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Health VP candidates talk goals

The three finalists to be the Medical School’s new dean addressed the U community this month.

Three academic medical center leaders from across the country gave public interviews this month to be the new dean of the University of Minnesota’s Medical School and vice president for health sciences.

Drs. Robert Finberg, Cam Patterson and Brooks Jackson discussed their visions for the University’s health programs, how to provide effective medical care and how to conduct research in a time of limited funding from the National Institutes of Health.

The Academic Health Center received $293 million in federal funding in the 2012 fiscal year, 94 percent of which came from the NIH.

The University began searching for a new dean after Aaron Friedman announced in February he would be stepping down from the position at the end of 2013 after three years as dean and vice president. 

A search committee, co-chaired by leaders in the medical school and the school of dentistry, began meeting in April and narrowed the candidate list over the summer.

The Medical School dean and vice president of health sciences position is responsible for the Medical School on both the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses, statewide clinical locations and the AHC, which includes the medical, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, public health and veterinary schools.

A 2012 external review of the AHC reported the combination of the dean and vice president position could be a potential conflict of interest or a job that’s too big for one person.

Most of the Medical School faculty members the reviewers interviewed said they would prefer a dean who didn’t also oversee the AHC, according to the review.

But in his response to the review, President Eric Kaler said he thought the positions were best left combined.

“In this leadership model, the vice president for health sciences will serve as a leader among peers, focusing on coordinating the clinical interface across disciplines, and interprofessional education and interdisciplinary research,” Kaler wrote in his December response letter.

Being the ‘best in the country’

Finberg currently serves as chair of the department of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

He was also a clinical fellow and faculty member at Harvard University Medical School from 1980 to 1999.

If named dean, he said his goal for the University would be “to make this the greatest medical school for discovery and implementation of health care in the future.”

During his public interview on Oct. 3, Finberg spoke of the importance of pursuing donors and patenting discoveries in order to raise funds for health programs. He said he doesn’t believe the NIH budget will increase.

Finberg said he was excited for the opportunity to become dean.

“I think this is a great opportunity, a great university, and it should have a great medical school. It should be the best in the country,” he said.

Running like a ‘small business’

Patterson works as a professor and the chief of the Division of Cardiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds both an M.D. and an MBA.

At UNC, Patterson is working to increase collaboration between the business and medical schools, including work on the recent creation of a dual M.D./MBA degree program.

He said in his interview on Oct. 15 that his goal for the University’s medical programs would be “to make this the No. 1 public academic health center in the country.”

Uma Valeti, a University cardiologist and associate professor, asked Patterson to explain his vision on leadership during the public interview. It would be important for the dean to communicate and collaborate effectively with other leadership like Fairview Health Services and University administration, Valeti said.

Recent changes at Fairview require a vice president who can align his mission with that of Fairview’s new CEO, Valeti said. The Fairview health system — which includes the University Medical Center — was in talks for a potential merger with South Dakota-based Sanford Health last spring and named a new CEO in September.

Patterson spoke of the need to use resources efficiently in order to more effectively use funding from the NIH. If the University ran research akin to a small business, he said, it could do a lot more with the resources available.

“We have constricted resources,” he said. “We’re going to have to look for other opportunities to make the most out of our research dollar.”

Increasing philanthropic funding

Jackson is a professor and director of pathology at Johns Hopkins University and, like Patterson, holds both an MBA and an M.D.

He said in his interview on Oct. 17 that his goal for the University would be to “develop and implement an integrated health care delivery system that really leads the world in terms of prevention and treatment of disease.”

Jackson said philanthropy is an important way to raise funds for medical programs.

During certain years at Johns Hopkins, he said, donors have provided more money than the NIH has for research.

In order to attract donors, Jackson said, it’s important to be one of the top academic programs in the country. He said philanthropists want to invest where researchers are doing great work.

Right now, he estimated, the University is about 28th on the list of institutions receiving the most NIH funding. In the next 10 years, he said, he thought the University could climb to the top 10 or 15.

John Andrews, associate dean for graduate medical education, said he thought all of the candidates spoke well on a broad range of issues.

“I’m impressed with the quality of the applicants that they’ve been able to attract,” he said.

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