A conversation with Dr. Girod

December 26, 2012

By C.J. Janovy

Douglas A. Girod, M.D., becomes the new Executive Vice Chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center on Feb. 1, 2013 (read the news release here). He spoke with the KUMC Public Affairs office about his initial plans.

In your town hall presentation to the campus community on November 20, you spoke of many priorities. What are the top three, most immediate priorities?

First, without a doubt, would be preparing for the Liaison Committee on Medical Education accreditation visit for the School of Medicine in October.

Second, getting through the upcoming legislative sessions with some success around the KU Health Education Initiative. We are doing everything we can to ensure the medical center receives from the governor's office a commitment to match $40 million in private and other funds with $30 million from the state, beginning with $1 million of planning funds in this fiscal year, to help build a new health education center in Kansas City. We are also asking for $2.8 million a year to support operations of the School of Medicine–Wichita.

Third, is the ongoing financial reorganization in Kansas City and in Wichita, which is pretty significant and pressing. In Kansas City we are working to ensure we are aligning our funds with our core missions of education and research. This will be critical for our LCME accreditation review in October.

We have significantly increased the number of medical students in Wichita, and our long range plan would be to have all students down there all four years as opposed to first-year classes of 28, joined by another 30 or 40 going down from Kansas City for their third and fourth years. We need to build it up enough that it can sustain its full class for all four years. That's a big change that's going to require a lot of effort. With the changes in health care, we need to have a closer alliance with the hospitals in Wichita. We have relied heavily on a dedicated volunteer faculty for education during the clinical years. As the dynamics of health care are shifting, we really need to rethink our model and align more closely with the health systems in Wichita, which are likely to become the employers of more physicians. For example, the Wichita Clinic Medical Group was purchased by Via Christi Health, so we need to work with the hospital and the Wichita Clinic. The hospitals in Wichita are very excited and willing to work with us, so it's not a problem — just a process.

What about Salina?

With the use of technology and tremendous community support, it's going extremely well. It's a new education model — a dispersed education model — which is pretty common in many forms of education but uncommon in medical education. It will be a few years before we've gone through a full four-year cycle and see if we are successful in keeping graduates in the rural environment, but as it continues on its trajectory, I think it raises the question of whether there are other communities across the state where we should think about doing the same thing.

What do you see as our biggest challenge?

To sustain our growth around research and education opportunities, given the changing budget climate statewide and nationally. It will be very challenging to continue on the trajectory that we've been on. That's true not just for us but for everyone in the country.

What are you most excited about?

With the impending changes in health care, we have the opportunity to redesign our own campus to improve the delivery of health care across the continuum. We are currently in discussions with The University of Kansas Hospital about a clinical reorganization to improve efficiency and allow us to work more effectively to provide patient care in all settings. We have also just started talks with Children's Mercy Hospital about ways to cooperate to improve the health care of children in the region and strengthen pediatric education and research opportunities.

What will change in your first three months?

We've got a number of key positions to fill, but the highest priority is the search for an executive dean for the School of Medicine. That's going to be a national search. I think it's do-able in six months — hopefully it won't take us a year to get through the process.

How can we continue to rise in the rankings and increase our national stature?

There are things we can do internally, communications being a big piece of that — doing a better job of telling our story nationally does help. As budgets get tight federally, we're going to have to be very strategic in how we invest on the research side — we have to invest in successful areas and hold our own on the rest. Even staying where we are will be a success — if we stay where we are today, we will climb in the rankings because others will fall as the funding gets tighter.

On clinical side, I think our national rankings will continue to grow as long as we concentrate on quality and patient safety as we have over the last several years.

KU describes its mission as "Educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world." How does the medical center contribute to meeting those missions?

The Chancellor has a very strong vision about where the university should go in terms of raising its standards, raising its rankings on both campuses and raising the level of expected performance of all its units, and she has done a nice job of organizing strategy around that and starting to deliver on that strategy. She has taken a similar approach with the medical center, and we have some of the biggest opportunities in Kansas City to see benefits from a lot of these changes sooner than they might in Lawrence.

There's no question that we're making tremendous advances on the discovery side in almost all areas — not just in cancer and neurosciences, but in developing cutting-edge approaches to patient care and the highest quality outcomes, and then developing that to help others to do the same.

Our clinical programs are ranked some of the best in the country, and that's based on outcomes. Helping others across the state to accomplish that is a huge contribution.

Our Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Health Professions are the primary source of health care providers for the state and are only getting better and stronger. We know that there's a physician shortage nationally, and in Kansas we're already below average in the number of physicians per 100,000 people. We're already behind the curve, and there's also a distribution problem, so the shortage in rural portions of the state is even more critical. Also, we know that we have an aging workforce, which is also a national problem but more so in Kansas. A significant number of physicians will retire, magnifying the shortage even more, while the aging population will require more providers to care for it. It's a perfect storm for the workforce challenges. So we really need to focus on not only increasing the number of health providers — physicians, nurses and all types of health professionals — and work to strengthen our ability to keep people in the state once we've educated them. It doesn't help to educate more providers if they're just going to be leaving the state. We need to do everything in our power to keep our graduates in Kansas.

Besides the Kansas Medical Student Loan program, what types of things are in our power when it comes to keeping graduates in Kansas?

The Kansas Medical Student Loan program is a great example of the type of thing we can do to keep our graduates in the state. But we can also think outside the box. The Kansas Medical Student Loan program is funded strictly through the state. There are other ways to do the same thing. We can talk to communities about what they're willing to fund in order to keep people in their communities. I'm fairly certain we would have some success — it's not hard to do. And it wouldn't have to be just for primary care providers, either. If Garden City needs cardiology and is willing to help fund not only med school stipends but help fund residency slots, there are a lot of ways we could think about doing that. It could be a real win-win.

Anything else you'd like to say to the KU Medical Center campus at this point?

This campus has been my home for 18 years and it's been such a pleasure and an honor to work with everyone, to see how it's grown and come of age during that period of time. It's very, very exciting to think about what we can do in the next five to ten years, and I'm honored to be part of that.

Last modified: Feb 06, 2013