Being a top-tier program is a good thing. But for UAB School of Health Professions Dean Harold Jones, Ph.D., it’s a starting point — not a destination.

Bernard Harris and April Rollins-Kyle are part of a recruiting team that seeks to educate potential students on the many opportunities available through the School of Health Professions.

“UAB is on everybody’s short list,” Jones said. “But we want to be recognized as the leader.

“We want to influence debate on health-professions education and health care; we want to be asked to the table,” he said. “So program by program, department by department, we focus on that target and develop the leadership to make it happen.”

In the five years since Jones came to UAB, some fundamental changes have occurred that convince him the School of Health Professions will achieve that vision – and help shape the future of health care in America.

Numbers are part of the story. Enrollment has grown to 1,800 from 1,100 during that time, qualifying it as the “fastest growing school on campus,” he says.  Jones, the third dean of the 38-year-old school, is most proud to note that, “we’ve done this while diversifying the student body and improving the academic profile of accepted students.”

The quantity and quality of research and education is also integral. The school has ranked No. 1 or 2 in National Institutes of Health research funding among schools of allied health, as they are generally known, since rankings began in 1979, Jones said. And its professional programs also are highly placed in U.S. News and World Report rankings of top academic programs.

But it has been attention to service — to students, the UAB Medical Center, the local community and the health-care industry — that has helped elevate SHP as a national model for integrating allied health education into academic health centers.

In the mix
The School of Health Professions, one of six schools that comprise the UAB Academic Health Center, educates the health-care professionals and technologists who maintain and improve the quality of health care and the systems through which it is delivered. The school offers 21 programs, accredited by 13 agencies, that lead to baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees in Critical and Diagnostic Care, Health Services Administration, Nutrition Sciences and Rehabilitation Sciences. The programs of study are both traditional — such as physical, occupational, and respiratory therapy — and innovative disciplines such as health informatics, nuclear medicine technology and cytotechnology.

Since its beginning as the School of Community and Allied Health in 1969 to its eventual evolution to the School of Health Professions in 2006, the school has been faced with the challenge of creating a successful mix of health-care programs in an ever-evolving industry.

“There are more than 100 programs that could fall into the rubric of allied health. The question is: What do we do especially well?” Jones said.

The answer lies in integrating its curricula with the most renown or cutting-edge programs of other UAB schools while also maintaining a forward-looking focus on the needs of the health-care industry.

“We have to look at the workforce needs of the state and provide those consistent with UAB’s mission and make them unique to our strengths,” Jones said.

“We have a lot of one-of-a-kind programs because we are able to leverage university resources in niche areas to do what others can’t. That’s the reason we’ve achieved and given back to the academic health center and UAB.”

The success of this synergistic approach is evident in numerous programs that are built on the strengths of Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, Optometry and Public Health and the UAB Medical Center:
• The Health Care Administration graduate education program is ranked No. 7 nationally.
• SHP has one of eight NIH-funded clinical nutrition research centers in the nation and provided the first comprehensive nutrition education program for medical and dental students in the country.
• SHP has one of the largest nursing anesthesia graduate programs, ranked No. 32, and its students are able to perform their clinical rotations in local hospitals throughout the state.
• Its Occupational Therapy program is a national leader in low-vision therapy, and the school is working with the Veterans Administration to create a national model for treating injured soldiers.
• The Physician Assistants program is one of two in America with a surgical focus, and it is expanding to include specialized training for trauma care and infectious disease.

Better than good
Even those things that SHP does well can become expendable as new opportunities arise, Jones said. Some basic programs offered at community colleges have been jettisoned from UAB’s curriculum and replaced with more specialized, value-added training that separates the basic practitioner from the advanced.

“By not duplicating excellent community college training programs that now are available to Alabama’s students, we can concentrate on offering higher-level health-professions programs, a number of which are unique within the state,” Jones said.

For example, three new programs Jones expects to be able to offer by fall 2008 may increase the student body by only 100-150 students, they will strengthen the school’s national reputation for innovation and leadership in health-professions education.

First is an executive doctoral program for senior-level managers. This extends beyond the management practice emphasis in the school’s highly ranked master’s program to focus on applied health-care research for senior-level managers.

The second program under development is a genetics-counseling track that will produce qualified counselors in this booming field. Jones said UAB’s experience and resources in the study of genetics makes this a natural extension of its curricula.

Biotechnology education to create a trained workforce for high-tech industry is the third. Expansion in the biomedical industry, in Alabama and across the country, relies on the ability of these companies to employ specially trained workers.

“When we think about our programs, we consider the opportunities for our graduates, the demand in the system for their skills and the pay differential for those skills,” Jones said.

“If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be doing a service to our students.”