Chapter 12: The Future of The School of Health Professions and the Summer Programs

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Chapter 12: The Future of The School of Health Professions and the Summer Programs

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Dr. Ahearn begins this chapter by talking about the School of Health Professions at a moment when the School is poised for growth, and as Dr. Shirley Richmond succeeds him as Dean. He offers his views on Dr. Ronald DePinho, who on September 1st succeeded John Mendelsohn as president of MD Anderson. He speaks about his hopes for Project SAFETY, the skin cancer awareness project that is attracting national attention, as well as the King Foundation project. (He shares amusing stories about dealing with high school students who are away from home from the first time.)

Identifier

Ahearn,MJ_03_2011121_S12

Publication Date

11-21-2011

Publisher

The Historical Resources Center, The Research Medical Library, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - An Institutional Unit; Education; Beyond the Institution; MD Anderson in the Future; Education at MD Anderson; Funny Stories

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Well, I wanted to do some catching up. And I realized that this is such an unusual period of time to be talking because not only are you -- you’ve retired. As you’re thinking about the school of health professions, which you founded, there will be a new successor there.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

There is.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

There is a new successor, and there’s also a successor to John Mendelsohn, so there’s a lot of change in the air. And is there one of those subjects you’d like to talk about first? The kind of change in the school of health professions, or would you like to talk about the -- more globally about the institution? Do you have a preference where to start?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, you know I am not really familiar with the changes in the school. Because I’ve not had any connection with it since I left in August. And so I’m not really apprised to the changes that are taking place there, nor the institution as far as Dr. [DePinho’s coming]

.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Who is the successor when you (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Dr. Shirley Richmond.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Shirley Richmond, OK.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes, she came from the University of Illinois. One of their campuses. And is a Texan that was transplanted to Illinois, and now has come back home again. Has experience here, she was Associate Dean at UTNV [??UTMB?]

for a number of years.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

UTNV?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes, Galveston.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

And what are your hopes for what she will work on, and eventually achieve with the school of health professions?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, I think that it’s a critical time in the school in the fact that there is a growth phase needed that I anticipate will take place over the next five years. And I think that probably some new programs. Two of our programs -- molecular genetic technology and medical dosimetry -- both are poised to go to the Masters degree in order to be competitive with other schools that are marketing these programs. And so the transition from a Baccalaureate to a Masters degree program will take place during her tenure. And that will be a major push. Also, during the next couple of years, we ill have our SACS reaffirmation visit, which will take place probably 2014. And the preparation for that will be ongoing for a couple of years prior to the arrival of that time so.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

And SACS is the?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. (pause) So those are big projects that are on the horizon. And I think it was a very opportune time for her to come because she and the faculty will be -- have time to get the Masters degree programs ongoing. And then be able to incorporate that into the self-study for the reaffirmation visit.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Do you know her personally?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes, I had met her professionally at Deans meetings through the years. And I think she was an excellent candidate for the job.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

, PhD

How do you think her leadership or management style compares or differs from your own? What does she bring?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, she comes from a larger school. I think that there were some 3,400 students in her campus. And she’s coming to a much smaller program, but more concentrated. The program that she was leading had everything from hotel management, which is an allied area, but not necessarily health related. She’s moving into a program. She is a medical technologist by training, and I think that the real plus for our opening here to her was the fact that we were all in the health professions area either in the clinic already launching sciences. But very concentrated core field of study that is necessary, as I said, always the meat and potatoes of the healthcare team.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Now you mentioned that there are these two programs that were poised to evolve. But you also said that the school in general is poised for change. What are the other dimensions of that, that you’ve seen?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, just growth that will take place.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Just growth. In terms of more students, more --?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

More students, there will be space needs that will need to be met. When we moved into our present location, the classrooms were perfectly adequate for what we anticipated to be a four or five year growth period. But I think that they’ll be planning for the future, and that will have to be where the school is going to go, or how they’re going to handle the growth phases as far as the classroom size, and allocation of classroom spaces.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Do you think that Dr. Richmond brings anything special because she’s a Texan, and understands?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes, I think that her dealings and experience with the Texas higher education coordinating board will be invaluable as we move these programs into the Masters degree. Because they’ll have to be substantive degree requests that will be followed through. And I think that she’ll be able to steer the faculty in preparing those requests. And then the proposal through the board of regions, and then the Texas higher education coordinating board so.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

As you kind of envision what the future would be, the School of Health Professions in five years and ten years, I mean what do you see? And maybe not even realistically, but fantasizing what it could be.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

I think simply meeting the demands, not only of the state, but the nation. Because many of our surrounding states have no programs in these disciplines. And so there’s going to be a great attraction to pull our students. Right now, some 92% stay in Texas. But that’s going to become more competitive because other states are going to be after our graduates. And so in order to meet the needs of the states, the programs are going to have to grow. And we’re going to see a great push for some of these professions in the years ahead. And so I think that anticipating that growth is going to be exciting to handle. Which means the faculty’s going to have to grow, space is going to have to grow. It’s an exciting time.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

I can see too that establishing Masters programs would really elevate the profile of the school because it would make the candidates -- I mean as the students come out, their can -- as their candidatures are even more strong.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes. And some of the curriculum in the present masters programs are identical to what we’re awarding the Baccalaureate degree. And so in competing for bright students to come into the school, many of them would much rather go and get a masters degree for the same amount of effort as a baccalaureate degree here. So we really need to go in those areas to the baccalaureates. It’s not -- there’s always been a charge that many times we have to [degree creep]

