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Seeking the ‘new normal’: a look back at 2022

See what shaped the University of Kansas Medical Center this year.

Blue background with the number 2022. A stethoscope forms the zero.
The “new normal” found traction in 2022 at KU Medical Center, with federal research funding increasing by double digits and face-to-face events returning to all campuses.

If 2020 was all about the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2021 was still about the COVID-19 pandemic, what was the overarching feeling for 2022 at the University of Kansas Medical Center?

Robert D. Simari, M.D., executive vice chancellor, may have hit upon just the right phrasing. “This fall, we returned to what will likely be our new normal,” he wrote in an end-of-the-year email. “While each of us may have a different work modality, the focus on our mission — to improve the health of Kansans and educate the next generation of health care professionals — is the same.”

So, how was this “new normal” reflected in KU Medical Center’s news of 2022? Let’s take a look.

Dr. Russell Swerdlow stands in a lab

Russell Swerdlow, M.D., director of the KU
Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, was
recognized as one of the 10 international Oskar
Fischer Prize winners.

Since fiscal year 2017, the amount of federal money spent on research at KU Medical Center has increased by nearly 70%, according to Peter Smith, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research and graduate education in KU School of Medicine.

“We’ve seen increases in both clinical and basic research activities and funding, and we have had several major centers and training programs recently receive new or continued funding,” Smith said.


In fact, KU Medical Center has reported consistent, double-digit growth in research dollars for the last seven years, according to Smith, and despite setbacks brought about by the COVID-19 shutdown of many research facilities, has managed to keep a strong foothold in the competitive world of research funding.

“Despite pandemic-driven challenges, our research community has remained committed and innovative,” he said. “It has managed to continue and even to augment its successes in revealing and treating the underlying causes of disease to the benefit of Kansas and the nation.”


Also in 2022, Russell Swerdlow, M.D., director of the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, received international recognition for his research into mitochondria and Alzheimer’s disease. He was one of only 10 Oskar Fischer prize winners in the world.

Akinlolu Ojo, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, executive dean of the University of Kansas School of Medicine, was elected to the National Academy of Medicine.  The prestigious NAM has approximately 2,200 members worldwide, and current members elect new members who have made major contributions to medicine.

And, after spending decades researching the role of fatty acids in infant and pregnant women, including a recent discovery of the power of DHA to lessen the likelihood of a preterm delivery, Susan Carlson, Ph.D., the A. J. Rice Professor of Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition, won the 2022 Chancellors Club Career Research Award.

KU Cancer Center earns NCI Comprehensive designation

Restrictions put in place to keep COVID-19 at bay eased a bit in 2022, allowing for groups to again come together in person. Supporters of The University of Kansas Cancer Center had a huge reason to celebrate on July 7, 2022, when it announced its new status as an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dr. Roy Jensen stands at a podium in Sporting Stadium with a sign behind him reading KUCC

Roy Jensen, M.D., director of the KU Cancer Center,
celebrated the center’s new Comprehensive status
bestowed by the National Cancer Institute.

This designation by the National Cancer Institute is the gold standard for cancer centers and gives researchers increased access to federal funding. “Comprehensive designation is a crucial milestone in our journey to conquer all cancers,” said Roy Jensen, M.D., director of the KU Cancer Center.

To commemorate the momentous achievement, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly proclaimed September 2022 to be “Comprehensive Cancer Centers Awareness Month” and signed the proclamation during a ceremony at KU Medical Center’s Kansas City campus.

“The NCI Comprehensive designation means that we are in the same league as the best cancer centers in the country. And we could not have achieved that milestone without the unwavering bipartisan support of the Kansas legislature and governor,” Jensen said.


Students on all three KU Medical Center campuses – Salina, Wichita and Kansas City – could observe some important educational milestones in person in 2022. Pandemic worries drove many ceremonies to a virtual platform in 2020 and 2021, but Match Day, graduation recognition ceremonies and welcoming ceremonies like KU School of Medicine’s white coat ceremony were all IRL (in real life).

A group of students wearing white coats stand smiling

Members of KU School of Medicine's Class of
2026 gathered outside Soldiers and Sailors
Memorial Hall where the traditional White Coat
Ceremony was held in person.

Programs within KU’s schools of Health Professions, Medicine and Nursing earned top-25 rankings from U.S. News and World Report’s yearly rankings of colleges and universities. For the second year in a row, KU School of Medicine ranked in the top 10 medical schools in the country for primary care.

Also ranking in the top 10 for public schools were KU School of Health Professions’ graduate programs in speech-language pathology, physical therapy, occupational therapy and audiology. Its nurse-anesthesia program ranked 14th.

In undergraduate rankings, KU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing was named 22nd among all public colleges and 29th among all schools. It also ranked 11th for best graduate programs for nursing-midwifery among public institutions. “This reflects the hard work of our entire faculty, staff and students. Now more than ever, it’s important to focus on our mission of producing nurses to enter the demanding health care field,” said Sally Maliski, Ph.D., FAAN, dean of KU School of Nursing.

Another highlight of 2022 was the creation of KU School of Nursing’s digital campus. As part of Meta’s Immersive Learning Project, the “Metaversity” will allow students to interact with an innovative virtual-reality replica of campus. But they also can travel, virtually, inside a human heart.

“Instead of spending three hours listening to a lecture on the respiratory system, you could listen to a shorter lecture and then spend 30 minutes of VR inside the body,” said Kesa Herlihy, Ph.D., clinical associate professor and director of the Simulation Education Program at KU School of Nursing. “It’s a totally different method of instruction. We have the potential to revolutionize nursing education.”

Outside agencies also noted KU Medical Center’s dedication to excellence, such as the prestigious Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education awarding accreditation to KU’s master of health informatics program. The program became only the 23rd accredited program in the United States and Puerto Rico. Additionally, the National League for Nursing re-designated KU School of Nursing as a Center of Excellence, one of just 16 U.S. programs.

Male student smiles at camera while carrying a table during a service day event.

Christopher Libert (middle, pictured with fellow
KU School of Nursing students Zakirra Hike,
Anaiya Singletary, Diana Riegg and Erin Fitzpatrick,
left to right) volunteered for Hillcrest Transitional
Housing during Community Service Day.

To help reduce or eliminate health disparities in rural Kansas, KU School of Medicine in 2022 created the Kansas Center for Rural Health. The center is located on KU Medical Center’s Salina campus, and Robert Moser, M.D., dean of KU School of Medicine-Salina and professor of population health, serves as executive director.

“The center will work with rural physicians, providers and health systems to improve access and support quality health care for rural Kansans,” Moser said.

Children were a focus of outreach efforts in 2022, from getting bikes for kindergartners to teaching science to middle schoolers to obtaining a $9 million grant to improve children’s behavioral health in southeast Kansas.

Other outreach efforts gathered steam, too. The KU Cancer Center called for an increase in lung cancer screenings, and a $1.2 grant from the National Cancer Institute allowed KU Medical Center researchers to increase targeted cancer treatments to rural cancer patients. “My goal is to make sure that the care that's delivered in rural communities is as good as the care that's delivered in larger communities,” said Shellie Ellis, Ph.D., associate professor of population health and grant awardee.

Students participated in Community Service Day for the first time since 2019, and researchers helped us learn what to eat and what to drink for better health.

Did we miss your favorite news story in the 2022 wrap-up?

To explore more stories from 2022, visit the KU Medical Center Newsroom.

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