When Dr. Jon Hallberg was a student in the University of Minnesota Medical School from 1988 to 1992, he remained largely isolated from other students in health science fields.
“I don’t recall a single time when I met any other students from any other school,” he said.
Since then, one of the biggest changes the Academic Health Center has seen is an emphasis on interdisciplinary research and inter-professional education.
Four years after Hallberg graduated, the AHC changed hands to the leadership of Dr. Frank Cerra , senior vice president for health sciences, who has made collaborative education a priority.
Hallberg said the educational piece has come over time, as managed care of patients has increasingly involved teams of personnel from multiple disciplines, such as nursing, medicine and pharmacy.
Surgeon as administrator
When Cerra took over leadership of the AHC in 1996, he says the environment was, “on a good day … hostile.”
The faculty was in the midst of a tenure war with the administration, the AHC could no longer afford to finance a hospital on its own, and there had been a revolving door of deans and senior vice presidents.
Before ascending to the helm of one of only four Academic Health Centers in the country, Cerra served as head of surgical critical care, then dean of the Medical School.
“My life has mostly been spent in the intensive care unit,” Cerra said. “The reason I think I took this job is I thought the AHC and the University were on life support and really needed an intensivist to figure out what to do.”
Cerra said many aspects of his early training and education continue to guide him in his administrative duties over the AHC.
“There are many things about an education in surgery that are very applicable in administration,” he said.
One mindset, Cerra said, he learned from surgery that he has extrapolated to his current position is, “what happens is not about you.”
‘No provider is an island’
The team dynamic of surgery has been instrumental in guiding Cerra as he pushed for more collaborative work to be done between the six colleges that make up the AHC.
“As I looked downstream, it was clear to me we needed to move into an era of inter-professionality,” Cerra said.
One of the AHC’s key strengths, he said, was the fact that it was home to all of the major health-provider schools.
Hallberg, now a faculty member, said the focus on inter-professional education when he was a student wasn’t as strong as it is now.
The shift in focus is part of a trend in all aspects of health care and health education, he said.
“I think it’s the realization that no provider is an island unto him or herself,” Hallberg said. “You cannot practice health care in isolation, and if you do, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Hallberg’s sentiment is echoed by Dr. Todd Sorensen , associate professor in the College of Pharmacy.
Sorensen, who graduated from the college in 1994, said the extent of his interdisciplinary education was taking a physiology course with some dental students, but “it was more like they sat on one side of the room, and we sat on the other.”
Another change Sorensen said he has noticed is the expansion of interdisciplinary research, citing the Masonic Cancer Center as an example.
“We didn’t see things like that back in the early 90s,” he said.
Sorensen said he believes the quality of education he’s giving to students every day is higher than the one he received more than a decade ago.
Today, the AHC faces continuing financial challenges.
In the Medical School, for example (although Cerra notes it is true across the board), 40 percent of the budget is generated by the physicians in University clinics.
“That means we are closely linked to the success of our clinical relationships in the marketplace in order to finance our mission,” he said.
Training sites are harder to come by these days, Cerra said, as the physicians are pushed to see more patients per hour in order to break even, leaving little time or financial support for residents and interns.
“Everybody wants the next generation of doctors and nurses and nobody wants to pay for their education,” he said.
– Emma L. Carew is a senior staff reporter