State turns focus to Med School reputation

Gov. Mark Dayton recently created a committee to bolster the school’s standing.

State turns focus to Med School reputation

Kaylee Kruschke

Gov. Mark Dayton applied to the University of Minnesota Medical School when it was a top leader in medical research decades ago, and now he has set the goal of returning it to its former glory.

After years of concern surrounding the school’s reported declining status, members of the Blue Ribbon Committee — which Dayton created last month — have begun forming plans to improve its reputation and further its
research.

The committee’s list of goals includes expanding the University’s clinical services and taking advantage of Minnesota’s investments in biomedical research. In December, the Blue Ribbon Committee will recommend policy and budget changes to state lawmakers for the 2015 legislative session, said Larry Pogemiller, the state’s commissioner of higher education and a member of the committee.

A 2012 external review of the University’s Academic Health Center noted that some faculty, staff and administration had “great concern” about the Medical School’s reputation and ranking, which the review said have gradually declined.

The review also found that those people frequently brought up the school’s status in interviews and surveys.

Part of the Medical School’s falling reputation is based on the decreasing number of grants it has received from the National Institutes of Health,
Pogemiller said.

The Medical School’s overall funding has declined along with NIH grants to the University over the past three years, according to annual reports from the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Jesse Klingelhoets, an officer for the Medical Student Council, said he noticed the school was trying to increase its national competitiveness even before the committee formed.

“[It was] trying to get rid of that ‘Minnesota nice’ modesty thing and try to actually brag about the things that we do at the Medical School,” he said.

In a 2015 national ranking of medical schools published by the U.S. News and World Report, the University came in 34th for research and sixth for primary care.

More than a dozen people from both inside and outside the University sit on the Blue Ribbon Committee. They will work to explore which fields of medical research they can “beef up” and ensure that the best researchers are leading those studies,
Pogemiller said.

Elizabeth Seaquist, a committee member and University professor of medicine, said pursuing medical discoveries will be a critical focus for the group, along with preparing Minnesota’s future crop of doctors.

“We need to make sure we continue to meet the manpower needs of the state and are on track to achieve the goals to meet the manpower needs in the future,” she said.

More than 70 percent of Minnesota’s physicians have attended classes or earned a medical degree from the school, according to
Dayton’s press release.

“The future health of Minnesotans depends on what we do now to train the next generation of medical professionals,” Dayton said in the release.

Though the committee is helping to address some of the school’s broadest concerns, it will take a limited approach, Pogemiller said.

“It’s not our intent to try to assist [Medical School Dean Brooks Jackson] or President Kaler in running the University Academic Health Center and Medical Health School,” he said.

The committee will meet a handful of times, Pogemiller said, and is soliciting student, staff and faculty input from across the University’s health science schools for its
upcoming mid-September meeting.

“We haven’t come to any sort of suggestions yet,” Seaquist said. “There are a whole lot of questions that we have to answer about what are the best ways to improve the Medical School.”