2022 was a year that saw significant new hires, the opening of a state-of-the-art health and sciences building, and the launch of a new Department of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, but it also was a year that offered plenty of challenges and new problems to solve.
That’s according to Dean John J. Reilly Jr., MD, who delivered his annual State of the School address on January 11.
New leadership, departments, and buildings
New hires in 2022 included Lotte Dyrbye, MD, MHPE, chief well-being officer and senior associate dean of faculty; David DiGregorio, PhD, chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics; and Lisa Neal-Graves, CEO of the Aurora Wellness Community (AWC), a partnership between the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and the Aurora community.
“The three ZIP codes around this campus are among the poorest and most diverse in the state of Colorado,” Reilly said. “We need to stand up a practice to help meet part of that demand.”
In addition to the new hires, the school also promoted current faculty members to new positions in 2022. Heide Ford, PhD, was named chair of the Department of Pharmacology, and Amara del Pino Jones, MD, was appointed associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Department of Biomedical Informatics, which launched in July to enhance clinical care through integrated computational technology, laboratory investigations, and artificial intelligence, is led by Casey Greene, PhD, professor of biomedical informatics.
The Anschutz Health Sciences Building began welcoming programs and faculty members in March, offering not only improved office space and a scenic venue for public events, Reilly said, but a much-needed new restaurant on campus as well.
Renewals, recruitment, and reimagined curriculum
Reilly pointed to other School of Medicine accomplishments in 2022, including renewal of the CU Cancer Center’s “comprehensive” designation from the National Cancer Institute; renewed funding from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration for the Colorado Area Health Education Center (AHEC), which connects the CU Anschutz Medical Campus with current and future health professionals in rural and urban medically underserved areas; and the establishment in May of the Gates Institute, a state-of-the-art facility that will focus on rapidly translating laboratory findings into regenerative, cellular, and gene therapies for patients.
“That will be a $200 million project launching this spring, and it will have a major impact on this campus over the upcoming years,” Reilly said.
Reilly also spoke highly of the new curriculum that is aimed at getting students into hospitals earlier and connecting them with patients in a more meaningful way, as well as the school’s continuing ability to recruit and develop outstanding residents, faculty members, and students.
“Our medical school has become increasingly popular and has gone from drawing from predominantly a local pool to a national pool of applicants,” he said. “The last two years have averaged around 11,000 applications, which is up by about 50% from five years ago.”
The five-year view
In addition to summarizing the events of 2022, Reilly showcased data from the past five years to illustrate how much the school has grown. Since 2017, he said, the School of Medicine has seen a 36% increase in staff, a 45% increase in faculty, a 46% increase in overall budget, a 54% increase in student applications, and a 52% increase in endowed chairs.
“I want to thank the advancement office for an extraordinary run of extramural fundraising from a very generous philanthropic community,” Reilly said. “This has helped catalyze all the growth we’ve had. Endowed chairs are a big part of philanthropy. They not only provide flexible funding for the holder of that chair, but they are public recognition of the excellence that that person has achieved.”
Economic and other challenges
In spite of all the good news, Reilly said, the school also will have significant challenges to face in 2023, including worsening economics for health care as a whole; changes in Medicaid that may affect eligibility for thousands of patients; a changing clinical landscape marked by a shift toward telehealth, digital health devices, and outpatient care; and a growing epidemic of physician burnout and dissatisfaction.
“We have a high level of provider burnout,” Reilly said. “This is something we need to address and needs to be a priority.”
Addressing the burnout problem and increasing faculty engagement are among the school’s primary goals in 2023, Reilly said. Other objectives include a continued focus on quality and safety, developing a personalized medicine program that will have a meaningful impact on patient care delivery; and finding clinic space for the AWC, which will serve patients in the neighborhoods near the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
Another big goal in 2023, Reilly said, is improving patient access as clinical demand continues to grow at partner affiliates UCHealth University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado. As the only academic medical center in Colorado and many surrounding states, he said, the CU School of Medicine has a good reputation that only continues to grow.
“In some sense, we are the victims of our own success,” Reilly says. “When I got here in 2015, I liked to tell people we were the best-kept secret in Colorado. We’re not a secret anymore.”