The Leading Role of Academic Health Centers


Our DNAExtinct? Academic Health Centers may become “extinct” we heard repeatedly in 2013. Both the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association featured those fears in October issues.

Throughout this blog, I challenge that idea. Extinction, if it comes, is a decision, not fate. The future of healthcare in America can be optimistic. The future of academic health centers should be to lead. No institution is better positioned than we are, collectively. But we can’t wait. The leaders of 2025 will look back and ask us what we did in 2014 to get started. Academic medicine, as well as nursing, public health, pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy – all must be prepared to embrace the future and move fast.

So let’s look at the first step: 2014. What do we need to do this year to ensure we lead the future, at academic health centers across the nation, and of course at my own institution, Thomas Jefferson University and TJUH. These are some of the questions we need to answer (and solve) in 2014.

  1. Let’s appreciate what we have.  Academic health centers have the DNA to lead. Our history of discovery, our academic missions, our community role – no one lays claim to that power. What we do with that great “DNA” is up to us.
  2. Winners move fast.  Think of any great company that has broken out of the pack in the last twenty years – Apple, Google, Tesla, Twitter. They were creative, passionate about what they were doing and flexible enough to take some risks. We need to live and breathe that philosophy.
  3. Us and Them need to be left in 2013. The artificial lines between university and hospital, between colleges in universities, between departments in our physician group, between employed and non-employed Jefferson physicians are so…last year.  For us at Jefferson, it means being One Jefferson. For all our fields, the divisions of the past must be broken down.
  4. Transformation is not rocket science, but it is difficult.  The facts out there are not pleasant. Those that survive and lead will be more efficient, effective and provide better care for less. Like a rocket though, leaving the atmosphere is never fun.  You’ve seen the movies….astronauts pinned down, enduring the G forces until they get out of the earth’s gravity.  Then, it’s smooth sailing. Similarly, for academic health centers to be the “winners,” we will need to reevaluate everything we do.
  5. Just because it made sense ten years ago….doesn’t mean that we have to do things the same way.  This applies to all of our missions as well as how we’re organized. Most importantly, we should concentrate on what will differentiate us and how we can be truly innovative and transformative.

So, here’s to 2014. I promise you that for my institution, as well as all academic health centers, it won’t be easy. But it will be exciting.