Honoring the Values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

mlkquote_smallToday, once again, we have an opportunity to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. This is a day to remember and celebrate the values that he demonstrated during his remarkable life — values like compassion, commitment, moral compass and service to others. These are values that drive our Health System and define our mission. We must never relent in our work to promote diversity and equity in all that we do, from the care we provide to the people we employ. We must continue to address disparities, fight injustice and challenge complacency in societal norms.

How will you honor Dr. King and these values today, tomorrow and beyond?

At UMHS, the Season of Giving Lasts 365 Days a Year

Once again, it’s the ‘season of giving.’ Medical students recently hit the cold and snowy streets of Ann Arbor to collect donations during Galen’s Tag Days 2013. Members of the Detroit Red Wings decked our halls to bring smiles to patients’ (and employees’) faces. And people don festive holiday ties, sweaters and socks to bring a little bit of joy into an ordinary day. Each December, I am energized by the spirit of cheer and generosity that is amplified this time of year.

I’ve written before on the topic of giving back as a way to make the world a better place. At UMHS, we don’t have to look beyond our own walls to witness and experience many inspiring examples of people of all ages and abilities giving back in meaningful ways.

Consider musician-composer Paul Skripnik who, at the age of 29, put on a patient gown and prepared to undergo an operation surgery that he hoped would alleviate him of the daily threat of seizures and allow him to do what he loves most – write and play music. For Paul, living with epilepsy meant living with a troublesome burden that left him afraid to walk on the sidewalk, cross the street or drive. He longed for treatment that would give him hope and health, and he found both as a patient in the UMHS Comprehensive Epilepsy Program. After a series of tests and consultations, the epilepsy care team led by Drs. Simon Glynn and Oren Sagher determined a treatment plan for Paul. In September 2011, he underwent a successful brain surgery that eliminated his seizures. This year, Paul celebrated a year and a half of seizure-free living with a concert featuring his original compositions. Additionally, in October, he performed and participated in a lecture as part of U-M’s Investing in Ability Week. Paul has turned his challenging experience into an opportunity to give back by increasing awareness and generating support for others living with epilepsy.

Then, there are wonderful people like Pat and Frank Ducato. Seven years ago, Frank experienced life-saving care at UMHS. In 2009, the couple decided to give back as volunteers in the Comprehensive Cancer Center. One afternoon each week, Pat provides assistance as a greeter at the CCC main lobby courtesy desk, while Frank helps patients and visitors access important cancer information as a volunteer in the Patient Education Resource Center. When interviewed for a story published last fall, Frank recalled giving some coloring books and cancer literature to the children of a mom undergoing breast cancer treatment. He remembered the husband coming up to him during the family’s next visit to thank him and say that after the children read the literature, they treated their mother differently. In Frank’s own words, he conveys the power of giving: “You get so much from being able to help somebody like that.”

And, finally, I was recently reminded of the extraordinary and generous act of a very special fourth-grader named Maya. A few years ago, when annual giving officer Kathy Valley opened one of many holiday cards, she found three one-dollar bills and the following message: “Here is the last of my Christmas money. Please use it to take care of people with cancer, from Maya.”

Generosity comes in all types and sizes. Whether it is $3, three hours of volunteer service, three handmade quilts or three months of participation in a clinical trial, every act of giving contributes to our greater mission to help and heal.

Charles Dickens, author of the classic holiday novella A Christmas Carol, once said “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

This might be the time of year when society most publicly encourages and displays the spirit of generosity, but here at the University of Michigan Health System, the season of giving lasts 365 days a year. This is a place where generosity and compassion drive the important work we do each and every day, and we couldn’t do what we do as well as we do it without our exceptional faculty, staff, students, volunteers, philanthropists, advocates, friends and supporters.

Enjoy “Never Doubt,” a slideshow that celebrates giving at UMHS, and feel free to share your experiences with generosity in the comments section below.

Thanks for all that you do!

Happy holidays!

Reasons To Be Thankful

This week, many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving and take time to appreciate those things for which we are fortunate and grateful. As a Health System and as a community united by a commitment to improving health and saving lives, we have many reasons to be thankful. I’d like to share just a few of them with you in this post.

Graph 10 years_SmallThis year, we performed our 2000th liver transplant and our 200th transcatheter aortic valve replacement, and we delivered our first set of quintuplets. We celebrated the Department of Radiology’s centennial, as well as Gifts of Arts’ silver anniversary. And because of ongoing continuous improvement initiatives, patient satisfaction is at an all-time high. We are on target to achieve a satisfaction index score of 93 by Fiscal Year 2017, which is the goal defined in our strategic plan. I will be surprised if we haven’t exceeded our target by that time!

