December 08, 2011

AMC21 plan will enable UAB to create strong future

America is as beset with questions about the future of its economy and health care as in any other time in recent history.

UAB will focus its efforts on scientific discovery to develop new diagnostics, treatments and cures and deliver outstanding health care while educating and training the best health-care professionals and scientists.

Yet leaders of one of the largest, most sophisticated academic medical centers in the country are bullish on the future — especially UAB’s.

During the past year, School of Medicine Dean Ray Watts, M.D., and Health System CEO Will Ferniany, Ph.D., have led the development of AMC21 — a plan to make UAB the preferred academic medical center of the 21st century and ensure that Alabamians have access to the world’s best care. It is an integral part of UAB21, charting the institution’s course for the first decades of this century.

“UAB is internationally recognized for its intensely collaborative culture that has — for more than four decades — produced continual breakthroughs in education, health care, research and service,” said Carol Garrison, UAB president and chair of the board of the UAB Health System. “Now that collaborative process continues, as the strategic plan is refined to forge an even brighter future for UAB, for Birmingham, and for the state of Alabama.”

Watts and Ferniany say UAB will focus on scientific discovery to develop new diagnostics, treatments and cures and deliver outstanding health care while educating and training the best health-care professionals and scientists — “with the patient at the center of all we do.”

UAB will build on its strengths, strengthen areas that need support and commit the collective resources of the School of Medicine, UAB Health System and the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation to excellence in each area of its mission. Aligning the research, educational and clinical initiatives will enable them to draw strength from one another, Watts says.

“This is a very thoughtful plan for how to take advantage of technological and scientific advances in the 21st century and apply them to ensure that Alabamians have access to the very best care in the world,” Watts says.

UAB will expand its leading research programs in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, immunology and transplantation, infectious disease, global health and vaccines and neuroscience. There also will be a push to discover new therapies and use personalized medicine.

UAB currently has enough lab space to hire up to 30 new faculty under the plan, and a planned $100 million building similar to the Shelby Biomedical Research Center will enable UAB to recruit as many as 50 additional biomedical researchers to join the 265 now conducting research for the School of Medicine. That could create as many as 300 high-tech jobs that would have the potential to generate $30 million annually in grant funding and pour $75 million into the local economy.

Funds for pilot programs and multi-investigator pilot projects have been established, and UAB has invested in additional drug-discovery and research-acceleration funds accessible to all faculty, Watts says.

Becoming preferred

UAB Medicine’s ability to achieve its goals will require an uncompromising focus on quality, satisfaction, financial performance and advancement of knowledge, says Ferniany.

An emphasis on innovation will help harvest new ideas, fresh approaches and scientific breakthroughs. Alignment and integration will encourage collaboration and effectiveness, he says. With measured outcomes and accountability, UAB will achieve three strategic goals of a preferred academic medical center of the 21st century:

  • Deliver outstanding patient care
  • Develop advancements in scientific discovery and biomedical research
  • Provide a strong foundation of education and training for professionals


Why preferred?

Institutions such as Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Penn long have been considered premier academic medical centers — titles they likely will forever retain, Ferniany says. But UAB’s youth and collaborative culture has positioned it to be innovative and preferred.

“I’d rather be the preferred academic medical center than the premier,” Ferniany says. “We want to be the Southwest Airlines of academic medical centers. Southwest is not the premier airline. Delta, United — they’re bigger and have better name recognition. But Southwest is the preferred airline in this country. It’s the only airline that consistently has made a profit for 30 years. It’s high quality. It’s low cost. It’s focused on customer satisfaction.  It has consistency in the way it approaches things. It’s highly innovative and has very engaged staff.

“We want to be the place where the faculty and staff want to come to work and patients want to come for their care. And we’re going to get there by being innovative,” Ferniany says. “Our quality goal is to be in the top 10 percent of the other academic medical centers in the country.”

All of this can be achieved through the tighter integration between UAB, UAB Health System and the UAB Health Services Foundation.

“One of the things that’s powerful about this plan is that it represents the best alignment we have ever had across the entire academic medical center,” Watts adds. “We’re in a period of unprecedented uncertainty about the future of health care, and we have thoughtfully assessed the changing environment and built a plan that will provide us with the flexibility to adjust as needed.

“With AMC21, we are going to help determine and create the future instead of letting events create the future and react to it,” Watts says.

“This is the most exciting time I’ve ever encountered in my eight years at UAB,” he says. “We have tremendous opportunities for advancement and growth and to improve health and wellness through science.”

AMC21 aligns with the goals established in UAB’s Strategic Plan. For more information on these plans, visit and