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December 20, 2021

Becoming Heersink Part 3: Our future as Heersink

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becoming heersink part 3 resizedAs we transition to becoming the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, the “Becoming Heersink” series has shed light on a few of the frequently asked questions by our staff, faculty, and trainees on the naming of our medical school.

In Part 1 and Part 2, we discussed why the Heersinks gave to UAB, why being named was part of our strategic plan, and what it means for our enterprise in real time. For each section of the series, the communications team sat down with our school’s top leaders to ask questions and learn more about the gift.

Part 3 will discuss what we can expect in the future, such as the creation of two new institutes, recruitment and retention packages, indirect values, and more. We examine why the gift is important long-term and what we can expect in our three mission areas.

New institutes

The Heersink family’s historic gift of $95 million is being strategically disbursed to expand our footprint by developing two new institutes: The Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health and the Marnix E. Heersink Institute of Biomedical Innovation.

The Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health will seek to improve overall health and functional well-being among people around the world. Led by Alan Tita, M.D., Ph.D, director of the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health, and Lynn Matthews, M.D., MPH, associate director for Research and Partnerships, the institute focuses on health challenges across the world, specifically complex problems linked to inequity and health disparities, and embraces them with a multidimensional vision of global health. In addition, the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health Endowed Support Fund has been created.

Likewise, the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation, led by Rubin Pillay, Ph.D., assistant dean for Global Health Innovation and chief innovation officer of the UAB Health System, will focus on entrepreneurial health care innovation initiatives that foster and facilitate health care and socioeconomic transformation. A Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation Endowed Support Fund has been created, as well as the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation Conference Center.

Both institutes will directly impact UAB’s scope, while indirectly expanding some of our mission areas. For example, “These new institutes open new opportunities for medical education and for training our future physicians and health care providers,” said Craig Hoesley, M.D., senior associate dean of Medical Education.

Recruiting and retaining talent

The Heersink family’s gift also expands our scope by giving the school an opportunity to recruit the brightest scientists, physicians, and physician-scientists to our Academic Medical Center, while retaining our top talent.

Anupam Agarwal, M.D., executive vice dean, explained why recruitment is important: “For us to grow our programs, we have to recruit and retain faculty.” Several leaders in the school say there is an equal importance for recruiting seasoned investigators and physicians, as well as young, early career investigators and physicians. Both bring value to the institution.

“The gift helps us be more competitive with our peer institutions because we can offer protected time for specific research,” said Tika Benveniste, Ph.D., senior vice dean for Research.


“A portion of the gift will be used for endowments,” said Benveniste. “A combination of endowed chairs and endowed professorships will be created, which offers a tremendous opportunity for us in terms of recruitment of new faculty as well as retention of some of our outstanding faculty.”

Benveniste and Agarwal note that we have several exceptional faculty in the school that deserve endowments. “These will live at a school-level, so no matter which department a faculty member is appointed to they will have access to be nominated for it,” she said.

Cohesion between science and medicine

Tony Jones, M.D., chief physician executive and senior associate dean for Clinical Affairs, explains that a major vision of both the Heersink School of Medicine and the UAB Health System is that the bridge from science to clinical care at UAB is smooth and straightforward. By recruiting new physicians and physician-scientists, we can work to make our bench to bedside approach more seamless, ensuring our patients receive the most cutting-edge care.

Jones says a big part of what the gift will do is examine the science of implementation. “It’s important to look at the members of a care team and re-evaluate the best system for sustainability.” It will also enable a fresh look at staffing levels from a data-driven perspective.


“A portion of the dollars will also be spendable for infrastructure needs,” said Benveniste. These needs range from new, state-of-the-art equipment and instrumentation to building space needs and renovations. Having more innovative and advanced technology will aid in our recruitment and retention efforts.

The domino effect

When funding is invested into recruitment and retention packages, an inevitable chain reaction will activate—creating change at multiple levels, such as within medical education, within training programs, and even within the greater community. For example, if faculty members are retained and endowed, then those faculty members need to hire supporting staff. New job opportunities filter into the community and impact the city’s economy.

In the same way, Hoesley said that “Endowed chairs and professorships bring value to institution by supporting recruitment and retention, which in turn supports our students. There’s an indirect value to medical education.” If UAB is home to the brightest physicians and scientists in the world, then our programs in education will undoubtedly become more competitive.

Too, Jones says scaling up will help us serve more groups in the community. The more financial means we have, the more we can break down existing barriers. “If we recruit physician-scientists—individuals who bring an inquisitive nature and seek to discover new things—who are interested in population health research, then their research and discoveries will ultimately influence our communities in Alabama.” Jones notes that if we bring more physician-scientists to UAB who are involved in clinical trials, our bench to bedside approach will become even more advantageous to our patients.

A future focused on our people

The gift helps differentiate us from other top medical schools in the country, Agarwal said. It shows trust and validation of our hard work to achieve excellence in patient care, research, and education. “Our focus of importance is really about people,” he said. “From staff to faculty to the patient, we are focused on our people.”

He also notes that at the core of everything we do is the patient. “We emphasize our three mission areas of research, clinical, and education equally. The centerpiece of the three is the patient. Why are we doing research? To impact and improve patient care. Why do we focus on clinical practice? To treat patients better. Why do we train and educate? To build on research, while training the future generation to treat patients. This gift will benefit all three areas.”