Bioscience Connecticut

Training the Doctors of Tomorrow

Q&A with Dr. Bruce Liang, dean of the UConn School of Medicine

Q

This time last year you launched the new MDelta curriculum. How has it gone?

Despite the enormous amount of work, change, and adjustment it takes to change a curriculum, it has gone smoothly and the feedback is validating all the reasons for this change. I believe we are now built to continue to deliver an excellent education to meet the explosive expansion in science and clinical knowledge, and the timing is perfect, as medical school enrollment continues to grow.


Q

Describe how the faculty has grown and how that strengthens the UConn School of Medicine.

Faculty recruitment and retention is a central part of my agenda to make sure the School of Medicine is, and remains, strong. I’m pleased that we have hired 280 faculty members in the last five years, growing from 421 to 542, with a net increase of 121 new faculty. That’s a tremendous amount of new energy, expertise, and possibilities to keep the school, and UConn Health, on the rise. That shows in our U. S. News and World Report rankings, where we rose to 56th in research and 34th in the primary care categories among 170 accredited medical schools in the country.


Q

In what ways is the Bioscience Connecticut investment paying off for the School?

Progress is everywhere as we work to deliver on the aspirations of the investment. We have begun to expand class sizes in the medical school and draw more talented graduate students pursuing advanced or terminal degrees, who will develop into the doctors and scientists serving Connecticut in the future.

Research expenditures, funded by grants, contracts, and gifts, have approached nearly $90 million annually, helping us attract and retain talent and increasing the biomedical science jobs available here. We are already seeing a bioscience hub take form right here in Farmington, where our Technology Incubation Program is 70 percent full, housing 24 start-up companies, of which 15 are linked to UConn Health and the faculty.


Q

A centerpiece of the bioscience project was bringing the Jackson Laboratory to Farmington as a collaborator. What has that relationship meant for UConn School of Medicine’s academic and research objectives?

The relationship has grown in the last three years to the mutual benefit of UConn Health and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX-GM). However, the collaboration is young and will grow in ways none of us today can imagine. JAX-GM already has exceeded the 10-year, 300-job benchmark, and together we have hired five new joint faculty members, with five more planned. In addition, nearly 20 JAX-GM faculty members have joint appointments at the School. Our existing faculty and new JAX-GM faculty have worked together to secure grant funding. This opens a door to academic and research collaboration in new and interesting ways.

This past summer, together we hosted the International Congress on Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues in Genomics on the UConn Health campus. Our faculty and those at JAX came together with the brightest minds and thought leaders from around the world to share, learn, and advance genomics. That kind of opportunity for our students and faculty, and exposure for Connecticut on the world stage, cannot be overstated for its long-term impact to the school and the University.

UConn Writes New Prescription for Medical Education

academic entrance, UConn Health Farmington CT
Inside UConn Health Farmington CT, rotunda

The exterior (Top) and interior (Bottom) of the new Academic Rotunda at UConn Health. Photo: Janine Gelineau


The class of 2020 is not only the largest in UConn School of Medicine history, it’s also the first to experience a newly launched, innovative curriculum to better prepare doctors for the rapidly changing health care landscape.

The new curriculum, known as MDelta — Making a Difference in Education, Learning, and Teaching Across the curriculum — is based on the principles of lifelong learning, patient-centered care, and collaborative teamwork.

A cutting-edge holistic assessment program provides time for students to evaluate their competencies as they reach milestones in their development.

“Medicine and the health care landscape is changing rapidly, with the explosion of clinical information and technology, the development of complex health care systems, a move from inpatient to outpatient care settings, and the rise of team science,” says Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of the UConn School of Medicine. “Our new curriculum is a platform to make our students the best possible future doctors and prepare them to be health care leaders,” he says.

Rather than traditional classroom lectures, the new curriculum relies heavily on team-based learning, in addition to anatomy dissection, virtual laboratory experiences (including the use of four Anatomage virtual anatomy tables), clinical practice, and simulation.

A novel course called VITALS — Vertically Integrated Teams Aligned in Learning and Scholarship — brings together teams of students from across all years of the medical school and professional schools, such as the UConn School of Dental Medicine, to learn together about health care policy, population health, ethics, and current events affecting local and global communities.

At the start of medical school, each student is assigned to a primary care physician in an outpatient practice at UConn Health or in the surrounding community across the state to follow the health of patients over three years. In addition, teams are assigned to a “Clinical Home” in one of UConn’s affiliate teaching hospitals to learn how to work in a health care system caring for a diverse population. These opportunities prepare students for more advanced clinical experiences — both inpatient and outpatient — later in medical school.

Thanks to the American Medical Association selecting UConn as a member of its Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, students will also be trained in the electronic medical record.

