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May 2011 Issue
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Santa Jeremy Ono, PhD
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Ono Discusses Role of Academic Health Center

By Richard Puff
Published May 2011

The Academic Health Center is an integral component of the University of Cincinnati. It also plays a significant role in providing health care to the region and educating nurses, pharmacists, allied health professionals and physicians. Collectively, it contributes more than three-quarters of the university’s overall research funding. Findings recently posed several questions to Santa Jeremy Ono, PhD, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, regarding the Academic Health Center. 

Can you define the Academic Health Center? What is it, and who is a part of it?
"The Academic Health Center at the University of Cincinnati encompasses the colleges of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and allied health sciences, Hoxworth Blood Center, the UC Cancer Institute, UC Cardiovascular Institute, UC Diabetes and Endocrinology Institute, UC Neuroscience Institute and the programs at the UC Reading Campus.

"It also has strong ties to UC Health, which includes University Hospital, West Chester Hospital, UC Health Surgical Hospital and the Drake Center. University of Cincinnati Physicians is a multispecialty practice group for physicians within the UC College of Medicine.

"Our partners also include Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Shriners Hospital."

What is your vision for the Academic Health Center?
"The UC Academic Health Center must continue to serve as the nexus for health professions education and biomedical sciences at the university. Students within any of the UC colleges should ultimately benefit from programs offered at the Academic Health Center.

"I envision an Academic Health Center of the future where there is increased intercollegiate and interdisciplinary activity and strong affiliations with numerous hospitals within the region. As a primary site for clinical care in Cincinnati, the center should also lead the way in patient care in the region, innovating care delivery by making use of cutting edge technologies and functionalities.

"The Academic Health Center of the future must retain a strong basic science portfolio to ensure that innovations stem from our faculty. We need to ensure that we streamline translational research, facilitating the transition of laboratory discoveries to the bedside. This will require a self-critical analysis of the continuum from basic science to experimental models and then to humans.

"Investments need to be made to ensure that there are no critical gaps that might impede the translational paradigm. It will also be important to evaluate our strengths in genomics, computational biology and chemistry, structural biology and our high-throughput screening capabilities to ensure that we have the research infrastructure to compete with other leading academic health centers. This will be critical for drug discovery, predictive medicine and personalized medicine."

What are some of the important challenges facing the Academic Health Center?
"The leaders of Academic Health Center components have not met regularly since Dr. Jane Henney stepped down as Senior Vice President and Provost for Health Affairs in 2008. She and Dr. Donald C. Harrison had convened regular meetings while serving as Provost for Health Affairs. This lack of regular communication and planning in the interim has been a key challenge to the Academic Health Center.

"I have recently reconvened the Provost Academic Health Center Senior Leadership Group and am pleased with our communications. There are also challenges with respect to cost pressures from public and private payers, increasing care of the uninsured in our primary patient group and balancing our teaching and research missions with the delivery of patient care. There are also specific challenges such as the portfolio of scientific and clinical disciplines represented here as well as infrastructure for both research and clinical care."

What are the key strengths of the UC Academic Health Center?
"The breadth of scientific and clinical disciplines represented at the site and the quality of faculty and students that call the Academic Health Center home. There are not many centers that have such strong colleges of nursing, pharmacy and allied health co-located with a college of medicine that has physicians working in such a broad array of medical and surgical specialties."

Can you explain the organization of the Academic Health Center?
"The colleges and academic units of the health center all report to me as the University Provost. Beyond that, the membership is organized as a consortium of leaders of hospitals, health systems and institutes in the region that come together to discuss areas of synergy and collaboration."

Will there be a specific strategic plan for the Academic Health Center?
"We will need to discuss this within the Provost Academic Health Center Senior Leadership Group. Ultimately, it is my view that we should develop an overarching plan as has been the case for most peer academic health centers."

How important is the Academic Health Center to the University of Cincinnati?
"It is critically important to the University of Cincinnati. We are immensely proud of our faculty and students based at the here, and a strong academic health center is essential to the scholarship of our faculty and the learning environment of our students. The UC Academic Health Center is world renowned for many innovations, and I am determined to ensure that this continues into the 21st century."

How would you describe the value of the Academic Health Center to the Cincinnati community?
"It is the nerve center for biomedical science and clinical medicine in the region. It is one of the largest employers in the region and has a multi-billion dollar economic impact. It would be hard to overstate the value of the UC Academic Health Center to Cincinnati, Ohio and the Tristate area.

"It also hosts several world-class clinical and basic science programs that have a global impact. The quality of health care in this region would be dramatically reduced without the health center colleges, as a significant portion of health care professionals are educated and trained here and many important medical advancements have been discovered by our faculty.

"Our community must understand the vital role we play in the quality of the region’s health care system."

With two new deans coming on board soon, what changes do you expect at the Academic Health Center?
"I am working closely with the president to look carefully for the best talent we can find for our colleges of medicine and nursing. There has been exceptional interest in these openings, and I fully expect that the new leaders will work diligently to strengthen each college and to build bridges with the other components of the Academic Health Center." 

What makes the UC Academic Health Center unique from other health centers around the country?
"
I have been impressed by two aspects: A commitment to the mentoring of junior faculty and physicians and its connectivity with the Cincinnati community.

"The passion and commitment of Cincinnatians to UC and the health center is remarkable. Community leaders have reached out to me and volunteered their precious time and resources to help us build this unique and invaluable resource to the community."

What are your plans to foster enhanced collaboration between the four colleges of the Academic Health Center?
"I will work closely with the deans to develop a plan to stimulate interdisciplinary research and teaching between the four colleges and indeed with other colleges at UC. President Williams and I strongly concur that collaborative work between the four colleges is incredibly important and an absolute requirement for growth. This plan needs to be 'hatched' together as a team and with input from the academic community. This planning will start as soon."

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