VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, April 17, 2015

Who Are We?

As we approach the 60th anniversary of UMMC's establishment in Jackson later this year, it's interesting to reflect on our origins and the transformation that's occurred in the intervening years.

We started in 1903 as a two-year medical school on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford.  How much simpler life was then!  We had no teaching hospital, little in the way of research, and our students left Mississippi after two years to complete medical school outside the state, some never to return.  Our physical plant consisted of exactly one building.

Upon moving to Jackson, we added the final two years of medical school, a teaching hospital and residency programs.  Over the years, schools of nursing, dentistry, health related professions, graduate studies and pharmacy joined our family.  More hospitals came on line, as did community hospitals in Lexington and Grenada.  We have 70 buildings now, with more going up all the time.    

So, with all that in mind, I have a quiz for you.   

Which statement is true:  UMMC is a….

  1. Primary care provider
  2. Safety net hospital 
  3. Educator of health professionals 
  4. Center for scientific discovery 
  5. Tertiary referral center
  6. Nonprofit health system
  7. University campus
  8. State agency

It's a trick question, because all are true.   

All of these roles are part and parcel of most public, academic health science centers, which have been described as the most complex organizations in the world. 

This complexity has advantages and disadvantages.  On the one hand, it's what makes academic health science centers such as ours so consequential in our world today.  When you add up all the good we do in our state through our missions of education, research and health care, it's pretty amazing.  Add to that our multi-billion dollar annual economic impact and few institutions in our society can match what we deliver.

On the other hand, managing this complexity can be a tall order.  

Think about this….

  • We are expected to operate nimbly in a volatile business environment, but we have to comply with state procurement regulations that are better suited for the purchase of highway culverts.


  • We are part of a university, but some of the traditions of the university seem to clash with our go-go business imperative.
  • Our systems infrastructure, facilities and workforce have to accommodate the most complex surgical procedures imaginable in a tertiary hospital, alongside the high-touch, low-tech primary care provided in a community clinic, and allow us to excel at both.


While the diversity of our missions and activities can be a source of resilience, this diversity can also put us at odds with one another as well as with external players.  Within UMMC, there are tensions at times between the components of "who we are" noted above.  Often those tensions center on the need to allocate limited resources - typically money, but other resources as well. There's also the inevitable friction between the subcultures that populate our world - doctors, nurses, therapists, researchers, educators, clinicians, administrators, blue collar, white collar…to name a few.   

Reconciling these diverse interests is a big job.  It's my job, principally, but it falls to everybody to understand our complex makeup and to recognize that for UMMC to be successful, everybody has to give a little and to look for and honor the common ground of our shared purpose.  

The payoff is that our future will be all the brighter.  Guided by our strategic plan, we are in the process of transforming our core mission areas to engender more team-based learning, more clinical and population-based research, and higher quality care delivered more efficiently.

Our plan also recognizes that as effective and influential as we may be, we cannot hope to move Mississippi's health status off the bottom nationally by acting alone.  We will have to work with other organizations, both public and private, to have significant positive statewide impact.

Inevitably, there will be distractions and disruptions along the way.  But we must stay true to who we are - as complicated and confounding as that can sometimes be - on our path to A Healthier Mississippi.

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