Chancellor Says 2017-2018 Very Successful Year for UTHSC

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In his annual State of the University Address Tuesday, Chancellor Steve J. Schwab said the progress of the past year positions the university for a strong future. (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center continued its record academic and clinical growth in 2017-2018 and has “turned the corner” in boosting its research enterprise, Chancellor Steve J. Schwab, MD, said Tuesday during his State of the University Address.

“It was a very successful transition year,” the chancellor told the faculty and staff gathered for his annual assessment of the university and its progress. “We believe we are in a great place.”

Dr. Schwab pointed to the recruitment of several high-profile leaders, including new deans for two colleges; as well as record revenue growth; increasingly strong relationships with partner hospitals and physician practice groups in Memphis and statewide; ongoing construction that is improving the Memphis campus; and growth in enrollment, degrees awarded, and first-time board pass rates. All of these, he said, are pushing the university toward its goal of moving into the top quartile of academic health institutions.

The chancellor said the university put in “a national-caliber performance” on the academic front, with 3,280 students, 987 degrees awarded, graduation rates at 95.5 percent, and first-time board pass rates at 96 percent. UTHSC’s 1,489 residents, fellows, and postdoctoral candidates make it the largest postdoctoral educator in the six-state region, he said.

Chancellor Schwab welcomed Scott Strome, MD, FACS, executive dean of the College of Medicine, and James Ragain, DDS, PhD, the new dean of the College of Dentistry. Dr. Strome, an internationally recognized cancer surgeon and investigator, is “the best among the best,” he said. Dr. Ragain’s outstanding military career and years of service in the College of Dentistry make him the perfect choice for his new role, the chancellor said.

The university was fortunate to recruit nationally recognized clinical investigator Paul Hauptman, MD, as the new dean for the College of Medicine in Knoxville, and has taken major steps to “get in the game in cardiovascular disease in Memphis” by recruiting John Jefferies, MD, MPH, and Zhongjie Sun, MD, PhD, to launch a new UT-Methodist Institute for Cardiovascular Science. Ken Ataga, MD, was brought in to lead the UT Center for Sickle Cell Disease, the university’s collaborative effort in sickle cell disease treatment and research. The chancellor also welcomed Penny Asbell, MD, FACS, MBA, FARVO, recruited to provide new “depth and breadth” as director of the Hamilton Eye Institute.

Chancellor Schwab recognized the Colleges of Nursing and Pharmacy for their excellent national rankings. The College of Pharmacy continued its long-standing rank in the top 20 nationally for its academic performance, and moved into the top 20 in annual research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The College of Nursing achieved the rank of Number 23 among colleges with Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, securing its place in the top 8 percent of colleges of nursing in the country.

“Any way you measure it, we are in top-quartile performance,” the chancellor said of the university’s academic standing.

On the clinical front, UTHSC also logged a national-caliber performance, the chancellor said.

“The clinical growth has been nothing less than spectacular,” he said. The university continues its strategy of aligning with hospital partners and growing together. Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital has moved up into the Top 20 nationally among pediatric hospitals, and several of UTHSC’s key hospital partners are highly ranked regionally. “With clinical growth, we believe we have a top-quartile performance,” he said. “It’s the engine that allows us to do much of what we do.”

The past year brought record gross revenues of $975 million, of which $424 million was clinical revenue, and $256 million came from sponsored programs (non-clinical grants and contracts), the largest for the UT System. State appropriations also were the best ever at $150 million, he said.

“This is the most revenue in the university’s history and puts us in a strong go-forward position,” he said.

Renovations to the Memphis campus over the past decade have yielded “best-in-class” facilities, he said. The Historic Quadrangle at the center of campus is currently under renovation and will bring the College of Nursing its first home, returning students to the center of campus for the first time since the 1960s. Renovations to the Nash Building and Nash Annex will yield state-of-the-art research space. The updated Mooney Building will provide a gathering place for the campus, and the new Delta Dental Building will rise on Union Avenue in the coming year.

The Center for Health Care Improvement and Patient Simulation was brought online in Memphis during the past year, radically changing education at UTHSC, he said.

The chancellor also said strategic efforts to transform the research enterprise of the university are generating progress. These include improvements to the research infrastructure, increased research incentives, bridge-funding for qualified investigators, better support for clinical trials, encouragement of entrepreneurship, and internal and external research collaborations. Total gross research awards for the year reached $90 million.

UTHSC is committed to becoming a top-rated research university, he said. “I think everything we have done is finally beginning to pay off.”

Going forward, the chancellor pledged to continue the successful academic, clinical and research trajectory. He cited specific goals to bring UTHSC’s Nashville presence with Saint Thomas Health into full regional campus status, to get the institutes for cardiovascular and sickle cell medicine up and running, to continue to grow a cancer center in Memphis, and to solidify the university’s statewide presence in collaboration with hospital partners.

He praised the work of faculty and staff, and encouraged future efforts to move the university ahead on all fronts.

“We believe the best is yet to come,” he said.

Watch the entire State of the University Address.