Tuesday, December 18, 2012

By Mila Koumpilova

The University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center needs a clearer vision of its future to shake off a "malaise" that has plagued it, said an outside review committee.

U President Eric Kaler launched the review of the center, which includes the university's medical school, the main training ground for physicians in the state. While some health science schools at the U rank high nationally, the med school's reputation and rankings have flagged -- an issue Kaler has deemed a priority.

In a report the U released publicly Monday, Dec. 17, the three-member committee offered few specific prescriptions but stressed the need for the AHC community to rally around a common vision. Kaler responded by charging Medical School Dean Aaron Friedman with appointing a faculty-led group to produce a strategic plan by next summer.

"We need a vision and plan that brings together our faculty and staff and sets a foundation for growth and investment," Kaler said, adding that the U's health sciences community needs to refocus on its many strengths.

Other than that, U Director of Public Relations Chuck Tombarge pointed out, the external review will not trigger any immediate changes at the health center.
Kaler tapped Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, the school of medicine dean at his former institution, Stony Brook University in New York, to head the committee. The group surveyed and interviewed faculty and staff and reviewed budget and accreditation documents.

"Our overall impression was that the University of Minnesota's health sciences are strong, but are at risk from several external and internal forces," the committee wrote.

The Academic Health Center has excellent faculty and students as well as a strong research portfolio, the report said. But a long-standing debate over the center's administrative structure has consumed too much energy amid a rapidly changing health care environment.

Many faculty spoke of the need for greater transparency, the report said. There were also concerns Friedman's dual role as medical school dean and vice president of health sciences makes the job too unwieldy.

Above all, though, the medical school needs "a vision of where it is going and how it will get there." The report also suggested the U seek out new clinical partnerships even as it continues to negotiate with its main partner, Fairview Health Services, on overhauling a relationship many at the university criticized.

Kaler said those negotiations delayed the release of the report and his response.

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