Research coming out of our Medical School resulted in a record 133 new inventions and 41 patents, representing one-third of the University’s total output. In addition, we produced significant discoveries across the spectrum of disease and care delivery, including adding disease-specific stem cell lines to the national registry, coordinating a global DNA study that identified new drug targets and a bigger role for triglycerides in heart risk, demonstrating a cellular difference in the body clocks of people with depression, and discovering that commonly used catheters actually double the risk of blood clots in ICU and cancer patients.

The excellence of our Medical School training and students was honored with an incredible gift of $30 million in scholarship support from Rich and Susan Rogel. At the same time, the compassion of our Medical School family was powerfully evident in how you supported one another after Paul DeWolf’s tragic death, and in rebuilding the Student Run Free Clinic after it burned down in February.

Thanks to the voices of many individuals and groups within and outside our community, Michigan Medicaid expansion was passed and 400,000 Michiganders now qualify for health insurance. Additionally, we continue to be prominent in advancing the dialogue around health care reform, the Affordable Care Act, research funding and more.

And, thanks to extraordinary efforts of faculty and staff across the entire Health System, we have been operating at roughly a 3 percent margin for the last 10 months. This is a terrific place to be, given the challenges we’re facing. We want to continue on this trajectory, heading toward a goal of a 5 percent margin by 2017.

I know that each of us is grateful for the opportunity to play a role in creating the future of health care, and I am thankful for our incredible staff, faculty, students, trainees and volunteers. There can be no greater privilege than to work with you in this extraordinary organization.

This week, please remember to take time to say ‘thank you’ to those who help you do what you do, because we never do it alone.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank you, Rich & Susan Rogel

UDE, Elizabeth Lange

Susan & Rich Rogel

Today, the University announced an incredible gift from an extraordinary couple – Rich and Susan Rogel. Rich and Susan have given the University $50 million — $30 million for medical school scholarships, $10 million for the U-M Center for Chinese Studies and $10 million for future U-M initiatives.

I cannot adequately express my gratitude for the Rogels’ amazing demonstration of support for our University, our Health System and our mission to serve others and cultivate future generations of leaders and best. At the same time, I am not surprised that Rich and Susan would make such a gift. No matter what might be happening in their own lives, they are always looking for ways to help others and make the world a better place. They’ve done this by funding scholarships in the Ross School of Business, the School of Social Work, and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, in addition to the Medical School.  They partnered with us to create the Max Rogel Research Fellowship in Pancreatic Cancer and the Allen H. Blondy Research Fellowship for Melanoma. And most recently, when they experienced the painful and tragic loss of Susan’s daughter last year, they honored her by establishing the Ilene Ross Joseph Memorial Fund in Personalized Medicine.

In addition to generous gifts of dollars, Rich has given us an even more valuable gift over the years by volunteering his time, energy and vision in a number of advisory roles. I have been privileged to work closely with Rich in his role as a longstanding member of the Health System Advisory Group, which is a small group of external volunteers who are very dedicated to Michigan and to our Health System, and provide strategic counsel and input on a variety of matters relevant to our tripartite mission.


Left to Right: Professor Qiudan Sun, Director of the Office of International Cooperation at Peking University Health Science Center; Ora Pescovitz; Rich Rogel; Professor Xian Wang, Vice-president of Peking University Health Science Center.

Then, last May, I had the unique privilege of spending time in China with Rich and experiencing the country through his eyes. A true citizen of the world, Rich has been a wonderful supporter of our Health System’s and University’s important collaborations with universities in China, even to the point of establishing the Richard Rogel China Research and Travel Endowment fund in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Rich believes in the amazing possibilities that can emerge through global entrepreneurship, medical innovation and scholarship opportunities for University of Michigan faculty and students. Of memorable note, while we were in China Rich also introduced me to some of the spiciest food I have ever eaten. In addition to a heart of gold, that man has a mouth of steel!

And now, once again, Rich honors us with his time, energy and vision by agreeing to serve as chair of the Health System component of the Victors for Michigan Campaign. I cannot think of a more gifted, inspiring, dedicated and articulate person to lead our Health System campaign and serve as our champion.

Rich is a brilliant and adept businessman and entrepreneur, who believes in using his own success to enable that of others. He is a man who embraces new and different ideas and perspectives, and creates opportunities for others to do so, as well.  He is someone I consider a great friend and role model, who has encouraged me to grow and be a better leader and person. And he is true Blue.

