Saint Mary's Signs With MSU

November 3, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Another piece of the financial package necessary to bring the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids fell into place Wednesday with the finalization of an agreement between Saint Mary’s Health Care and MSU.

Saint Mary’s has agreed to provide cash and in-kind contributions totaling slightly more than $10 million to support joint research activities between Saint Mary’s and the MSU West Michigan Medical School. Funding begins this fiscal year and runs through 2014, said Saint Mary’s President and CEO Philip McCorkle Jr. Additionally, Saint Mary’s will provide medical staff to serve as faculty for the school.

Those are the chief components of the agreement, McCorkle said, but there are technicalities that need to be hashed out before the research gets underway, such as who the research will belong to and how both parties will be allowed to use it.

The agreement includes the joint recruitment of specialists and researchers.

“Given the clinical programs and the degree of sophistication of the clinical programs we have here at Saint Mary’s — especially in oncology, cancer care and the neurosciences — being able to conduct research and to attract faculty and specialists here to participate with us is very important. We think that with our core of patients, our facilities and our programs, we are going to be a great magnet for recruitment, and at the same time we’ll benefit by having that leadership and expertise available to us.”

Many specialists prefer to work in an environment that has a medical school, and when the MSU med school is established here, they’re likely to view Grand Rapids in a different light, McCorkle noted.

“When you offer the opportunity to do research, that’s very attractive to a lot of people,” he pointed out. “If you’re a clinician and research is being conducted, that means you may be afforded opportunities to treat your patients in different kinds of ways that might not be available in a non-research environment. We really think this will help us attract specialists.”

The Saint Mary’s-MSU agreement also includes meeting room and conference space for medical students on Saint Mary’s campus so they can gather to discuss clinical issues, patient care and new technologies. The space could also be used for on-site teaching purposes, McCorkle said.

Saint Mary’s has had a relationship with MSU’s College of Human Medicine for more than 40 years, McCorkle pointed out.

A lot of the members of Saint Mary’s medical staff enjoy the opportunity to teach and have medical students accompany them on their rounds in the hospital, he said. This is something that they have highly endorsed.

“As we grow in our community, and as our cancer and neuroscience programs grow, it will enable us to identify future specialists that are going to medical school here and recruit some of them.”

Of the 270 or so medical students attending Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center programs, roughly a third are training with Saint Mary’s at any given time, said Micki Benz, vice president of development at Saint Mary’s. The hospital will serve about the same number of residents when the new med school gets off the ground, she said.

Michigan State is in the process of interviewing candidates for its first class of students, according to Marsha Rappley, dean of MSU College of Human Medicine. The plan is to welcome the first 50 med school students in 2008 and have the full four-year medical school in operation by 2010.

Spectrum Health announced its agreement with MSU in April. Spectrum will invest $55 million in building support for a medical school facility, plus an estimated $30 million over the next decade to enhance research activities, including the recruitment of researchers to work for both Spectrum and MSU.

The Van Andel Research Institute inked a deal with Michigan State University in mid-October, agreeing to invest $2 million annually over the next eight years to support the four-year school. VARI’s financial underwriting will be used to fund MSU’s research at the Grand Rapids-based med school and to partially or fully support MSU researchers who serve as faculty. According to the agreement, the scientists and researchers hired as faculty will be selected by the university in consultation with VARI and will be employed by MSU. Some may also be appointed to positions at the institute. The agreement calls for the university to lease office, research and structural lab space in VARI.

The institute and MSU will jointly apply for and share grants obtained at the state and national levels. They may also take on collaborative research projects supported by private or public funding. A key component of the partnership will be a business development office to handle technology transfer.

MSU still has to finalize a contract with Grand Valley State University, but that contract won’t require a funding commitment, according to Rappley.

Besides VAI, Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s Health Care and GVSU, the “stakeholders” in the effort to establish a med school here include Grand Action and The Right Place Inc. 

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