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Inside VA research

One of our most important but often overlooked assets is the research program at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center. Did you know that the program is near the top 10 VA research programs in the United States? According to Dr. Robert Pollet (Endocrinology), who manages research at the VA, the program has grown considerably in the past two years, with a budget exceeding $26 million in direct costs per year funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, NIH, CDC, and other sources. Its 120 principal investigators (mainly SOM physician-scientists) and more than 500 research associates and staff currently conduct 400 projects, including biomedical research, clinical studies, and health services and outcomes research. The VA has a 60,000-square-foot facility to support multidisciplinary programs and plans to construct a $10 million, 60,000-square-foot research building with additional lab space. Over the past two years, the VA has:
  • Recruited two additional VA Senior Research Career Scientists, Drs. Stuart Zola (Psychiatry and Yerkes) and Philip Rather (Microbiology/Immunology).
  • Received renewal on a five-year core grant of $750,000 annually for the VA Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Ronald Schuchard (Ophthalmology) directs the center, one of only 12 VA rehab centers in the nation devoted to low vision in the elderly.
  • Established a research and development oncology program in collaboration with the SOM and the Rollins School of Public Health. Led by Drs. Amy Chen (Otolaryngology) and Theresa Gillespie (Winship Cancer Institute), the program receives $300,000 annually in local VA support and has been invited to apply for a VA Targeted Research Enhancement Program annual award of $150,000 in core support for three years.
  • Opened the Outpatient Clinical Studies Center with Dr. Kenneth Leeper (Pulmonology/Critical Care) as Director. The center houses dedicated waiting rooms, exam and interview rooms, a phlebotomy and specimen room, and administrative space for 10 clinical study coordinators.
  • Established a shared VA/Emory core facility offering microarray gene expression analysis and laser capture microscopy.

Overcoming debt at Grady

Grady Hospital's new President and CEO, Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, has his work cut out for him. One out of every four doctors in Georgia has trained at Grady�including our own residents and students. But Grady's size and importance do not buffer it from the heavy seas that threaten to swamp large public hospitals across the country.

"Grady's problems aren't only due to political squabbles over regional dollars, but to shrinking federal Medicaid reimbursements for the poor, to Clinton�era cuts in funds historically dedicated to doctor training at teaching hospitals, and to the cold shoulder from the state legislature," says a June 30th Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial.

Dr. Agwunobi is taking a three-pronged approach to Grady's problems. He is aggressively attacking its image problems; working with Grady staff and Emory and Morehouse faculty to craft a strategic plan involving cost savings, revenue-cycle enhancement and revenue-generating initiatives; and taking a longer view of Grady's mission. Among his cost-saving initiatives is a plan to reduce spending involving temporary staffing agencies. In the short term, Dr. Agwunobi is looking to improve cash flow through initiatives such as refinancing Grady's bonds.

On the people front, he has ousted several top administrators and is putting together a high-caliber team to assist him. He recently hired Teresa Finch of Atlanta Medical Center as CFO and just announced the appointment of Mr. John Henry Sr. as COO. (Mr. Henry retired as CEO of Emory Hospitals and Wesley Woods Center in August). He also hired Kirk Wilks as the new VP of Public Affairs, who has served in the same position at St. Joseph's Health System.

Dr. Agwunobi's vision of Grady's future looks beyond the ills of the moment and is one in which we all can join in wishing him�and ourselves�well. "Simply put," he says, "we want to become the model public health care institution in terms of financial management, health care operations, and clinical excellence."

Prior to Grady, Dr. Agwunobi was CEO of South Fulton Medical Center, which was on the verge of bankruptcy until he turned it around in less than two years. A native of Scotland, he holds a medical degree from the University of Jos in Nigeria, completed his pediatrics residency at Howard University, and has an MBA from Stanford.

M1 class in full swing

Our M1 class of 114 is the first-ever medical class to have more women (59) than men (55). We are fortunate to have another bright crop of students, whose average cumulative grade point score is 3.75 and average MCAT score is 33. About a third of our students are Georgians (37), with most having received undergraduate degrees at Emory (14), the University of Georgia (7), and Georgia Tech (6). Five of our students already have graduate degrees. A warm welcome to the Class of 2007!

