Coggan Sees The 'Big Picture'

July 11, 2007
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There's one major prerequisite to becoming president and CEO of Grand Rapids Medical Education & Research Center and associate dean of graduate medical education for the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. That prerequisite is a real passion for medical education, and that's clearly reflected in the curriculum vitae of Peter Coggan, M.D.

Coggan took over both positions April 2. He has more than 30 years of experience as a physician, educator and administrator. He has a Master of Science degree in education, and earned his medical degree from the University of London in England. He practiced as a family physician in Ontario, Canada, and he has held academic and administrative posts at numerous universities in the United States, including the University of California, the University of Nevada and the University of Washington.

Coggan has had a fairly close relationship with Michigan State University and has been tracking the progress of its medical school development here. In fact, the planned move of the MSU College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids is one of the reasons the position at GRMERC was so attractive to him.

GRMERC is a medical, health education and research consortium that includes Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Spectrum Health and Saint Mary's Health Care, plus affiliated members Ferris State University and Metro Health. The consortium integrates the training of medical residents, medical students and health professions students across hospital and university boundaries in a non-competitive manner.

GRMERC also serves as a central vehicle for clinical research in Grand Rapids. As head of the organization, Coggan oversees the education and training, and coordinates collaborative learning situations among the student groups, including access to local research activities.

"With medical education expanding in Grand Rapids, having someone with Dr. Coggan's background in both education and the accreditation of programs is critical," said Lowell Bursch, M.D., chairman of GRMERC's board of directors upon announcing Coggan's appointment. "His leadership will be important as medical education and research continue to grow in Grand Rapids."

Coggan came from Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, where he served as director of medical education and as an assistant dean and professor of family medicine at Wayne State University. He said some people were surprised that he took the job with GRMERC because Henry Ford Hospital had more than 620 medical residents, while there are only about half that number in Grand Rapids.

As he sees it, the position at GRMERC is more challenging because it gives him an opportunity to create something new. The position comes with more responsibilities and gives him more authority and control over things like quality and resources than did his previous position, he said.

Coggan is anticipating a close relationship with MSU, because GRMERC will essentially run graduate education for MSU College of Human Medicine and the local hospitals. He expects that GRMERC's student coordination office will be folded into the medical school administration. 

"We're looking at some changes in the way that MERC is configured so we can provide the best possible service within the framework of the new medical school and what's going on in the Michigan Street hill area," Coggan observed. "The challenge is how to mesh them together so that a first-class medical school is created, and the community gets the maximum value from its investment."

GRMERC is the second largest continuing medical education provider in the state of Michigan, and Coggan believes it's going to be very important in two respects in the future. First, continuing medical education can and should be linked much more directly to patient issues at the hospitals and to some of the community issues that arise through the public health department, he said. Second, physician certification and recertification is changing from periodic re-examination every seven to 10 years into an annual process of certification maintenance.  

"Built into that will be the requirement for physicians to study and improve their own practices, and that's not something that most physicians are familiar with, so I think we can do that through our continuing medical education program," Coggan remarked.

The number of medical schools in the United States has been fairly stable for 25 to 30 years. A number of new medical schools were established in the late 1960s and early 1970s because a physician shortage was foreseen. Now the country is facing the same kind of situation and thinking of dramatically expanding the number of medical schools, or expanding class size, Coggan noted. The Association of American Medical Colleges is calling for a 30 percent expansion in class size.

Several factors are driving the demand for more physicians, including an aging population and increasing immigration into the United States, Coggan noted. Also, new physicians coming out of the Generation X group have very different views of how they're going to practice medicine; they're much more into "quality of life" and do not want to work 120 hours a week and be on call evenings and weekends, he explained. That means that total work hours are going to have to be spread over a larger number of physicians to cater to their wish for a better lifestyle.

Coggan describes himself as a person with "good consensus management skills." He's not an autocratic leader; he likes to work with individuals and groups, drawing out their ideas and putting them all together into a complete picture, he said.

How does he envision medical education and research in Grand Rapids a decade from now?

"We'll have a thriving medical school campus in town with, I would anticipate, about 100 medical students per class, or more than 400, based out of this campus. I think the physician community here is particularly strong, so the clinical curriculum I would expect to be one of the strongest elements of the medical school."

He also envisions within the medical school a specialty track that focuses on research so some students could pursue an M.D./master's program or an M.D./Ph.D. program, and become physician scientists.

As the medical school's presence increases here, Coggan expects to see more clinically oriented research, translational research and clinical trials going on, as well as gradual elevation in the area's academic community. He believes the research that's going on is going to raise the quality of care, eventually making Grand Rapids a destination city for health care.

"We'll become increasingly known for quality, and we'll have referrals coming from farther and farther away from physicians and from patients who know about our work here," he predicted. "I think we'll have an increase of research dollars flowing into the community, and that will stimulate the creation of quite a number of new jobs. The medical school and the intellectual capital it represents are going to reflect on the character of the city and its attractiveness."     HQ

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