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April 25, 2018

Taking UAB School of Medicine to the highest level

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RS7562 Selwyn Vickers 2013 20 scrIn 2018, joining the most elite tier of academic medical research centers is no easy undertaking. As you all know too well, with each passing year the competition for U.S. News and World Report ranked clinical programs, talented faculty and gifted students grows more intense. However, I’m proud that UAB’s School of Medicine has recently made significant leaps in growth and has proven its dedication to being an elite academic medical center.

At the same time, I know that there is a conflict many of you are facing every day. On the one hand, you’re dealing with budget cuts and messages about ensuring you hit your bottom line. On the other, you’re also being encouraged to grow your departments through recruitment and expanded research. I realize for some, this may feel like a catch-22.

It’s no secret that we want to be smart about how we use dollars and how we cut costs. That means growing our philanthropic base and looking for ways to standardize processes. In an academic medical center, innovation has a lot to do with pursuing inventive strategies to create the most efficient system possible. Collaborating across specialties goes hand-in-hand with that process. Many of our departments have already found ways to avoid duplicating full staffs by sharing resources. I applaud these efforts and am constantly impressed by your willingness to work together.

So why do we need to find a way to both streamline AND grow our research impact? We must press forward because of where we sit in the national healthcare landscape. As the most important research-intensive institution in the Deep South, the burden of disease and translational research rests in large part on our shoulders. Not only must we find ways to partner with other regional institutions, we must also act as a leader and guide.

As all of you know, the hospital and the School of Medicine are uniquely intertwined at UAB Medicine. Although the hospital must operate as a business and with a bottom line, it has also funded our departments extremely well, and I want to credit them for that. We must continue to develop relationships and processes that benefit both parts of our organization. When one does well, it positively affects the others in a ripple effect.

So the big question is this: how do we break into that elite top 20 tier of academic medical research centers? In order to do so, we must be clinically outstanding with cost-effective and high-quality patient care; the two are inextricably linked. I can tell you that this won’t be an easy achievement. Although we’re holding steady at an extremely respectable 23rd in the yearly NIH rankings (and growing by 5-6 percent year over year), the institutions at the very top are growing at a rapid pace, too. That’s why I’m writing to tell you that slowing our growth isn’t the answer to slim budgets. The answer lives within each of you. We must find ways to do the seemingly impossible—become more efficient while growing our impact.

The good news is that I know we’re completely capable of accomplishing that feat, and I look forward to watching this thriving health center continue to flourish and impress. Thank you for the hard work that you give to this institution every day.