More about research

The SOM's 2003�2008 research strategic plan has taken shape, thanks to the exceptional work of more than 100 faculty led by Drs. Robert Rich, Executive Associate Dean for Research and Strategic Initiatives, Raymond Dingledine, Chairman of Pharmacology, and Wright Caughman, Chairman of Dermatology. According to Dr. Rich, "Our last five-year plan was exceptionally ambitious, yet we still achieved our goals. The 2003�2008 plan will be similarly demanding, perhaps even more so. It will further propel Emory into a position of research excellence and leadership among the nation's medical schools." The plan sets three major goals to accomplish through the following initiatives:
  • Better align the research mission with our teaching and service missions. This involves integrating the research, education, and clinical missions of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and the university with the shared goals of the SOM's strategic plan and those of the WHSC and other university components.
  • Augment and stabilize our research workforce. Efforts include enhancing research infrastructure and support for current faculty and recruiting additional NIH-funded investigators, increasing the amount of NIH funding per investigator, adding new PhD and MD/PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, boosting the level of support provided to investigators in clinical departments, maintaining our culture of collegiality, and encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration across the university.
  • Enhance translational research so that discoveries result in improved health care. Steps include developing new research facilities, creating centers of excellence in biomedicine and health care to attract additional NIH collaborative grants, and investing in additional technologies, core laboratory programs, and infrastructure support services.
Watch for the SOM to begin implementing these exciting new initiatives in the coming weeks.

Teachers of the year

Every year, I like to recognize a handful of basic science and medical faculty who are among our most successful educators and exemplify excellence in teaching undergraduate medical and allied health students. First, I'd like to congratulate Dr. Juha Kokko (Medicine), who received a career award (and a beautiful Frab�l sculpture) for his lifetime achievements at the SOM. "He is one of our most outstanding teachers, both in the classroom and at the bedside," says Dr. Jonas Shulman, Executive Associate Dean for Medical Education and Student Affairs. "He brings the basic sciences alive in the clinical setting." Dr. Kokko was recognized at a special ceremony held recently at the Miller-Ward Alumni House.

Ten faculty received the 2003 Dean's Teaching Awards at the ceremony. They are Dr. Henry Blumberg (Medicine), Dr. Karen Drexler (Psychiatry), Dr. Jane Gilmore (Neurology), Dr. Kate Heilpern (Emergency Medicine), Dr. Eric Honig (Medicine), Ms. Kathy Kinlaw (Ethics), Dr. Kenneth Minneman (Pharmacology), Dr. Bryan Noe (Cell Biology), Dr. Shanthi Sitaraman (Medicine), and Dr. Kirk Ziegler (Microbiology). Dr. Linton Hopkins (Neurology) received the first-ever Edward Underwood Award for teaching excellence, named for a 1976 SOM alumnus who made a gift in support of teaching. The honorees received $4,500 each.

I also like to provide educators and their associates with grants to develop specific medical education projects, based on their creative ideas for teaching students. Four team leaders received Teaching Innovation Awards. They are Drs. Erica Brownfield (Medicine), Sheryl Heron (Emergency Medicine), Denise Lawe (Emergency Medicine), and Jeffrey Salomone (Surgery). These faculty members and their respective colleagues received grants of varying amounts.

Thanks to Assistant Deans Ira Schwartz and Alan Otsuki and Dr. David Rimland (Medicine), who coordinated the nomination and selection process for these awards. All of these outstanding educators deserve a pat on the back!

In memoriam

We deeply mourn the passing of a dear friend to the SOM. Dr. Mort Silberman died August 4 after a long struggle with chronic pulmonary disease. He held a variety of positions during his 25 years at Emory. He came here in 1976 as Associate Professor of Pathology and University Veterinarian in charge of care and housing for animals used in teaching and research programs. He later became the first Director of Government Relations for the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and served as the center's Assistant Director. He was believed to be the only veterinarian in the country to serve in such a high-level office at a major academic health sciences center. Dr. Silberman was very active at Zoo Atlanta, which named its diagnostic center after him, and was a pioneer in the treatment of rare, endangered, and exotic animals. We will truly miss this extraordinary man.

Thomas J. Lawley, MD

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