Med School Begins Taking Shape, Focus

May 5, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Concrete is now being poured to support the steel framework of what will become the Secchia Center, the future home of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. Meanwhile, medical school faculty are being recruited and trained and the finishing touches are being applied to the academic program.  

Medical school Dean Marsha Rappley and her senior leadership team brought members of the medical community and general community up-to-date on the progress of the medical school at the Alliance for Health’s First Friday Forum last week.

The first 50 second-year medical students will begin their studies here in August at the med school’s temporary headquarters at 234 N. Division Ave. while they await completion of the $90 million building that will overlook the Medical Mile from its perch atop the five-story parking deck that’s part of the Michigan Street Development project.

Jeffrey Dwyer, associate dean of research, talked about potential research projects and collaborations the med school has already made with its “outstanding” partners in Grand Rapids. He outlined MSU’s recruiting efforts thus far and talked about where the university is in terms of recruiting more individuals in women’s health, Parkinson’s disease and digestive disorders — the initial areas of focus the various partners have agreed upon.

Dwyer said one of the things he really wants people to understand is that recruiting the high-caliber scientists the med school wants on its faculty is typically a prolonged process because the recruits are individuals who have well-established labs in other places and can’t just pick up and move quickly.

“In the research domain, it’s certainly about recruiting people, but it’s also about all kinds of other relationships that help support the research enterprise,” Dwyer said.

The med school’s relationship with Grand Valley State University is a good example, he said. MSU will lease space from GVSU over the next two to three years to provide a place for some of MSU’s early hires to conduct their research in the interim before the VAI facility becomes available to them.

Dwyer said the med school is developing “relationships and opportunities” that will get people working together in the med school’s research areas of interest. There may be opportunities, for instance, to link people who are more clinically oriented in their work with some of the med school’s existing scientists. He noted that the university is also determining additional areas of interest in which it might want to invest from a research standpoint.

“That really involves very close working relationships with colleagues at Spectrum Health, VAI, GVSU and Saint Mary’s,” Dwyer said. “We have to sit down and talk about where they see opportunities from a clinical and research point of view, how they mesh with where MSU and the College of Human Medicine have expertise, and where there might be opportunities nationally. Then, we go after some of the leading scientists in those areas to help us move those agendas forward.” 

Aron Sousa, senior associate dean of academic affairs for the medical school, said the university is generally ahead of schedule in having people trained, lined up and ready for the initial batch of med students who will begin their second year of study in Grand Rapids.  Some 900 faculty have signed on to date, he said, noting that the med school is not moving faculty from East Lansing to fill faculty positions here.

When the med school settles into its new digs in fall 2010, about 100 first-year medical students will be taking instruction in Grand Rapids. At that time, a wide-ranging group of basic scientists will have to be in place to help teach the first-year curriculum, Sousa said. MSU is on schedule for those recruitments, too, he added.

As assistant dean for College of Human Medicine capital and strategic planning, Elizabeth Lawrence is overseeing the design, construction and full implementation of the Secchia Center. She presented exterior and interior renderings of the building. Her PowerPoint presentation included a couple of three-dimensional renderings of the Secchia Center’s four-story atrium that will be the building’s focal point.

The center’s technology, she pointed out, will include high-definition, interactive video learning that will allow lectures to be transmitted to flat panel screens in lecture halls on the university’s East Lansing campus, as well as its satellite campuses, and will allow students — wherever they are — to ask questions and get responses in real time.  

Lawrence said the Secchia Center’s simulation suite will likely be of great interest, not just to medical students, but to the general public. It will feature highly sensitive robotic mannequins that can be programmed to simulate anything from, say, a pediatric patient suffering from abdominal pain to a geriatric patient in the throes of a heart attack.

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