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Dean Reilly delivers his annual State of the School address and announces recipients of major acceleration awards.

‘No Longer the Best-Kept Secret’: CU School of Medicine Dean Talks of Growth, Progress, Challenges

Dean Reilly delivers his annual State of the School address and announces recipients of major acceleration awards.

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Written by Mark Harden on January 10, 2024

John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, dean of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, offered an upbeat overview of the school’s achievements through the last year in his annual State of the School address on January 10. He charted a promising path toward future progress, while also detailing challenges ahead.

A central theme of Reilly’s talk was the rapid growth and expanding reputation of the school, and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus as a whole, over the last several years.

“When I started these talks in 2016, I said we were the best-kept secret in Colorado,” he said. “We are no longer the best-kept secret in Colorado. More and more people want to come here for their care.”

Reilly – who in October announced plans to retire after almost nine years as dean once a successor is in place – also named recipients of research awards funded by a major gift from The Anschutz Foundation.

In his address to the CU School of Medicine community, Reilly noted new leadership recruits, recognized outstanding work by faculty, talked of partnerships with local communities, and touted achievements by the University of Colorado Cancer Center and Gates Institute.

New leadership

Reilly made note of several new leaders at the school:

He also recognized Sean Colgan PhD, professor of gastroenterology, and Frank deGruy, MD, professor of family medicine, who were among six newly named University of Colorado Distinguished Professors, the highest honor awarded to faculty across the CU system’s four campuses.

Progress on goals

Reilly offered an overview of the school’s progress on several major goals set a year ago. Regarding faculty well-being and engagement, he cited faculty-development programs supporting career progression, leadership, and mentoring, as well as several initiatives, stemming from a 2022 school survey.

On another goal – enhancing quality and safety with the school’s partners – he noted a quality incentive program with UCHealth leading to substantial improvement of key measures, most notably a reduction in mortality.

As for preparing for reaccreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), he said 13 working groups are on schedule for a report due to LCME this fall, and LCME reviewers are expected to visit campus in March 2025. He thanked Bonnie Kaplan, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine, for leading the reaccreditation effort.

And Reilly discussed progress toward establishing a primary care practice to meet the needs of underserved neighborhoods surrounding the CU Anschutz Campus. He said a lease on a clinic site near campus is close to being finalized for a spring opening, with Kelet Robinson, MD, starting as the clinic’s new medical director on February 1.

State of School Nice_43-JR closeup EDIT1

CU School of Medicine Dean John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, delivers his annual State of the School address at the Hensel Phelps Auditorium on January 10, 2024. Photo by Devon Balent | CU School of Medicine.

Spotlight on Cancer Center, Gates

Reilly covered CU Cancer Center initiatives, highlighting multidisciplinary cancer clinics offering faster progress from patient diagnosis to the start of treatment. He said relative survival rates for several cancer types among CU Cancer Center patients are higher than the state and national averages. And he noted recent awards and recognitions for campus cancer programs.

As an element of a drive to move faculty research discoveries into clinical care rapidly and effectively, Reilly highlighted the Gates Institute, launched in 2022, as a world-class facility translating lab discoveries into cellular and gene therapies for patients under the leadership of Terry Fry, MD, as its inaugural director. Reilly discussed early-stage clinical trials on campus that use cell lines engineered by the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility.

He also discussed progress in personalized medicine, offering an example of how a patient’s care is better matched to their individual response to particular drugs. “Our goal over the next five years of this program is to be able to move from impacting a relatively small number of patients to impacting a very large number of patients,” he said.

Partnering with nearby communities

As for community partnerships, he spotlighted the recent launch of the Traverse Academy, a school within the Cherry Creek School District, and its partnership with the CU Department of Psychiatry. The district says Traverse is the nation’s first mental health treatment facility operated by a school district. “The goal here is to keep these kids in the school environment and still learning, get their challenges effectively dealt with, and then return them to the regular classroom setting,” Reilly said.

Reilly also highlighted the Aurora Wellness Community (AWC), a partnership with the CU School of Medicine and other CU Anschutz Campus units that aims to improve access to primary care for underserved populations in north Aurora. He said AWC and other groups are negotiating with the Aurora Public Schools to convert Paris Elementary School, a closed school located two blocks west of the CU Anschutz campus, into a community center providing health and wellness programming, childcare, and a food bank.

Growth and challenges

Overall, Reilly said the CU School of Medicine is big and continues to grow, with 533 faculty added in 2023 and 2,973 volunteer clinical faculty, and 4,521 school faculty. He said the school has more medical students than three-quarters of 144 other medical schools across the country and ranks in the top 10% for faculty population. He also said CU School of Medicine ranks high in most revenue categories among U.S. public medical schools.

Looking ahead, Reilly spelled out key challenges facing the school, including improving professional satisfaction while meeting a high demand for clinical services. “It’s no secret around the country that the burnout our health care workforce feels in their jobs is a national epidemic and one that we need to address,” he said.

He also noted the continuing need to improve quality and safety in collaboration with the school’s hospital partners. “We’re all committed to making hospitals safer and improving our outcomes. We’ve made a lot of progress over the past couple of years, but we have a way to go to be where we all want. We all want to be at a place where, when one of our family members or friends gets admitted, that we know they’re going to get not only the best care from the experts, but minimal risk of harm while they’re getting that care.”

And he warned of the potential for a rise in Colorado’s uninsured population with the expiration of enlarged Medicaid enrollment during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

A unique resource

Reilly said the CU School of Medicine has a bright future.

“I’m proud of the fact that we continue to attract great talent from across the country and from within our own training programs,” he said. “We are a unique resource in the state of Colorado. We remain the only academic medical center and the only (National Cancer Institute)-designated comprehensive cancer center in the state. We have great clinical outcomes, and the word is out now, so lots of patients want to come here for their care.

“I think it was three or four years ago that I stood here in front of you and said that we were going to plateau soon, that we wouldn’t keep growing at this rate. I was wrong. We’ll keep growing at this rate for at least the foreseeable future.”

AAI awardees EDIT

Anschutz Acceleration Initiative awardees were announced by CU School of Medicine Dean John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, during his State of the School address on January 10, 2024.

Anschutz Acceleration Initiative awards

In concluding his address, Reilly unveiled recipients of funding through a recent $50 million gift from The Anschutz Foundation, bolstered by co-investment from other donor partners.

As announced by Reilly and campus Chancellor Don Elliman last June, the Anschutz Acceleration Initiative (AAI) is providing multimillion-dollar awards to support translational and clinical health care innovations that are poised to make direct patient impact in the next three to five years. The awards will speed the development of next-generation medical treatments and preventive care, drive innovation in patient care, and transform health care delivery. Nine projects were selected for awards through rigorous scientific review by an external committee of experts.

Reilly named these nine AAI recipients and their projects.

  • Maryam Asgari, MD, MPH, Professor and Chair of Dermatology. Project title: Implementation of Personalized Skin Cancer Screening: Using Genetic and Clinical Risk Factors to Identify a High-Risk Subgroup.
  • Valeria Canto-Soler, PhD, Associate Professor, Ophthalmology. Project title: Retinal Transplant to Restore Vision in Patients with Macular Degeneration.
  • Eduardo Davila, PhD, Professor, Medical Oncology. Project Title: MyD88 Platform for Enhancing Cellular Cancer Immunotherapy.
  • Steven Edmundowicz, MD, Professor, Gastroenterology. Project title: Transforming Gastrointestinal Cancer Care from Inpatient Surgery to Outpatient Endoscopy by Enabling Third Space Endoscopy.
  • Joaquin Espinosa, PhD, Professor, Pharmacology. Project title: Immunomodulatory Therapy for Down Syndrome.
  • Antonio Jimeno, MD, PhD, Professor, Medical Oncology. Project title: Targeting Protein Translation Elongation to Treat Cancer Patients.
  • Jayashree Kalpathy-Cramer, PhD, Professor, Ophthalmology. Project title: Oculomics as a Biomarker for Comprehensive and Non-Invasive Patient Health Assessment.
  • Dan Matlock, MD, Professor, Geriatrics. Project title: Making Personalization the Standard Through Rapid Design, Implementation, Testing and Maintenance.
  • Jeffrey Stansbury, PhD, Senior Associate Dean for Research, Craniofacial Biology. Project title: Multi-material 3D Print Processing of Antimicrobial and Antifungal Dental Prosthetics.

More information on each project and team members can be found on the AAI website.