AE firms targeted for WMU med school RFPs

July 5, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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Fall of 2014 “sounds like a long way away — but it seems like tomorrow to me,” said Dr. Hal B. Jenson, the founding dean of the Western Michigan University School of Medicine. That’s when the first 40 to 50 students will start classes at what will be Michigan’s newest medical school, to be located somewhere in Kalamazoo.

Jenson was a professor of pediatrics and regional dean for the Western Campus of the Tufts University School of Medicine when it was announced in January that he would head the med school, which got a huge boost in March with the announcement of an anonymous $100 million gift for the allopathic medicine institution.

In April, WMU Medical School Facilities Committee invited architecture and engineering firms across the nation to submit qualifications if interested in the project. Jenson said he believes the committee, chaired by WMU’s David Dakin and including Eric Buzzell of Borgess Health, Peter Strazdas of WMU, John Raswthorne of Borgess and Mike Way of Bronson Healthcare, has now asked about 13 A&E firms to submit proposals.

But Jenson has his hands full with his own responsibilities on the organizational side of the new institution. The WMU med school is targeted for accreditation by January 2013, so an application must be filed in the first part of 2012 “which is all of six months away,” he said. Then there is the recruiting that must be done well before those first year med students show up in September 2014.

A med school will leverage WMU’s strength in basic sciences, engineering and technology with the community’s experienced medical community and rich history in medical education. The new med school has been in the planning stage since late 2007, when WMU President John M. Dunn raised the idea to take advantage of Kalamazoo’s life sciences heritage and unique resources and infrastructure.

Kalamazoo has a 125-year history of innovation in the life sciences, and it also has a 35-year history of providing medical education for third- and fourth-year medical students. The community is home to several residency programs for new doctors, managed through the Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies, Borgess Health and Bronson Healthcare. Now WMU is developing the med school in partnership with Borgess and Bronson.

Dr. Jack R. Luderer, a longtime medical researcher and former executive director of WMU's Biosciences Research and Commercialization Center, served as interim dean for the new medical school since June 2010. With Jenson’s appointment, Luderer assumes the post of associate dean for research at the WMU School of Medicine.

The $100 million was the largest cash gift ever made to a Michigan college or university, and is among the 10 largest ever made to an American public university and the 15th largest in the history of American higher education.

“It is an anonymous gift for which we are very grateful; it really does make this medical school possible,” said Jenson.

He added that the med school wouldn’t happen “without this type of gift, because the intent is not to divert funds from the other programs at Western Michigan University to the med school.” The med school, he said, “will be completely funded through tuition and philanthropy.”

Since the beginning of discussions about establishing a medical school, the university and its community partners have said the school would be privately funded.

“We’ve known for some time that this is the right time and place to launch a medical school for the 21st century, and this gift signals the kind of donor confidence in this university and community that will make this initiative a reality,” Dunn said when announcing the $100 million gift in March.

“This community has a tremendous history of attracting the confidence and support of donors,” he added. “The Kalamazoo Promise, which offers free college tuition to our young people, is another great example. Our donors know this medical school will continue the vision of transformation and economic development through higher education. This is not just a gift to Western Michigan University; it is a gift to our entire community and region.”

“Medical schools, for many reasons, add significantly to the economy,” noted Jenson in an interview with the Business Journal.

He cited research data commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2008, which indicates that the AAMC-member med schools and teaching hospitals that year had a total impact on the U.S. economy of $512 billion, while employing 3.3 million.

Michigan ranked eighth on the list of 25 states experiencing the greatest impact, with more than $24 billion and almost 151,000 people employed.

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