VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, August 4, 2017

August 4, 2017

A New Chapter Begins

Good morning!

Later today we officially open the spectacular new School of Medicine education building. This has been a long time coming but the wait ends today.

Before I talk about that, I want to make a final appeal to those of you who have not completed your employee engagement survey. We are pushing toward our 80 percent goal but I feel certain we can top that. The last day to take the survey is Monday but I hope you will do yours today. It takes just a few minutes to complete.  Let me hear your voice!

new_som_school_photo.jpgThe opening of the School of Medicine education building is a significant event for the Medical Center and for Mississippi. For many years, medical school students and faculty have not had a single location to call their academic home.

The students, faculty and staff have made great efforts and have succeeded in making the space we had work. The faculty of microbiology, for example, went from teaching a lab session once to all students to teaching it twice as the class grew and finally to relocating to the School of Health Related Professions when another department required the teaching space for other pressing needs. It was far from ideal, but they did it. Judy Gearhart and Helen Turner put together the first clinical skills assessment center in a few outdated rooms in the “old hospital” clinic hallway on a shoestring budget that did not include renovation. But they did it. 

The modus operandi was to do what had to be done to make it work.  Every component of the medical school curriculum has been touched to some degree by both space constraints as well as lack of modern teaching facilities. In the last decade, there has been a high demand for small group rooms as teaching modalities have changed and we have not been able to meet that demand – until now. I am very proud of the spirit of the faculty and the quality of the students we have been able to recruit during this time, despite these facility limitations.

In 2003, the Association of American Medical Colleges called for a 30 percent increase in medical school enrollment across the nation to head off a looming doctor shortage. Looking at our position in Mississippi, which was and continues to be last in the rankings for physicians per capita, we knew a 30 percent increase wouldn’t get our state where it needed to be.  We had the required depth of the applicant pool to grow the class size and we had excellent faculty. What we needed was money and a new facility.

Many leaders went to work – Dan Jones, Jimmy Keeton and the late John Moffitt, to name a few. In the meantime, realizing the road to a new facility could take years of precious time, and we needed to start making progress sooner than that, I sent a memo to all of the medical school course directors asking them to detail for me in writing how they could accommodate 150 medical students (we had 100 at that point) with no new resources. They all responded positively and with a plan.  The buy-in of the faculty into our needed growth strategy was an early critical signal to me that all the necessary elements could indeed come together and that the school class size expansion idea could eventually become a reality. 

The journey leading to today involved partnering with key state leaders, touring facilities at other schools, holding meetings of student and faculty focus groups, and countless other activities. In looking at other schools, we were somewhat focused on schools with new, modern facilities but actually most interested in those with classes at our target size using facilities that were not new but still functional, flexible, and had stood the test of changing times.

At UMMC, we are proud of our past. Conversations here often lead to stories about Pankratz, Guyton, Hardy, Bower, Batson, Currier, Helen Barnes, Hannah Gay and other leaders of times gone by.  Having been here a number of years, I deeply appreciate our old buildings and the history that goes with them. To me, the stories and the history of the events are forever intertwined with the actual physical space in which they occurred. The buildings are a part of the story.

While I am delighted our medical students will have an academic home with modern spaces and technologies, I am most pleased with the fact that the new building has touches of the past. For those of us who worked in the old hospital, you will note that the north-facing wall of the new School of Medicine building is very similar in design to the original. The “all-seeing eye” captured in the tile of the old medical school entrance is replicated twice in this new space – once inside and once outside the building.  The new building will offer the needed modern education spaces but with a tip of the hat to the past. It is visually stunning but very functional with almost every nook and cranny put to use in some way. Many heartfelt thanks to architects Jim Eley and Rob Farr and their teams for hearing the stories of what we needed and achieving this beautiful balance.

Starting next week, the building will be alive with the sounds of students as they fill the halls and classrooms. Over the summer I have had the opportunity to slip in and walk through the building a number of times while it has stood quiet and empty. Perhaps it is only my imagination, but I sense a readiness of the building to serve as a home for generations of students to come, an understanding that hopes and dreams will be nurtured here, and yet a respect for the halls and the classrooms that have come before.  

No doubt, history will be made here.  A new chapter begins, in the story of our journey toward A Healthier Mississippi.

Follow me on Twitter @LAWoodwardMD