Thank you very much for inviting me to speak with you tonight. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting with citizens, community and professional leaders, and alumni and friends across the state of Iowa these past few months. Back in Iowa City, I am impressed every day by the excellence of the UI and the talent and dedication of our faculty, staff, and students. When I am out on the road, I understand why the state of Iowa takes such pride in this remarkable institution. So I am very pleased to join you tonight and share some of the great things happening in health care and the health sciences at The University of Iowa.
It is our job as a university community to provide leadership in the exploration of what James Van Allen called a “universe without bounds.” That includes the incredible universe of the human body. As we learn more and more about how our bodies work and how to heal them, we appreciate more and more the importance of leadership in health care and the health sciences.
Iowa has a long tradition of excellence, innovation, and world-class achievement. At my installation this past December, one of my main messages was that we must honor that tradition by building upon our strengths. That is nowhere more true in our enterprise than in the areas of health care and the health sciences.
One of the most attractive things for me about the presidency of The University of Iowa was that the institution is in excellent shape. The UI’s leadership and stewardship have been excellent, and nothing major needs “fixing.” I have been pleased to confirm those perceptions since I have started the job.
This “good health” is specifically true for the health sciences campus as well. In fact, we are in the midst of exciting, transformative times. As physicians yourselves, you know that the landscape of health care is changing very quickly—and the change is accelerating. Our leadership in the health sciences must—and does—keep up with the times. But we need to go beyond just keeping up. We must also be at the forefront of change and lead the future itself.
A risky way to lead the future is to make sudden turns in direction. That’s why, as I said, our best strategy for maintaining excellence is building upon our strengths. These are the strengths in health care that I see at Iowa: First, we are in a location that provides care for people from a wide radius, as well as nationally. Second, we have a mission that puts quality care for all at the forefront. Third, we are of a size that allows comprehensiveness and excellence in all specialty areas. We continue to have hundreds of U.S. News and World Reports’ “Best Doctors in America” on our staff. If someone in our state or region needs the best in specialty care, it is available at Iowa. Fourth, we enjoy continued national prominence in several areas. We are especially proud of our top 10 and top 20 rankings in the “three O’s”: Otolaryngology, Ophthalmology, and Orthopaedic Surgery. As well, our Department of Pediatrics is ranked #7 among all such NIH-funded departments in the country. And finally, we have a tradition of interdisciplinary research and practice that only grows over time.
At the same time we build upon our traditional strengths, we must be nimble in responding to the swift changes our world is experiencing. That is why, while we build upon our strengths, we also are undergoing an innovative reorganization. The reorganization of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the Carver College of Medicine, and the University of Iowa Physicians into a more cohesive unit is being headed by Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Carver College of Medicine Jean Robillard. The purpose of the reorganization is to provide a seamless patient experience. We want to sharpen our focus on patient care and patient satisfaction.
We are also excited to have on board our new Associate Vice President for Nursing and Chief Nursing Officer Ann Williamson. Dr. Williamson comes to us most immediately from the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, where she received the Chancellor’s Award for Exceptional University Management.
I’m sure you know that another major partner in this reorganization is interim CEO of UIHC Gordon Williams. A seasoned health care administrator, Gordon Williams was most recently Executive Vice Dean and COO and Vice Chancellor for Operations for the Duke University Health System. An Iowa City native, Mr. Williams understands health care in Iowa very deeply. He is helping us continue the momentum that we have started in just the past year.
Here are just a few of the recent innovations we have been able to accomplish.
We have created a world-class Patient and Visitor Center. Patients and visitors enter our new front door and immediately know that their experience is patient-centered, and that our environment at UIHC is one of healing and hope.
We have renovated two pediatric inpatient units at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. The atmosphere is much brighter, with attractive features like Internet access, a family lounge, a family laundry room, and a playroom. Our care facilities, of course, have been upgraded as well, including three isolation rooms to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. Last year, the UI Children’s Hospital was ranked the 20th best in the country by Child magazine, and we intend to make the care we provide there even better.
In our Women’s Health Center, we have an innovative new Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology Clinic. Another multidisciplinary initiative, this clinic also provides training to care providers that focuses on recognizing what is normal and abnormal for children in this age range; how to examine girls and young women in an age-appropriate, sensitive, and reassuring way; and how to communicate with children and their parents.
We also have a new Ambulatory Surgery Center. Like so many of today’s health care innovations, this new center takes a team approach, is patient-centered, and provides state-of-the-art technology.
In addition to specific renovations within our hospitals and clinics, we are also in the earliest stages of an exciting comprehensive modernization plan that will propel us even further into the 21st century. UIHC is at capacity in our admissions, and many of our patient facilities need further updating. Prominently featured in this plan are a separate children’s hospital and expanded critical care wing.
As Iowa’s teaching and tertiary hospital—one of the largest in the nation—UIHC enjoys a close relationship with the Carver College of Medicine. Our reorganization is striving to make sure those relationships are strengthened even further. Major developments in the past few months will make the bench-to-bedside aspect of our research programs even quicker and more effective than before.
Last fall, Lieutenant Governor Judge and numerous state legislators joined us as we broke ground to inaugurate the new University of Iowa Institute for Biomedical Discovery. In a world-class setting, scientists from across the University will collaborate to explore high-risk/high-yield scientific questions in the treatment of diseases. They will break new scientific ground by pushing and crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries.
