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A Month of Many Milestones

Posted by on Thursday, August 18, 2016 in From the Dean, Summer 2016 .

Dean BalserIt was a remarkable July. Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center began the fiscal year with the Medical Center operating as a financially and legally independent nonprofit entity for the first time in history. Through an extensive, two-year effort, we were committed to positioning VUMC for success in a rapidly changing health care economy, while maintaining strong ties to our University in support of research and education.

As we look toward the future, we are as committed as ever to our role as an Academic Medical Center—with a capital A—leading health care, research, and education that is recognized, trusted and has influence at the national and global level. And in doing so, throughout Tennessee and portions of the surrounding five states (the “Mid-South”), we play a unique and special role. The truth is, in this region we are like no other hospital or health system. We provide world-class patient care across the broadest and deepest range of specialties, giving the best hope to adults and children with the most complex and challenging conditions and injuries. We are the most selective and largest health care training center in the Mid-South, allowing us to constantly provide the finest professionals for our own system, for a growing network of affiliates throughout our region, and for the country as we send trainees into positions of national leadership and influence. Our capacity for innovation and discovery research not only informs and impacts health care nationally, but allows us to provide the most cutting-edge treatments to Mid-South patients, and increasingly to people living throughout the entire Southeast.

In July we saw several remarkable successes that reflect the power and synergy of our full range of capabilities. On July 6, the White House and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that we were awarded our largest grant ever, $72 million from the NIH to be the Data and Research Support Center for the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program. This event, the culmination of more than a decade of investment and leadership in this still emerging field, positions us to lead a historic nationwide effort to truly personalize the care of every patient. The Initiative will enroll an unprecedented 1 million patients in a clinical trial, and can be seen as the next phase of the Human Genome Project, allowing us to far better understand how our DNA predicts what diseases we are likely to experience—and to what drugs and treatments we are most likely to respond.

Immediately following this historic announcement, two additional large multi-million-dollar grants were awarded to us through the NIH’s national Clinical and Translational Science Award program. One seven-year grant, shared with the Duke Clinical Research Institute, aims to improve the efficiency of multisite clinical trials, while another will support us in making innovations to increase recruitment of clinical trial participants. Together, these game-changing initiatives will allow us to give patients far better access to the most cutting-edge treatments available. And a fourth large award will provide $12 million over five years to researchers in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and collaborators at Boston University and the University of Southern California to identify a host of genetic factors that increase the risk for breast cancer among African-Americans, work that will lead to far better diagnostic and screening capabilities for people throughout our region and worldwide.

Also in July, the 89 members of the 141st class of the School of Medicine, selected from a pool of 7,174 applicants, joined us to receive their white coats and begin their journey. With a median GPA of 3.86 and median MCAT scores in the 98th percentile, this year’s class has the strongest credentials in the school’s history. Our programs in Graduate Medical Education (GME), now training over 1,000 residents and fellows, launched new first-year interns on exciting pathways to primary and specialty care. Our GME programs attract the most talented graduating medical students in the nation. Seen nationwide as “go to” programs for the most outstanding clinical training, we are among the select places in the country where physicians can have a much broader training experience, from basic research to public health training, positioning them for future leadership roles in health care.

As our training and research programs continue to flourish, we welcomed the recent addition of the five-hospital Erlanger Health System into our Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network, a strategic component of our health system’s statewide growth plan. This increases the network’s reach to include 56 hospitals, 12 health systems and more than 4,000 clinicians located across Tennessee and surrounding states. Erlanger is the nation’s seventh largest public hospital, and is a tremendous new partner in providing the finest care and support to patients in the Chattanooga, the southern Tennessee region, and north Georgia.

July was historic in so many ways. As we celebrate these achievements, I am reminded of the profound responsibility all of us at VUMC share—to serve an ever-growing number of people here at home and beyond, at the times they need us most.


Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.

President and CEO, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine