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David Callender: The TT Interview

The president of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston on how his institution has recovered from Hurricane Ike and the institution's role in the state's future higher-education landscape.

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At the end of last week, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston broke ground on the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, which is expected to open in 2016.

When the project is completed, UTMB will have more hospital beds than it did in 2008, when Hurricane Ike inflicted more than $700 million worth of damage to the campus. It was certainly not the first hurricane to hit UTMB, which was established in 1891, making it the state’s oldest medical center. But it was particularly devastating — the kind of event that, for those who live and work on the island, divides time into the pre- and post-storm eras.

Nearly four years after more than 1 million square feet of campus facilities were under floodwater, UTMB President David Callender told The Texas Tribune that the latest groundbreaking — which had been planned before the storm — is just one of many indicators of the recovered and renewed strength of the institution.

He also pointed out that UTMB, which includes a school of nursing, a school of medicine, a school of health professions and a graduate school of biological sciences, is more than just a hospital.

Hurricane Ike’s landfall in Galveston coincided closely with Callender’s first anniversary as UTMB president. Before taking the post in 2007, he served as associate vice chancellor and CEO for the UCLA Hospital System.

The move to UTMB was a homecoming of sorts for Callender, a native Texan. In the 1990s, he worked on the faculty of University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he also went on to a number of administrative posts. He holds degrees from Midwestern State University, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston.

Callender talked with the Tribune last week about UTMB’s post-Ike recovery, why future storms pose less of a threat and the initiatives the university is working on that could significantly affect the future of the state’s medical education.

TT: In 2008, Hurricane Ike dealt you a pretty big setback. Are you surprised by the extent to which you’ve bounced back?

Callender: I always felt like we would recover, but I never neglect to recognize the incredible effort, the people of UTMB and the people in Galveston and the surrounding communities, in terms of mounting a recovery effort, making sure that we made a strong case for restoring UTMB and our communities and thinking about what they bring for the region and for the state of Texas.

So I have been very pleased with the speed of the recovery, the extent of the recovery and the fact that, not only have we recovered, but we really have transformed UTMB to make sure it will remain effective and productive for the state of Texas well into the future.

TT: And what do you see as its role in that future?

Callender: We’re not just a health care provider.

We play a special role as a health care provider because of the level of service we provide, the level of expertise — with the burn center that we have, the level one trauma center, the other specialized clinical services. Those are services that offer a high level of expertise that serve as a point of referral for specialty care from other physicians and other institutions. That’s important to the system as a whole.

Probably the most important thing we do is to think about the future of health care for Texas and address the needs of the future. We do that in two ways.

No. 1, we produce 800 new health professionals for the state every year. We have the four schools: School of Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Health Professions and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

The state currently is underserved relative to the numbers of physicians and nurses and health professionals that we have. You combine that with being the fastest-growing state in the nation, we have potentially a huge problem in the future that translates into difficulty in accessing physicians and other health care providers. We want to turn out well-educated, young health care professionals for the state and increase our enrollments and increase the production of those health professionals.

The other thing we do is to do the research to determine what comes next in terms of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of acute and chronic illness. So a lot of effort here is focused on heart failure, on diabetes and metabolic disease, on things like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, where we bring together scientists and clinicians who are providing care at the bedside to think about what causes those diseases to occur, how do we work to diagnose them earlier, treat them more effectively and ultimately prevent them over the course of time. So a very special role within the health care system that helps, hopefully, to provide for better health in Texas over the course of time.

TT: As you walk around campus, you can see in the architecture how the institution has grown from the single original building to what it is today. How will it be different in five or 10 years?

Callender: We’ll break ground for a beautiful new hospital tower, the Jennie Sealy Hospital tower. That will help add bed capacity that not only restores the capacity of levels we had before hurricane Ike, but moves us beyond that, which is important in terms of serving the health care needs of the region.

But we’re working on a lot of other things, too. Coming back to education of health professionals. We’re expanding our enrollments.

We’ve set pretty aggressive goals over the next 10 years. Expanding the enrollments of the School of Nursing and School of Health Professions by 100 percent each. The enrollment of the medical school and the graduate school by 25 to 50 percent each. Again, thinking about Texas’ future need for health professionals and scientists.

We’re also working with colleagues in the University of Texas System to think about how we can be more efficient in production of health care professions. 

A specific innovation that’s coming online in the next couple years is related to what’s called the TIME initiative — Transformation in Medical Education. It’s designed to take the curricular approach that we’ve used to great success in our medical schools — focused on small group learning — and move that into undergraduate education also.

With that, we think we can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of undergraduate and graduate medical education, shorten the time to degree and provide for actually a better educational experience and better outcomes.

We’re very excited about that for the future.

TT: That’s doable? Getting the same quality of education in less time?

Callender: We think so. Again, we’ve been successful with a very significant challenge with the medical school curriculum. We’ve talked to our academic colleagues at the University of Texas System, and they’re very excited about these principles and how we all work together to do this.

So at this point, we think it’s very doable. The programs have been designed. They’ll be fully implemented in 2014. So we’re moving ahead. And the focus is on not just shortening time, but really on improving educational outcomes and having health professionals who are better prepared to provide great care and be lifelong learners, which is really important as we think about the future.

TT: Speaking of the future, what if there’s another storm?

Callender:  Well, one of the benefits of having experienced Hurricane Ike is for, really for the first time in our history, we have the opportunity now to storm-proof the campus for the future. And so based on what we’re currently doing and what we plan to do over the remaining three to four years that are ahead, essentially put ourselves in the position so that we should never again suffer the sort of damage and functional impairment that we suffered with Ike.

That secures our ability to be up and operational, even after a category 5 storm within a matter of days. That’s important to the region and important to the state.

So it’s nice to have that opportunity. I’m sorry we had to suffer Hurricane Ike to gain that opportunity. But we did, and we’re moving forward.

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