Tech & Health

July 19, 2012

ROUNDS: A message from the Vice Chancellor

As we launched into a new academic year on July 1, I took some time to consider the road we have traveled together in the last 12 months. By any measure, it was remarkable.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.

As we launched into a new academic year on July 1, I took some time to consider the road we have traveled together in the last 12 months. By any measure, it was remarkable.

It’s not just perception that Vanderbilt is having impact; there is objective evidence we are viewed nationally and internationally as a place on the move — and gaining momentum.

In May we ushered another class of the extraordinary scientists, nurses and physicians into the world, and are now welcoming new students and trainees from all corners of the globe. The objective statistics — from grade point averages to residency placements — all point to the rising value and prestige of a Vanderbilt education.

Again this year, our share of the nation’s National Institutes of Health funding has grown in the toughest environment for grant funding I’ve seen in decades. The success of our talented faculty and their research teams in securing support from both federal and private sources for biomedical research is remarkable.

Throughout the year, their amazing scientific discoveries and clinical advancements have been told through the pages of the Reporter and in more than 50,000 news placements in the worldwide media.

And to proactively address increasing financial pressures, through both sacrifice and innovation, you have improved the performance of the entire Medical Center. As I mentioned in a prior “Rounds,” saving $50 million is not easy. Your efforts made it possible to provide merit salary increases, assuring our compensation remains market competitive in a year that medical centers around the United States are holding compensation flat.

One of the year’s many unprecedented developments is our affiliation with three outstanding non-profit regional medical centers: Maury Regional Medical Center, NorthCrest Medical Center and Williamson Medical Center. Through tremendous leadership by Dr. Wright Pinson, deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System, and the team of VUMC health system leaders committed to these efforts, these relationships are allowing patients across broad regions of Middle Tennessee greater access to the unique health care offerings Vanderbilt and its affiliates are creating together.

For example, these affiliations made it possible for us to garner an $18.8 million grant over three years, one of our largest federal awards ever, to establish a pilot program for managing chronic disease throughout Middle Tennessee. Called MyHealthTeam, this effort leverages our advanced health information technology and the partnership and commitment of our affiliates to bring novel outpatient management to epidemic chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, as a model for the nation.

As we stretch ourselves to achieve impact at a distance, the demand for services at 21st Avenue and Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks has never been higher. This year we set all-time records for numbers of surgical procedures and for outpatient visits to our adult and pediatric clinics. This spring, Luke Gregory and the team at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, opened a 33-bed addition on time and on budget — and this expanded facility is already nearly full! We can’t say enough about the focus, commitment and dedication of the clinicians and staff throughout our health system who are making it possible for more and more people to receive the extraordinary care we know only Vanderbilt can deliver.

And amidst the steady hum of progress, we accomplished something perhaps never achieved since the Medical Center’s founding days — appointing seven department chairs in a single year, and two executive leaders for the health system.

Recruiting at this level requires an intense effort, as we are very picky! We insist on the highest level of prior performance, against the benchmark of nationwide performance. But we also look at the personality of those we recruit to be leaders. We require a genuine nature — a personal warmth that nourishes the culture of civility and collaboration that makes Vanderbilt so special.

This task was accomplished by an amazing array of distinguished leaders from across the enterprise who selflessly engaged their time, energy and resources serving on search committees, hosting dinners, finding ways to support the needs of spouses and families and guiding personal tours.

In addition to those who led these efforts at VUMC, I want to personally thank Richard McCarty, our wonderful Provost, and all of the deans and faculty in University Central, who repeatedly partnered and engaged with us on a moment’s notice and truly made it possible to leverage the depth and breadth of the entire university in this effort.

Some of our new leaders are already here. Dr. Walter Frontera, inaugural chair of our new Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, arrived in April, while Dr. Kevin Johnson, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics, was a leader at Vanderbilt for more than a decade before becoming the department’s chair in January. Both are members of the prestigious National Academies Institute of Medicine. Dr. Sam Santoro, an M.D. and Ph.D. Vanderbilt alumnus who was already highly successful as our chair of Department of Pathology, became chair of the new Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, incorporating the outstanding faculty, staff, students and programs in Microbiology and Immunology and Pathology to create an even stronger, merged department leveraging the tremendous synergies of these disciplines.

Mr. David Posch, after shepherding our outpatient programs and medical group for over a decade to become one of the largest and highest-performing clinical practices in the U.S., assumed a broader role as CEO over a restructured, integrated adult clinical enterprise, including both Vanderbilt University Hospital and the Vanderbilt Clinics. In the same year, David was successful in recruiting Mitch Edgeworth from Quorum Health Resources. With prior management experiences at Duke University, Mitch was operating 12 hospitals and has joined David’s team as chief operating officer over VUH.

Other leaders — Dr. Ian Macara from the University of Virginia, chair of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology; Dr. Reed Omary from Northwestern, chair of the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences; Dr. Steven Webber from the University of Pittsburgh, chair of the Department of Pediatrics; and Dr. John York, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes and Duke University, chair of the Department of Biochemistry — arrive in the coming weeks as they relocate their families.

Every one of these highly coveted leaders were on the radar screens of the nation’s leading medical centers. Each chose Vanderbilt — but only partly because of our growing national stature and our extraordinary resources. To a person these individuals articulated a special attraction to this place. To the warm and inviting culture we all value so highly, that allows us to collectively accomplish what most academic medical centers struggle mightily to achieve.

These outstanding leaders will play a defining role in our future through the many people they will recruit, retain, and develop, the students they will mentor, and the many new programs they will compel us to create.

And I am confident that each of them will nourish the incredible culture — our special sauce — that makes Vanderbilt unique and special among the most highly competitive university medical centers in this nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the Affordable Care Act may have temporarily parted the clouds, but the uncertainty around the giant revenue streams supporting America’s health care and research missions creates a “battleground” milieu for our industry. The world will stretch us to even greater levels of creativity, endurance, efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the coming year.

But while most academic medical centers in the United States have 3-4 major chairs and other key leadership positions open, we will engage the challenges of 2013 “armed” with a full complement of the finest leaders imaginable. I could not be more confident about our future.
Please join me in celebrating these new leaders and the many, many capable and committed people who have joined Vanderbilt this year. As new family members, they bring fresh perspectives, energy, and enthusiasm as we embark on the year ahead.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs
Dean, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine


SAVE THE DATE: State of the Medical Center Address is Sept. 18

Please join Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, at 4 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 18, in Langford Auditorium for the 2012 State of the Medical Center Address.

Nationwide challenges and new directions impacting all VUMC staff and faculty will be discussed.

The address will also be available live online at