“Early clinical and health system exposure is an integral part of the new curriculum, along with inter-professional activities,” says Dr. Suzanne Rose, senior associate dean for education at UConn’s medical school. “A cutting-edge holistic assessment program provides time for students to evaluate their competencies as they reach milestones in their development.”

And because of investments from UConn Health and the state of Connecticut through the Bioscience Connecticut initiative, the 100 medical and 49 dental students are also the first to learn in a new 17,000-square-foot facility featuring a renovated academic entrance and a brand-new, high-tech rotunda.

A New Era

The New Uconn Health Patient Care Tower


During the early morning hours of May 13, 300 UConn Health doctors, nurses, staff, leaders, and volunteers mobilized to begin the carefully planned move of 70 inpatients, one by one, to UConn John Dempsey Hospital’s new patient care tower.

The new tower, which along with the original hospital building comprises the hospital, was designed with the latest, most advanced technology and patient safety, comfort, and privacy at the forefront. The aesthetic is made to be peaceful and healing, with soothing colors, earth-toned wood and tile, noise reduction features, and tons of natural light thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows throughout.

The tower is the biggest project of Bioscience Connecticut, the initiative launched by Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2011 to make Connecticut a leader in bioscience research and create new jobs. In addition to staff jobs at UConn Health, the project created more than 5,000 construction jobs.

“I am extremely impressed,” said patient Dr. Michael P. Kruger, who graduated from UConn School of Medicine’s orthopaedic residency program in the 1980s, after he was moved to the new facility. The private rooms are the biggest perk for any patient, Kruger said.

“Having a facility where you get the privacy — when doctors come in to talk to me, I don’t have to share the information with the guy next door — it makes a big difference, I think, in how you recover and what the outcome’s going to be,” he said.

We are great at what we do, but we are going to do it even better in the new tower.

Not to mention the state-of-the-art technology in the 11-floor, over 381,000-square-foot “hospital of the future.”

The Operating Suite is home to the da Vinci robot and the Mazor Robotics Renaissance Guidance System, the only one of its kind in New England for robotic-guided spine surgery. The suite includes 10 operating rooms, each with LED boom lighting, special rubber floors and air filtration systems for infection control, high-definition Black Diamond Video systems for enhanced surgical vision, live-broadcasting for medical education and physician training, and real-time communication with the Department of Pathology.

A 1,200-square-foot hybrid operating room will open this fall, equipped with advanced imaging capabilities for minimally invasive and complex procedures.

Four high-tech smart robots called TUGS will deliver pharmacy medications to nursing units across the hospital, along with high-speed, wall-based tube systems.

Other safety measures include a centralized monitoring system, allowing patients to be observed remotely 24 hours a day by technicians, in addition to traditional bedside monitoring by their nurses. And those nurses will be able to reach patients even faster if anything happens, thanks to Rauland Responder bedside call systems.

“The technology that we are now able to use for our patients is going to enhance the care that we deliver,” said Anne Sakitis, nurse manager of the orthopaedic surgery floor. “We are great at what we do, but we are going to do it even better in the new tower.”

The tower has six inpatient floors dedicated to intensive care, intermediate care, medicine, oncology, orthopaedic surgery, and general surgery, and 169 private patient rooms, including 28 private rooms in the intensive care unit. Each room honors one of Connecticut’s towns with a scenic nature photograph taken in that town by a local photographer, and features a view of the Farmington Valley, a high-tech bed and monitoring equipment, a private bathroom, and a couch that turns into a bed for visitors. The hospital now has 24/7 visiting hours.

The Emergency Department includes more than 40 patient rooms and five patient care zones, ranging from fast-track care for minor emergencies to advanced trauma care. It has onsite CT scan and X-ray, decontamination and resuscitation rooms, and an emergency dental chair.

The new tower is also home to a dedicated Dialysis Care Center, a Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, a Respiratory Therapy Department, and a physical/occupational therapy and rehabilitation gym. There are more than 80 ceiling lifts located throughout the hospital for safe patient handling.

“This tower represents a new era at UConn Health and for health care in our state. The opening of the new hospital tower is a very special generational milestone,” said UConn John Dempsey Hospital CEO Anne Diamond. “We did it! We dreamed it, we built it, and now we’ve opened it.”


Gallery: Inside the New Tower

A patient and staff are seen inside the Emergency Department waiting area. A children’s play area is inside opaque glass walls.

A UConn Health nurse shows a patient how to adjust her bed in a room on the sixth floor of the UConn Health new tower. It's open and spacious and large windows
Dr. David McFadden, surgeon-in-chief, gives direction in one of 10 new operating rooms. The room is equipped with a Black Diamond video camera, near top left, which allows surgeons to view a close-up video of procedures. Additional screens allow doctors to compare video to radiology scans to enhance precision.