The dean of the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in Tucson, who is at the center of a fierce dispute with a top surgeon, is leaving his job for a new one at UA.

Dr. Steve Goldschmid will step down March 3 to take a newly created position, UA officials confirmed Friday.

He’ll have a dual role as associate vice president for clinical affairs at the Arizona Health Sciences Center and vice president of physician services for The University of Arizona Health Network. His job change is a lateral move salary-wise, as his $545,457 yearly pay will not change, UA officials said.

The new job comes less than three weeks after the Arizona Daily Star published an investigation into a dispute between Goldschmid and UA surgery department head Dr. Rainer Gruessner, who has been suspended from his post. UA officials maintained on Friday that Goldschmid’s job change is not connected to the situation with Gruessner.

Since he’s leaving the dean’s job, Goldschmid will no longer be on the board of directors for the UA Health Network, confirmed Dr. Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, who is the UA’s senior vice president for health sciences.

Garcia said late Saturday that Goldschmid will still be a part of the executive leadership of the UA Health Network. That decision was up to the UA Health Network board and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Michael Waldrum, he said.

Goldschmid could not be reached for comment but did offer a prepared statement through the UA:

“In serving as dean for the past 5ƒ years, I gained a deep understanding of just how important the success of the UA Health Network is to the vitality of the College of Medicine,” he said. “I’m extremely excited to take on this new role, focusing on efforts to strengthen the performance of our clinical practice in full support of our academic mission.”

Gruessner, through his Phoenix attorneys, declined to comment on the news.

The UA Health Network is Southern Arizona’s largest nonprofit health entity and includes two hospitals: The University of Arizona Medical Center’s university campus, formerly known as University Medical Center; and the UA Medical Center’s south campus, formerly known as Kino Hospital or UPH at Kino.

Garcia said he will serve as interim dean of the local medical school until a new one is found through a national search. That search will start later this year, he said Saturday.

A physician-scientist who is a leading authority on the prevention and treatment of inflammatory lung injury, Garcia came to the UA from the University of Illinois in September.

The UA is now in the midst of national searches to fill three key health leadership positions — director of the UA Cancer Center and chairs for the UA College of Medicine’s department of medicine and its department of surgery.

Garcia said it could be a very big advantage to fill all three positions with physician-scientists who have a strong focus on research. He sees a need to expand the number of physician-scientists on campus. Goldschmid has a background primarily as a clinician-scholar.

“I think it’s timely as well as opportunistic that we make the transition for Steve at this point in time,” Garcia said. “We need a lot of our focus on making our clinical programs really efficient and effective.”

In his new role, Goldschmid will report to Garcia. He is expected to provide leadership in developing clinical-practice strategies and opportunities at both the Tucson and the Phoenix campuses of the UA’s College of Medicine, as well as for the university’s nursing, public-health and pharmacy colleges.

As the UA Health Network’s vice president of physician services, officials say, Goldschmid will be charged with maintaining and improving relationships among clinical departments and hospital-based operating units.

“I think this is a very positive thing. I think Steve sees it as a positive thing,” Garcia said. “We’re remodeling our programs, which is so totally normal in academic medicine.”

Goldschmid, who is board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology, became interim dean of the UA College of Medicine in July 2008; his appointment became permanent in July 2009.

Gruessner, a renowned transplant surgeon and the UA’s chief of transplantation, was suspended with pay in September in the midst of an accusation that he’d altered transplant records. Denying wrongdoing, Gruessner filed a lawsuit against his employers in November.

In court papers, Gruessner says that prior to his suspension, he’d been critical of Golschmid’s ability to lead the medical school. For that reason, Goldschmid wanted him gone, the complaint says. Gruessner also claims that, as medical school dean, Goldschmid had been withdrawing support for the surgery department and had created an intimidating working environment that has negatively affected physician morale and patient programs at the UA Medical Center.

UA officials have declined to comment on the pending lawsuit’s claims.

Once known throughout the state as a comprehensive transplant center, the UA Medical Center now has significantly scaled-back transplant programs. Heart and lung transplants are on hiatus, and the hospital’s intestine and auto islet cell transplant programs are inactive, leaving patients looking for new places to find those highly specialized services.

Gruessner isn’t asking the UA for money but wants his job back. However, court documents reveal a letter from the UA dated Jan. 10 recommends Gruessner’s dismissal from his tenured professorship in the surgery department.