Thank you Rich, and thank you Susan. We are so fortunate to have you as our Victors.


The Government Shutdown, Sequestration & The Future of Medical Research

As you know, these are concerning times. It’s hard to comprehend that the government of the United States of America has been closed for business for nearly a week now. Recently, I had occasion to meet with colleagues in three different settings to discuss common and pressing concerns. The day before the shutdown, I met with the advisory board to the director of the Clinical Center at the NIH. A few days earlier, I met with the board of the Association of Academic Health Centers and before that with a collective of CEOs of major health-related organizations. All of us are deeply concerned about what awaits with respect to federal funding for research, the Affordable Care Act, Health Care Exchanges and more. I imagine these topics are top of mind for you, as well.

Notably, at present, our Health System is in an enviable position, given that most of my colleagues said that their hospitals are seeing a drop in census to 60 percent or less, as well as decreasing revenue. We, on the other hand, grapple with challenges of high demand and have markedly recovered from the financial challenges of last year. This isn’t by happenstance or luck. Our high census is because of our excellent reputation and the outstanding care we provide. And our current financial stability is because of your deliberate and conscientious efforts to see more patients, control resources and improve workflow – all while improving patient satisfaction scores to their highest levels ever. We should take great pride in this, but, at the same time, we must continue to be diligent and focused as we navigate ongoing challenges, such as the current government shutdown and sequestration.

promoimageThis weekend, I shared our concerns in the Detroit Free Press about the $1.5 billion cut to National Institute of Health funding because of sequestration, along with the shutdown (Article). We continue to monitor the impact on our Health System now and in the long term. While current grants have been safe, researchers preparing to submit applications for new grants — including a large number who expected to submit applications in time for a major October 5 deadline – are on hold until the shutdown ends. This may lead to delays in obtaining funding and starting research. Clinical trials already under way at UMHS are continuing, though there may be some slowing in cases where federal agencies process experimental drugs. Some research funded by federal contracts has stopped or may need to, including that of a seven-person team analyzing data from the 2009 pandemic H1N1 flu outbreak for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This group has been told to cease all activities on this project when flu season is right around the corner.

But even without these new threats, it has already been difficult for scientists to get crucial funding for new discoveries. In fiscal year 2013, despite overall growth in federal research funding, NIH funding to U-M fell 1.8 percent. That represents a $9.6 million cut, a significant reduction for those hoping to discover new cures and treatments.

This is a problematic trend. NIH is by far the university’s largest research sponsor, amounting to $509.7 million last year, or more than 38 percent of the total research budget at U-M. And it’s the research conducted on campuses like ours that develops the people and ideas that drive the creation of new products and services, new companies and new industries.

With research funding at risk, research itself is at risk, as is our standing as a global leader in medical innovation. While the rest of the world increases spending for crucial biomedical research — spending is up 20 percent in China and India and 10 percent in Japan and Brazil — U. S. funding has dropped 5 percent. We are falling behind in research spending, and the impact is potentially devastating for our nation’s physical and economic health.

It’s important to note that medical research is a major economic driver, too. The U.S. government invested $3.8 billion in the Human Genome Project and achieved an estimated return on investment of $141 for every dollar spent. That work laid the foundation for significant advances in molecular medicine, energy, bioarchaeology, DNA forensics and even agriculture. According to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation studies, preventing just 5 percent of new cases of chronic conditions would reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending by nearly $5.5 billion each year by 2030. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation estimates that the impact of sequestration on research will be a loss of up to $200 billion in our GDP over several years.

When we stop investing in research, we’re saying that we as a nation are no longer committed to leading the world in discovery and being on the cutting edge of medical science. We’re saying that we are okay with the fact that our nation — a nation built on pioneering innovation — will no longer be in the lead. We’re saying that we are comfortable becoming increasingly reliant on other nations to develop and produce new drugs, therapies and treatments, even if those nations have different and potentially less stringent regulatory requirements. We’re saying that we are okay with discouraging some of our most prolific and innovative minds from pursuing careers in science and biomedical research because we have decided against funding this work.

Science moves the world forward and medical research offers limitless potential to improve lives and communities. Academic health centers and research institutions like ours are where life-changing science happens. Like you, I take immense pride in being part of the University of Michigan Health System because it means being part of a passionate commitment to making the world a better place, one discovery, one encounter, one family and one patient at a time.

