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Investing in Our Future

December 2, 2014

Dean Christian Larsen  

Investing in Our Future

The theme of this year's annual address, "Investing in Our Future," emphasized the energy and commitment that I feel and see from each of you every day.

It has been quite an extraordinary year, and it's still going.

Our leadership in treating patients with Ebola virus was one of the primary defining moments. When the call came to Emory University Hospital asking us to consider admitting medical missionaries coming back from Africa, a decision was made very quickly to care and serve. The commitment, teamwork, and personal courage demonstrated speak volumes about the people in our organization. Over decades and through our collaboration with the CDC, we have built one of the best infectious disease programs in the world.

We are also proud of the recognition that William Timmie Professor of Neurology Mahlon DeLong has received, including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and the recent Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, for mapping and reprogramming the neural circuitry of Parkinson's disease. This work has led to novel treatments for Parkinson's, dystonia, and other disorders.

The contributions and growing influence of Emory researchers was clear in 2014. The Thomson Reuters "exceptional impact" recognition of the most highly cited researchers over the past decade included our own Peter Wilson, Leslee Shaw, Bali Pulendran, Rafi Ahmed, and Eric Hunter. The American Society of Clinical Investigation inducted Daniel Brat, Craig Coopersmith, and Young-sup Yoon. We've had two new members elected to the Institute of Medicine—I was honored to share that distinction with Rafi Ahmed, who directs our vaccine center with extraordinary energy, curiosity, and creativity. And there's our ever-growing Millipub Club and 1% Club memberships, which recognize our investigators whose papers have been cited more than 1,000 times, and those whose NIH proposals received a perfect score.

Even in the current challenging funding environment, NIH awards to our faculty increased to $224 million from $212 million last year. It looks as if we will have 17 departments in the top 25 for NIH funding, and 5 in the top 10. These programs represent an extraordinary concentration of talent and indicate that we've created an environment that supports our investigators. To support our faculty we have significantly expanded our bridge-funding program, increasing the investment in our faculty from $50,000 in 2013 to a projected $875,000 for next year. We must remember that funding is not the primary goal—it's the fuel that drives us to our goal to improve health through research.

Last year, we started our work of integrated planning and budgeting under the Emory Medicine initiative. We face significant financial pressures, which mandate discipline and a focus on our highest priorities. Together we found opportunities to reduce costs, liberating funds to invest in our people and programs. This year, we will continue our focus and investment in high-impact programs in child health, brain health and neuroscience, cancer, heart, organ failure and transplantation, and musculoskeletal. We will also develop our foundational platforms to support exceptional patient care, research, and education.

We have one of the richest medical education environments in the US, without question. We have 560 medical students (7,400-plus applicants); 522 health profession students (in the PA, PT, AA, genetic counseling, and medical imaging programs); 1,200 residents; and 98 different programs, many of which are the only ones in Georgia. We have trained more than 25% of the doctors in our state.

To prepare our learners to care and lead in a changing health care and academic landscape, more than 100 faculty, staff, and students have developed a strategic plan for education that integrates all of our learners, including our faculty. The plan emphasizes collaboration with our health systems, quality and safety, culture and professionalism, academic development, and inter-professional team-based care. We have also curbed tuition growth to reduce the financial burden on our students and residents.

Emory plays a vital role in caring for the residents of Atlanta, our region, and beyond through our service at Emory Healthcare, Grady, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Atlanta Veteran's Affairs Medical Center, and in collaborations around the world. This is an enormous responsibility. To meet the growing need, we added 330 new faculty last year and saw growth in our clinical programs.

Grady has never been a better partner. We are building our faculty development office and programs there, as well as establishing an education office at Grady. It's been a challenging year for the VA system nationally. Emory remains committed to serving our veterans, and we are encouraged by the energy and positive action that we experienced in meeting with the new VA Secretary, Robert McDonald, during his recent visit to our VAMC. At Emory Healthcare, we're proud of our nursing staff for achieving Magnet status and the top rankings of our hospitals and programs in UHC and US News & World Report.

In the midst of these external honors, we have taken care to recognize our people internally as well. At our first annual Celebration of Faculty Excellence in October, 108 faculty were recognized for their service, educational excellence, and national leadership. We celebrated the academic promotions  of 70 faculty (see awards page). It was a warm, collegial event. We have several new endowed appointments and 15 new philanthropy-supported positions. And we continue to value and expand our faculty and staff leadership development programs.

I'm very excited to work with the Emory Healthcare Physician Group leadership team in my new role as Physician Group President. This effort is part of our action plan to improve and support our clinical quality, financial strength, and patient and provider experiences, and to build a vibrant clinical education environment. We want to help our clinical teams provide the best possible care for our patients and offer the advances that come from the integration of our School of Medicine research programs and Emory Healthcare.

The year 2014 has been a special one for Emory, a year with shining examples of what an academic health system and its people can do. In the year ahead, we will continue to invest in our future, contribute at our highest levels, and strive to realize our full potential. I am so privileged to serve as your leader.

Best regards,

The first annual Celebration of Faculty Excellence ceremony was held Oct. 22 and recognized senior promotions; institutional awards; clinical service awards; local, regional, and national awards; and special recognitions.

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