Dell Medical School Update

Note: The following is a recent interview with Robert Messing, M.D., Vice Provost for Biomedical Sciences

Robert Messing in laboratory with researchers

Robert Messing, M.D., Vice Provost for Biomedical Sciences

Q: What is your first impression of The University of Texas at Austin?

The culture here is very congenial and the administration is very, very helpful. The culture at UT Austin has reinforced my desire to work very hard on the medical school project. I enjoy the university a lot. UT Austin is a gem.

Q: What is the first order of business for the Dell Medical School?

The first order of business is to build partnerships, especially in the research area. Because UT Austin is so big and so diverse, there are researchers on campus who don’t know there are other people on campus doing related research projects.

We have begun a top-down and a grassroots approach to inventory and understand how all of the disparate pieces of medical-related research relate to one another. This includes a wide spectrum from health-care policy and delivery to basic sciences and engineering.

As we search for an inaugural dean, this information will give us the platform to discuss the candidate’s vision for research. Candidates will be informed about the kinds of research we already do at UT Austin — including research in the School of Nursing — and will be able to envision how that research can be integrated with new medical research programs to be developed at the medical school. The ultimate goal is to have this medical school be a part of the university, not have it become an isolated health science campus on the university.

Q: What impact will the Dell Medical School have for nursing students?

The first change is that the nursing school will be right next to the new medical school and hospital. It will be in the north part of the medical district, next to the new teaching hospital and across Waller creek from the research building. That should provide many easily walkable research opportunities.

From the very beginning of the planning process, we have embraced the concept of interprofessional education.  One of our curriculum subcommittees, chaired by Gayle Timmerman, associate dean for Academic Affairs for the School of Nursing, is currently planning interprofessional courses and experiences for the preclinical and clinical training years so that nursing, medical and pharmacy graduates will be able to best utilize each other’s expertise as a team for patient care.

Nursing students and faculty can be a very important part of our effort to bring the power of UT Austin’s very strong engineering and computer schools more closely into the world of medicine. One idea we are developing is to link clinicians – doctors, nurses and pharmacists – with the engineers who can develop solutions to health care problems.

Clinicians could present clinical problems that need to be solved and the engineers could work on solutions. Doctors and nurses don’t generally have engineering backgrounds and most engineers don’t have clinical backgrounds, but if you can create a framework in which they can talk to one another, they can join forces to yield potential solutions. It has the potential to be a very powerful and fulfilling way to do translational research.

Q: How is the School of Nursing engaged in this effort?

This is a campus-wide — even a community-wide — effort. Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the School of Nursing, is a member of a large and diverse steering committee and provides important direction to make sure we move forward together. But I would also say that the School of Nursing, in every aspect, is crucial to the larger effort.

While the Dell Medical School in a real sense completes The University of Texas at Austin and adds a tremendous facet to our research program, it also has a critical purpose in improving health care in Travis County and Central Texas.  We have a medical school now because we have funding not only from the UT System, but also local funding for indigent care approved by Travis County voters in November 2012. They did so with the understanding that the Dell Medical School would improve health care and health care delivery for the region.

We simply cannot meet the expectations of the people in this community without all of our research and clinical efforts, and I would say we especially need the efforts of the nurses who provide and coordinate care  at the bedside.

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