With the recent departure of Barbara Atkinson, MD, as executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center, the entire academic, clinical and research enterprise finds itself at a critical juncture. While educating physicians certainly remains as arguably the core responsibility of KUMC, the institution has evolved into an enormously complex endeavor encompassing three medical school campuses, several schools of allied health, numerous graduate medical education programs, hundreds of faculty, an increasing institutional emphasis on research, and an intensive drive to become an NCI-designated cancer center. And, although technically an independent entity, the KU Hospital is very much a part of and essential to helping KUMC meet its mission.
The challenges facing the institutions that comprise KUMC are many. First and foremost, financial sustainability at a time of general economic downturn is tough enough, but it is only made worse by the possibility of declining federal and state support for the academic and GME programs. Striving for excellence through recruitment and retention of top faculty, attracting the best students, and providing adequate learning and clinical facilities in an enterprise with a rapidly evolving and expanding footprint is very difficult in the best financial times, let alone in today's environment. Also, because it is our state's only medical school, KU has a complicated mix of constituencies to serve and survive with – the Board of Regents; the legislature, which provides millions in support; a state that has demonstrable needs for physicians and allied health providers; out-state physicians who are a major source of referrals and practice sites for graduates; and for the main campus, an intensely competitive greater Kansas City health care service area.
The search committee that is interviewing candidates for the EVC and Executive Dean positions has a tough job in front of it. The individual heading KU will need to be an able administrator, an effective communicator, a leader with credibility among faculty and staff, a person with vision, tenacity and patience. Whether the new EVC will also be asked to retain the title and responsibilities of Executive Dean of the medical school, as has been the case recently, remains to be seen. Either way, both of these appointments are crucial for KU, and will in no small part set the tone for how the institution meets the challenges, and opportunities, it is sure to face in the coming years.