Every year, national publications and health care organizations produce lists ranking states according to various health care measures. Without fail, Minnesota is in the top tier. Whether it’s healthy lifestyles, access to care, safety, innovation or efficient care delivery, Minnesota is one of the nation’s leaders. The incredible growth of medical device companies and the diverse, high-quality health care providers offer further proof. Our state is on the leading edge of health care, and the University of Minnesota Medical School and Academic Health Center are a big part of that.
But in “What did they do to my U?” (May 16), Dr. Robert Wilson asserted that the Medical School is currently a “junior varsity” team. I couldn’t disagree more. If you are one of the many Minnesotans who have benefited from the innovative care, leading medical research and excellent physicians who have trained at the U and have stayed in Minnesota to practice medicine, I’ll bet you disagree as well.
I have been dean of the Medical School for a little more than a year now after more than 12 years as director of pathology at Johns Hopkins. I did my residency here at the U in the 1980s, and my time here left a great impression on me. I was excited to come back.
It is true that the Medical School needs to improve in the rankings. Our National Institutes of Health ranking has fallen to 30th, from 14th in the early 1980s. This has coincided with the loss of around 100 tenured faculty positions. This decline is what prompted Gov. Mark Dayton last fall to appoint a blue-ribbon committee to look at ways to strengthen the Medical School’s stature. The committee recommendations included new funding to create “Medical Discovery Teams” — recruiting top faculty from around the country to come to the U and tackle some of the most pressing health issues facing our state.
There are reasons for optimism. Our Medical School produces excellent doctors. We are ranked 10th in the nation in primary care and fourth in rural medicine, according to U.S. News and World Report. We make discoveries that are changing the treatment of devastating illnesses, including leadership in bone marrow transplantation, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Our graduates are in demand. Our residency slots fill with some of the best and brightest. We are one of only a handful of medical schools to rank highly in both research and in training for primary care. These are building blocks for excellence.
My goal is to build on the school’s legacy, to move forward with the strategic vision our faculty developed in 2013 and to make our Medical School a truly world-class institution.
I believe this goal is within our grasp. It will take work and investment, but I am confident in our faculty, our leadership, and the support from President Eric Kaler, the Legislature and Gov. Dayton. They all understand the importance of the Medical School to the well-being of our state.
We know there is room for improvement. That’s why we’re working closely with Fairview to develop an academic health system that is necessary to accomplish our goals around medical training, research and innovative care. We’re renewing our emphasis on scholarship and research to help Minnesotans live healthier lives. The opening next year of the University of Minnesota Clinics and Surgery Center, a new state-of-the-art outpatient facility on campus, will enhance our ability to provide interprofessional training and to build on our research mission. In December, we will officially open the final building in the Biomedical Discovery District, a partnership between the university and the state that has brought world-class research facilities to the Twin Cities campus.
Our goal is to be a top-decile academic health system. That will put us in the top 14 in the nation (not the top 500, as Wilson asserted). It’s an ambitious but achievable goal.
We have great energy within the Medical School to move forward. We have set specific goals and metrics to measure progress around six key areas: scholarship, research, education, clinical care, financial sustainability and diversity. We are implementing changes across the university to improve and restore confidence in the protection of human subjects in our research. And we have talented and passionate students and faculty members throughout the health sciences.
The University of Minnesota Medical School is ready to meet the challenges on the horizon. I am proud to be back, and I look forward to helping lead our school into the future.
Brooks Jackson is dean of the Medical School and vice president of health sciences at the University of Minnesota.