U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center: It Started With Notes on a Napkin

This month, we celebrate an impressive milestone with the 25th anniversary of our U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s NCI designation. To commemorate this wonderful moment in our history, I asked Center director Max Wicha to share some of his reflections of the past and hopes for the future. Max has been a member of the UMHS family since 1980, when he joined the faculty as an assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology. Since then, he has emerged as a passionate leader in the fight to understand and ultimately cure cancer, and as a world-renowned breast cancer expert. As we celebrate this silver anniversary, we celebrate Max’s dedication to medicine and to Michigan, as well as the incredibly talented, compassionate and engaged faculty, staff, patients and families who comprise our Cancer Center community. Congratulations to everyone who is creating the future of health care for cancer patients and their loved ones.

U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center: It Started With Notes on a Napkin

mw-2013There are certain moments in life that might seem mundane and ordinary at the time, but become quite consequential and important. Like joining U-M colleagues for dinner in the mid-1980s when I was chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Michigan. We grabbed a napkin and doodled ideas about what it would take to develop a cancer center at Michigan.

Those notes from a late dinner quickly translated into a huge effort by many talented people to pool our resources, create a cancer center and earn cancer center designation from the National Cancer Institute.  We did it, and announced our NCI designation to the world 25 years ago in September 1988. Since then, it’s been the unwavering focus on innovation and collaboration in patient care and research by each and every person connected to the Cancer Center that allowed us to grow into one of the national leaders in research and patient care.

Outpatient cancer care looked very different in those days. Patients seeking a diagnosis and treatment came and went from the medical campus several times – often over the course of three weeks – to see a surgeon, and medical and radiation oncologists. Nobody thought to coordinate appointments with specialists, and this long, drawn out process was confusing and downright scary for patients. And it wasn’t unusual for each specialist to have a different recommendation to the patient on the ‘best’ treatment option. Again, most medical centers weren’t thinking about bringing doctors together to reach a consensus opinion on a treatment plan or to coordinate care. We decided to challenge the notion on a large scale.

Our breast center care model proved that the “radical” idea of coordinating outpatient care into teams of doctors from all departments seeing cancer patients, as well as nurses and other professionals, was a good model. Our model – including tumor boards with oncologists, radiologists and pathologists to coordinate care – worked, and to the great satisfaction of our breast cancer patients. Getting our new building in 1997 allowed us to duplicate this model for other kinds of cancer and fully realize our plan for comprehensive, collaborative patient care. Today, genetic analysis is transforming cancer care, and our latest innovation is to become the first cancer center in the country to add a molecular pathologist to a tumor board to provide that analysis. In time, all patients will have access to this kind of personal, precision treatment planning!

timeline-promoIn those early days at the Cancer Center, we started bringing together research teams across very different disciplines to focus on the cancer problem. Michigan had a great history in research, but at the time, research was typically organized around administrative departments, not diseases. This made interaction across these departments more difficult. We knew that no single researcher or lab could make the kinds of advances that will lead to a cure for cancer. We are proud of the fact that collaboration was part of our model long before this became popular. And starting in 1997 when the new cancer center building opened, we challenged existing dogma even further, because now the cancer research labs were located together, encouraging even more collaboration and innovation. As a result, our Cancer Center has been extremely successful in team science and we have more funding from NCI than any university-based cancer center in the country.

And our research model keeps getting better. Cancer Center researchers collaborate with 10 different schools from across the university and our labs are now close to each other in the North Campus Research Complex. Each school represented at the NCRC is recognized nationally as a top 10 school and only Michigan has so many top 10 schools and colleges working together in the same space on the cancer problem.

As an example for why this is important, my own lab, which was the first to discover stem cells in breast cancer, works closely with Sunitha Nagrath, Ph.D., from Chemical Engineering. Dr. Nagrath is developing microfluidic devices for isolating and studying cancer cells. Together, we study how cancer stem cells circulate in the blood and how they respond to cancer therapies. In the not too distant future, we hope patients can skip the painful biopsies and instead get a blood draw and quick genetic analysis to see if a therapy is working, or what other therapy might work better. Our own Cancer Center researchers will make major contributions in developing those targeted therapies, hopefully curing more patients.

Looking ahead to the next 25 years, I would like to see us become an international center for this new kind of personalized medicine.

Part of the reason for our clinical and research success is that the institution has been extremely supportive of us, from developing the Cancer Center in our early years, to ongoing investment of considerable resources. Its support has allowed us to develop so many outstanding programs – and without that kind of support from leadership, none of this would have been possible.

It’s been such a wonderful experience to lead this effort for 25 years. We moved from humble beginnings at a great research university to become one of the leading cancer centers in the world. And I believe our legacy is strong and will go forward another 25 years; perhaps this will be the place where cancer is finally cured.


Max Wicha, M.D.
Director, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center