U of M President says new dean could recharge the medical school

Ready to be recharged (MPR Photo / Alex Friedrich)

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said he's hoping newly named medical school Dean Brooks Jackson can revitalize the school, boosting morale while fueling more medical research.

Today the U named Jackson, who directs the pathology department at Johns Hopkins University, the successor to Aaron Friedman, current dean and vice president for health sciences.

Jackson is expected to start Feb. 17 pending approval by university regents.

He is coming during a time when the Academic Health Center -- and the medical school in particular -- has hit some bumps.

Late last year, an external review said that though strong, the U's medical school suffers from a "malaise," and that its reputation has declined. It also mentioned staff concerns over the leadership structure for both the center and school.

The university is also working out a more integrated partnership with Fairview Health Services, which turned down an offer to merge with the U in April.

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Kaler told reporters the U needs to improve its medical research efforts, expand its "research portfolio" and integrate further with Fairview while building a planned ambulatory care center.

He said:

"To bring in a world-class leader like Dr. Jackson should enable us to build new energy around our research, teaching and clinical activities. And I would hope those new activities will be things that improve morale and improve the opportunities for our scientists and doctors to do great things."

A key talent of Jackson is winning federal grant money. Under his leadership, the Johns Hopkins pathology department went from fifth in the nation to first in the amount of National Institute of Health funding it received.

President Kaler said:

"You look at his history, his academic success and his ability to fuel that with grant funding. He's very attractive. ... We're hoping he brings some of that magic to the University of Minnesota."

Jackson said in a phone interview that he expects to continue a push similar to the one he made at Johns Hopkins.

"There probably will be more emphasis on clinical research as well as big science research, not only because there will be more money in these areas, but it will also be essential for being able to deliver great care."

Both he and Kaler said the health care field is changing quickly, as is its business model.

Kaler said the future is "very uncertain," and said the U will have to adapt quickly to changes in areas such as reimbursement, the modernization of medical education, the focus on prevention over treatment.

The president also saw "challenges around our educational model" -- namely the use of online education to handle lecture-based instruction in the first two years of med school.

Private fundraising, he said, will also be a must:

"Clearly, the landscape of funding will be rockier than it is now. The decrease in federal funding to the NIH is a shameful thing, but it's likely to be here for a while. I think the ability of the state to support its medical school is something that we need to explore, but at the end of the day it'll be private philanthropy that takes good institutions and makes them great."

Kaler said he looks forward to "an exceptional run" for the medical school, and appeared to imply that the stakes were high:

"[Jackson] is an incredibly important hire. It sets the stage for future success in the medical school and the Academic Health Center that will be absolutely critical to the university's success."