Minnesotans are a modest lot — sometimes to a fault, it’s been said. But they need little prodding to brag about the quality of medical treatment and innovation in this state. Many of them have benefited from Minnesota’s medical excellence when they need it most.
That’s why we think Minnesotans will agree with Gov. Mark Dayton that a state funding surge for the University of Minnesota Medical School would be money well spent. At the urging of a blue-ribbon panel, Dayton is asking for $30 million for faculty growth over the next two years, as a down payment on an extra $50 million per biennium in several subsequent state budgets. The Legislature should see those sums as smart investments in one of Minnesota’s best competitive assets.
The Mayo Clinic in Rochester may have a more widely known name. But the University of Minnesota Medical School is the foundation on which this state has built its reputation for medical excellence. It provides both the training for the lion’s share of this state’s medical personnel and the research that puts state-of-the-art therapies into clinical use.
The result for Minnesotans has been more than high-value medical treatment. It has also been jobs. This state would not have the nation’s highest per-capita share of medical technology companies and jobs without the impetus of university med school research and training.
What Minnesotans may not know is that the U’s Medical School has been slipping in national standings. Today it ranks 30th among its peers in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, down from 15th 30 years ago. A report by the Dayton-appointed, bipartisan panel points to a major reason: between 1995 and 2001, the school lost 90 of its 540 faculty members, most of them researchers who took with them substantial NIH grants. Scandals, internal dissension and financial woes all contributed to the involuntary downsizing. A rebuilding effort in the middle of the last decade faltered as the Great Recession hit.
A strategically minded state government might have come to the rescue earlier, but for money woes of its own. But, to their credit, legislators and two governors, Republican Tim Pawlenty and DFLer Dayton, prepared for an eventual hiring push by authorizing bonding for four new state-of-the-art research buildings designed to facilitate interdisciplinary discovery efforts. Now nearly completed, the Biomedical Discovery District is ready to serve as a hiring magnet for decades to come.
With state government back in the black and a shortage of medical personnel on the horizon, a propitious time for medical hiring has come. The school has an impressive new dean, Dr. Brooks Jackson, who moved Johns Hopkins University’s Pathology Department to first in the nation in NIH funding during 12 years at its helm. He’s committed both to building the school’s research muscle and educating more medical professionals to serve where they are most needed, in primary care and in Greater Minnesota. A portion of the funds Dayton requested would be used for incentives to lure medical students into primary care and outstate settings.
Dayton’s proposal does not make specific mention of the Mayo Clinic and its multiyear growth plan, Destination Medical Center, to which the state will contribute via infrastructure aid to the city of Rochester. But legislators would do well to consider the synergy that could develop if the University of Minnesota Medical School and Mayo could grow in tandem and, as they do, find new opportunities for collaboration.
Minnesota has an opportunity in the next few decades to burnish its reputation as the world’s medical leader and make its name synonymous with good health. That’s a brand worth striving for.