, McLaughlin was presented with Baylor’s Distinguished Leadership Award in recognition for his leadership at Baylor and in the community.

By Dipali Pathak