November 06, 2013

Transformational growth

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When I arrived at UAB as a young assistant professor in 1994 the medical center was booming. The building of North Pavilion had just been completed and the School of Medicine was ranked 16th in NIH funding. It was an exciting time.

It is, again, an exciting time for UAB. President Watts has laid out a vision of growth and injected a sense of excitement across campus. We are also fortunate to have a university president, as well my fellow UAB Medicine leaders Dr. Will Ferniany and Dr. Jim Bonner who understand the current challenges in academic medicine and have a unique perspective of how important UAB Medicine – the School of Medicine, HSF and the UAB Health System – is to Alabama and the region. There are many areas in which UAB has an opportunity to make national and international impacts; some of the most important, arguably, are biomedical research, health care and medical training. Most of all, this opportunity is possible due to shared vision.

We have some room to grow. In 1994, three departments ranked in the top 10 in NIH funding. Last year, one department ranked in the top 10, five in the top 20. To get back to the top 10 public medical schools, top 20 overall and to be among the top 10 percent of UHC members we will make timely and targeted investments over the next 10 years. Our first goal is to move into the top 25 by growing to $175 million with at least three departments in the top 10. The next step is to reach $200 million, with at least six departments in the top 15. To do this will require a committed, sustained and focused effort to improve our current performance and recruit bright new investigators.  Doing so will transform UAB, Birmingham, Alabama and our country.

Research and innovation can only be built on a foundation of great clinical care. Providing patients the highest quality clinical care provides a legitimacy and foundation for educating undergraduate and graduate medical students. Our Health System’s position as a national leader in quality benchmarks is integral to the success of the School of Medicine. With a recent renewed focus on quality and access for patients, the Health System is well on its way to even greater national prominence.

As important as data are we cannot get lost amid myriad matrices. Our success is a measure of the tireless work by thousands of people. A hallmark of UAB has always been outstanding clinicians, from Dr. Tinsley Harrison to one of my early mentors, Dr. Gil Diethelm, and our current faculty continue this legacy.

This week, we announced that Dr. Gustavo Heudebert, professor of General Internal Medicine in the Department of Medicine and director of Graduate Medical Education, has been elected a Master of the American College of Physicians, the highest honor given by the organization and one of the highest honors available to physicians. You can read more about this honor here. Mastership designates to the world what people at UAB have known for more than 20 years; he is simply one of the best physicians and medical educators, and an exemplary representative of our School of Medicine.

Tomorrow, Nov. 7, Dr. Bruce Korf, chair of the Department of Genetics, will receive the Children's Humanitarian Award from the Children’s Tumor Foundation at their annual gala in New York in recognition of his contributions to treating neurofibromatosis, an extremely challenging disease for children and their families. Dr. Korf has a long list of very loyal patients who come from throughout Alabama, from across the country and from around the world to be cared for in his clinic. His contributions to the field of genetics, and to NF1 research specifically, are world renown, and we – UAB and the people of Alabama – can call him our own.

Finally, a key element to building and sustaining this renewed excitement is communicating our progress, and our challenges. We want to highlight research published in high-impact journals, the accomplishments of our faculty and students and clinical and educational innovations that differentiate UAB Medicine from ordinary hospitals and scores of other academic medical centers. Help us spread the excitement by telling us about your work. I take great pleasure in reading and hearing about your accomplishments, so keep the notices coming. Feel free to email me or contact our Office of Communications at We’ll look forward to hearing from you.