The University of Texas Medical School at Houston The University of Texas Medical School at Houston
February 21, 2009 | from the Office of Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo

Distributed on Fridays via e-mail to all Medical School employees, students, residents, and postdoctoral fellows, UT 2 Me is Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo's weekly update of news and items of interest. He also welcomes feedback through this two-way communication.

At Thursday’s Executive Council meeting, we had our annual visit from the UT System Office of Finance.  Philip  Aldridge, vice chancellor for finance and business development, gave us an elegant presentation with a financial update, and his message was clear and simple: We must tighten the belt. This annual message is in line with our daily “financial seminars” with our good friend Kevin Dillon, who is focused on close monitoring of our operation’s efficiency and seeing how we can increase productivity while reducing costs. One new mandate from the UT System is that there is a salary freeze in effect on executive positions.

The UT System remains strong, with a AAA bond rating – meaning it can get the lowest interest rates available on debt. With a diverse and responsible portfolio, the UT System depends upon just 6 percent of its investment income for its budget, compared to other institutions, which depends on 30-40 percent of investment income. That limited dependence upon investment income is why we are able to provide stability to our academic and clinical mission. We are proud to have the support of such a strong UT System in this pursuit.

Our budget is relatively straightforward – we do not make any margin on teaching, we have a negative margin on research, and we do not own our own hospital – so any chance of a margin rests on the shoulders of our group practice plan. A margin of approximately 3 percent is typical for the Health Science Center overall in a given year, yet at the end of January our margin is down to 0.4 percent, which is made up primarily of practice plan revenues. This is the result of a slight drop in development gifts, a decline in investment income, and increasing utility/facility costs. We must heed the advice of the UT System, our President, and Kevin Dillon and carefully watch expenses so that we can ride out this economic downturn smoothly.

Thursday, we had the opportunity to present some of the great contributions of the Medical School to U.S. Congressman John Culberson and his staff. We showcased trauma and our clinical mission in addition to outstanding educational and research contributions.

Speaking of research, we had some exciting news this week about the strength of our research program. 2008 was a very good year for the school in terms of growth of National Institutes of Health funding – we received $72.8M, up from $56.7M in 2005. This is the largest 12-month growth we have seen since 2000. And, it does not include the large number of investigators recruited to the new research facility. So, we expect the growth to be particularly strong next year.  These numbers show the advancement of our research programs and the outstanding job that our investigators are doing. Although we have grown, during these times we will have to pause on recruitments in order to have a strong second wave of recruits to build upon our strengths.

That does not mean that we are not still recruiting now. We continue to have very strong faculty applicants, and I spent time with Dr. Sam Kaplan Friday morning to discuss strategic growth of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. We are looking at four recruitments for this department to grow the areas of parasitology and virology.

 I attended the Bridging the Divide talk this week sponsored by the School of Public Health George McMillan Fleming Center for Healthcare Management. The topic was the relations between the hospital and medical staff and featured Dr. Marc Boom, executive vice president, The Methodist Hospital; Dr. David Pate, CEO, St. Luke’s Hospital; and our own Juanita Romans, CEO Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center, on the panel. Juanita shared how the strengths of our hospital are built upon the academic affiliation with the Medical School. She also talked about how we are jointly reviewing the structure of the medical executive committee and bringing physicians into the leadership of the hospital while always focusing upon quality patient care, which is the strong foundation of any medical institution. Discussion also centered upon the “health of physicians,” which is based on their relationship with the hospital. The medical staff drives the strategic agenda of a hospital and the relationship must be nurtured. New economic pressures will force us to find new solutions to improve these relations.

Dr. Patricia Butler presented an action plan at Thursday’s Faculty Senate to help solve the resident duty-hour issue that appeared following the recent ACGME site visit. She spoke of a culture change, which will include the standardization of attending rounds, the recruitment of hospitalists, and increasing the number of residents. This training program is the 13th largest out of 300 in the nation. Many people and resources have worked to take the program to this level, and we must protect it. I appreciate all of the hard work and leadership from Dr. Butler, David Kusnerik, and their staff. I ask the residents to please help us to resolve this serious matter, which can jeopardize the future of our residency programs.

We want to keep our residency programs strong and competitive. To bring our residents up to a competitive salary with peer institutions will cost an estimated $4 million next fiscal year. This is just one item of the list of requests for the Dean’s Office to fund. We will have to prioritize these requests and cut expenses somewhere to implement them. I ask for your understanding.

We have had some discussions over the past week with faculty and chairs related to the appointment of tenure/promotions process. It seems that our faculty have a mixed understanding of this process and we need to improve communication on this topic. I would encourage Faculty Senate to hear from a representative of Faculty Affairs, who can clearly explain these guidelines. A clear understanding of these processes is important as we continue to promote faculty retention and development.

I would like to remind you that President Larry Kaiser will be at the Medical School for his first town hall meeting Feb. 26. I hope you will join us to hear his legislative update.

There was an interesting story suggested by Gene Vaughan, chair of the UTHSC Development Board, about basketball and statistics in last week’s New York Times by Michael Lewis. 

“When I ask Morey if he can think of any basketball statistic that can’t benefit a player at the expense of his team, he has to think hard. ‘Offensive rebounding,’ he says, then reverses himself. ‘But even that can be counterproductive to the team if your job is to get back on defense.’ It turns out there is no statistic that a basketball player accumulates that cannot be amassed selfishly. ‘We think about this deeply whenever we’re talking about contractual incentives,’ he says. ‘We don’t want to incent a guy to do things that hurt the team’ — and the amazing thing about basketball is how easy this is to do. ‘They all maximize what they think they’re being paid for,’ he says. He laughs. ‘It’s a tough environment for a player now because you have a lot of teams starting to think differently. They’ve got to rethink how they’re getting paid.’”

This is something we need to think about as we consider employee recruitment, compensation, and incentives and the benefits of individual talents to the team.

Have a great weekend,


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