The Institute groundbreaking complemented an earlier announcement beautifully. In September, the National Institutes of Health announced one of the largest awards ever given to The University of Iowa—a $33.8 million grant to fund the University of Iowa Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, under the direction of Dr. Gary Hunninghake. This is a transformational award that will enable us to bring laboratory research to patients much more rapidly. The institute will work with physicians, hospitals, and community health centers across the state and nation to bring cutting-edge biomedical research and clinical trials to patients in their own communities. It is the largest and most comprehensive interdisciplinary effort ever undertaken by the University, with 39 centers and institutes and all 11 Colleges participating. Rarely have we engaged so much of the campus and so many other institutions so broadly.
Even though the CTSA is transformative in the scope of its interdisciplinary endeavor, I would like to share with you just a couple of brief examples to show how profoundly the interdisciplinary tradition is rooted in all we do at The University of Iowa, in ways that might surprise you.
One of my predecessors, whom I sure many of you know, President Emeritus Sandy Boyd, has describe the UI in this way: “At our core are the arts, humanities, and sciences, surrounded by well-integrated professional programs. The value of the basic disciplines lies in their continuing exploration of content and context. The professions depend on this exploration for their vigor, and the basic disciplines more fully serve society through their application by the professions. They are linked, and they are interlinked.”
In addition to medicine, another world-renowned program at the UI is our Writers’ Workshop. The Workshop is the cornerstone of many programs that make us “The Writing University.” One of its recent pioneering projects is the Patient Voice Project, which offers free creative writing classes by Writers’ Workshop students for chronically and mentally ill patients throughout the area. As well, the Carver College of Medicine Writing Program provides individual consultations for medical students not only to review professional materials, but also organizes and encourages creative writing activities.
As further illustration, one of our new faculty hires in the increasingly prominent Nonfiction Writing Program has a joint appointment with the College of Medicine. Blind since birth, Professor Stephen Kuusisto is developing courses in the area of "disability studies" as well as more traditional writing courses. On the health campus, he is working to educate doctors about contemporary disability issues. Each week, he attends multi-hour teaching sessions with ophthalmologists, residents, medical students and scientists researching aspects of vision loss, bringing a face to their understanding of blindness.
We know that both health and the pursuit of discovery cannot be bound by traditional disciplinary lines. As I’ve illustrated here tonight, we are constantly pushing, breaking, and tying together in new ways those boundaries, both within the health sciences and across the entire University.
Let me conclude my remarks tonight with just a couple of examples of “real-live” physicians and researchers doing remarkable work. The general information I’ve shared with you tonight is good news, but the most meaningful aspect of our work is what our doctors are actually doing with patients every day.
A little over a year ago, Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee and his wife received unwelcome news: Their three-year-old daughter Jada had the genetic retinal disease Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. The doctors told the Lees that there was no treatment or cure for LCA—in other words, there was no hope. Jada would go blind.
Derrek Lee didn’t like that answer. He reached into his own spirit of optimism to do something about what the doctors told him was hopeless. The Lees decided to seek out the best doctor in the country, if not the world, in this area. They tracked down an internationally known vision researcher who directed one of the world’s premier centers for macular degeneration research. From this doctor, they learned that the key to an LCA cure is understanding its disease-causing genes. In the midst of all this, Derrek Lee discovered that Boston Celtics’ co-owner Wyc Grousbeck had a son with LCA. Together, Lee, Grousbeck, and the eye researcher decided to initiate a project with the intent of curing this blinding disease. And they understood that the first step was identifying all the estimated 3000 people in our country who have it. Project 3000 was born.
Now, when Derrek Lee decided to find the best eye disease researcher in the country, do you know where he ended up? It wasn’t the Mayo Clinic. It wasn’t Johns Hopkins. It was The University of Iowa. We’re talking about Dr. Edwin Stone, Seamans-Hauser Chair in Molecular Ophthalmology in the UI Carver College of Medicine.
Derrek Lee is determined that we will find this cure for his daughter—and all other sufferers—through groundbreaking genetic research and testing. I know Dr. Stone and his colleagues share that determination. I had the privilege of visiting Ed Stone’s lab this past semester, and I cannot tell you how impressed I was. Hope, optimism, and partnership abound there.
Hope and optimism also perfectly describe one of our University of Iowa treasures, Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, whom I’m sure you all know. This past December, I had the great honor of presenting Dr. Ponseti a UI honorary doctorate. I can think of few people more deserving.
Fifty years ago, Dr. Ponseti realized that surgical approaches to clubfoot were not successful and set about developing a better approach. The now world-renowned Ponseti Method involves gentle, manual manipulation of the child's foot and application of toe-to-groin plaster casts. The casts are changed weekly after a clinician manipulates softened foot ligaments to gradually achieve near-normal muscle and bone alignment.
Over his career, Dr. Ponseti has treated 2,000 patients at the UI. Incredibly, nearly half of them have been treated in the past decade alone. At age 93, Dr. Ponseti still sees patients, and colleagues and others are eager to expand his work. He is helping make sure that his work will continue by helping to pass the baton to the Ponseti International Association for the Advancement of Clubfoot Treatment, which will train health care providers in the Method around the globe.
And to further illustrate how all areas of the University work together, a group of graduate marketing students in the UI Tippie College of Business spent the fall semester developing a marketing plan for the Ponseti Method so that we can help ensure the treatment is widely known and available.
I think the kind of innovation and imagination I have shared with you tonight plays a huge role in why health care and health sciences research at Iowa are world-renowned. It is an exciting time for me to begin my presidency at The University of Iowa, and it is an exciting time for all Iowans as they look to us for leadership in future possibilities. Our fundamental mission at the UI is to make life better for all Iowans, as well as the nation and world. I am proud to do what I can as President to make sure we provide the best to those who expect it from us.