MERC Focus Education Research

October 21, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent Bottles, M.D., believes this is a really exciting time to be living in Grand Rapids.

As CEO of Grand Rapids Medical Education & Research Center (MERC) for Health Professions, he says Grand Rapids has already achieved something most U.S. communities have yet to attempt: the teaming of four local competitors to provide medical education and research.

MERC is a medical, health education and research consortium of health care providers and educators in Grand Rapids created in 1999 by founding members Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, St. Mary's Mercy Medical Center and Spectrum Health.

The consortium integrates and promotes the training of residents, medical and health professions students across hospital and university boundaries in a non-competitive manner.

Its Education & Research Center is designed to serve as central vehicle for clinical research in Grand Rapids.

MERC's goal is create a model for community-based educational and research programs.

"Big changes have occurred so we have to change and adjust the curriculum and the research projects," Bottles said.

Among those big changes is the unfolding science of genomics, which is changing the way doctors diagnose, classify and treat disease.

He said the traditional "diagnose and treat" paradigm of medical education is evolving into a "predict and prevent" paradigm.

"I sometimes think that the community doesn't recognize what a unique resource this consortium is," Bottles said. "I really do think it's going to become a model for the rest of the country in terms of how to teach health professionals and how to do community based research."

Bottles was hired in May to, as he puts it, "take Grand Rapids' really good system of education and research to the next level."

In other words, to a world-class level.

"Taking that to heart, we've been trying to figure out what that means," he said.

MERC is concentrating on genomic and proteomic education; health care leadership programs; career development for providers; programs that measure health care effectiveness; and a supportive learning environment.

Bottles said MERC is currently working on five priority areas:

  • Doing a lot more education not only of physicians and health care workers, but also of the general public.

That, he said, has been reflected in the free Autumn Health Forums series presented by MERC in conjunction with GVSU's Division of Continuing Education.

The forums have had bigger turnouts than anticipated, which suggests the public may be hungrier for information than health care professionals initially thought, Bottles said.

"We're trying to do a lot more in bridging the gap between the Grand Rapids health care experts and the general public about issues that really make a big difference, like genomics and cloning and hormone replacement therapy and those things."

MERC also has staged some programs for area high school students and counselors to interest young people in pursuing health care careers.

  • Doing more recruiting of medical students, resident physicians and other health professionals to Grand Rapids. The thrust is to "sell" Grand Rapids as a desirable place to live.

MERC has developed a brochure and has hosted dinners to try to interest medical students and residents all over the United States in coming to town, Bottles said.

It's getting some promotional assistance from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, The Right Place Program and the West Michigan Alliance, among others.

  • Trying to establish a community research and innovation center that the consortium can use to address specific community health care issues.

Bottles said the center will give MERC the ability to do practical, down-to-earth research for all of West Michigan, whether it's in regard to teen pregnancy, smoking cessation, obesity or anything else the community identifies as a health care need.

MERC has applied for a grant through the Grand Rapids Community Foundation for the center and has been meeting with area advocacy groups to help pinpoint local health care needs.

Bottles said the center will involve three or four doctoral-level scientific investigators conducting research for community groups, physicians, undergraduate and nursing students, and medical students and residents.

"It will be a real exciting place that will kind of put together the needs of Grand Rapidians with real research," Bottles added.

The organization currently is interviewing candidates from all over the nation for the position of director of research and innovation.

  • Trying to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum for health care students.

"We think there's an opportunity to do some exciting, groundbreaking work in terms of trying to put together an interdisciplinary health care team that's going to take care of patients in the future," he said.

Though there's a lot of excitement about that prospect nationally, he added, no one at this point really knows what that means.

The question is: What is the right health care team to provide excellent care in an economic way that incorporates all kinds of health care professionals — medical residents, physicians, physician assistants, nurses, psychologists, physical therapists and occupational therapists, and other allied health professionals?

  • Trying to maximize the learning environment in Grand Rapids so it works for everybody.

"That involves getting (medical) residents involved in teaching medical students and nursing students teaching PA students," Bottles said. "How do you make it into a real learning environment? We've been working real heard on that."

MERC's four member institutions have affiliation agreements with Metropolitan Hospital and Ferris State University.

In fact, 60 to 70 of Ferris' pharmacy doctoral students have been housed since summer at MERC's Monroe Avenue facility. They're doing their clinical work in Grand Rapids but getting their Pharm.D. degree from Ferris, Bottles said.

The consortium also is aligned with the Van Andel Institute. The two are planning a number of continuing education programs, to be held annually in Grand Rapids, that they hope will draw health professionals from across the country.

Bottles said both organizations see a lot of areas for collaboration.

The biggest of their joint projects will be programs that teach health care professionals how to use genomics in their day-to-day practice to improve the health care of patients.

"We'd like to have a lot of joint projects where the learners, whether they're medical students or residents, are able to have rotations and learn both the basic science research and what that means for clinical practice,"Bottles said.

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