. We just keep moving degrees up. But in this case, it is an absolutely necessity that we move forward, and it’s not a degree creep.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

You said you really don’t have too much of a finger on a pulse on what’s happening in the Anderson wide with Dr. DePinho, but I can’t imagine you haven’t listened a bit to some of his vision. So I’m wondering what you think about what he brings.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, he certainly comes in at a very opportune time, and his vision is far reaching, and it’s certainly to elevate all of the present areas of expertise within the institution, and address new developments. So I think that in that, certainly I think that the faculty is excited and what I anticipate.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

How do you see the school of health professions dovetailing with his vision? Work at the institution as a whole.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

I’ve not had -- I’m not familiar with his vision for education. He has spoken on many different areas, and certainly he’s looking on education. Education of residents, fellows, physicians. But and I think that he has plans for the graduate school to excel in certain areas. But I have not heard his vision for the allied health area. So I’m not really able to respond to that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

How would you compare his style to that of the three presidents under whom you served?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

I really don’t have any way to judge that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

, PhD

I had a few other questions about kind of the institution. And one of them was about the issue of global oncology. I was wondering what your take on was on that particular subject area. Which has been a big push under John Mendelsohn, and another issue about growth. How can growth -- and it brings to my mind the question of how can growth be managed to at the same time, that one preserves the quality of care that’s delivered?

AHEARN:

Well, I think that certainly the protocols of Anderson are transferable. In any global outreach program, you have to take some of the technical expertise along with the protocols. And to me, in education, it’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to train people in order that they can move out with the technology in the global outreach. And I think that that’s a very fertile field. Not only within this country, and our outreach to other locations within the U.S. But also, for global training. I think opportunities for bringing technologists in, and training them, and then sending them back home with the technology that would go along with a treatment protocol from Anderson in the outreach facilities.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

On another subject, what is going to be the future or fate of the pro-bono programs that you’ve developed? For example, the skin cancer awareness projects that you’ve been working on.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, I hope that those will continue. The skin cancer, which is Project SAFETY -- Sun Awareness For Educating Today’s Youth -- has been very successful. We’ve just finished reissuing a new module for the state of Texas, which is where we began. And then that was distribution took place at the end of August, right at the time that I was leading. It was very interesting because when I was in California, on October the 10th, I believe that Governor Brown assigned an order prohibiting youth under the age of 18 from using tanning beds. This was one of the great pushes in Project SAFETY. And it was very interesting looking at the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, and seeing what appeared to be almost direct quotes from Project SAFETY regarding the dangers of tanning beds for young people, and the lifetime risk of developing melanoma. That incurs prior to the year 18. And so it was rewarding. And I know there’s been many efforts in California directed toward prohibiting tanning beds. But I can’t help but believe the 9,600 units that we sent there about a year and a half ago were not part of the education process that led to that legislation.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

I mean that’s amazing ‘cause you send those out to schools, and that meant that it filtered up.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Filtered up, yes. And there were more connections even in that. Because in each area where we have sent Project SAFETY, in the 16 states in the sun belt, we always got someone at a higher state level to write a letter of introduction. Because something arriving on the doorstep of teachers and classrooms doesn’t mean much if you don’t tie it in together. So either the head of the division of education in the state, and in the place of California, we were able to obtain a letter of introduction and support from Senator Feinstein. And so it started out with knowledge at the higher level because Senator Feinstein wanted several copies of Project SAFETY to familiarize herself and her staff on Project SAFETY. So I think that it started out at an upper level too, but they met nicely in so far as some of the changes that have taken place there.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Now in terms of that approach of getting awareness for a particular educational product, how did you leverage networks to get access to people like Senator Feinstein or --

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, in each area, it’s a little bit different. But in the case of Senator Feinstein, I was familiar with Senator Hutchins [sic]

, and her staff. And we worked through Senator [Hutchins]

to reach Senator Feinstein, and to pass the message along so.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

What about your other educational projects? There’s the summer?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

The summer programs, Dr. Peter Hugh is going to take over the King Foundation Program, called the Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation Program, and also the Michael J. Ahearn Science Educator Workshop. And he’s going to direct those in the coming years. And he is one of our faculty members in the school of health professions, and he played a role in previous years with those programs in some of the enrichment materials that we provided both for teachers and for students through the molecular, genetic technology program which he directs. So I think it’s a good match.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

I meant to tell you that I was speaking with Regina Rogers [Oral History Interview]

last week, and she mentioned Lauren Golden, and how successful that student was in getting accepted into medical school, and how she -- her start -- basically got a start in your summer program.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes. There have been many cases like that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

What are your hopes for that program growing, changing?

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Well, you know, the faculty -- we have a number. Those were the basic, initial programs here. But Dr. DuBois has a secret grant now that allows for the training of students. Primarily pulling students at the undergraduate level into graduate education through coming to Anderson for summers, and being introduced to the possibilities for graduate study here. So we can’t overload our faculty because it takes a lot of effort to mentor these students. And so I think that although programs will grow, that there’s going to have to be a limit of what we can ask our faculty. This past summer, we had 120 undergraduate students within the institution. Well, that included some medical students. But most of them primarily were undergraduate students. And I just think that with the demands the faculty have on them, that that’ll be the limiting factor in our growth to properly mentor students. You can always accept a student and then pass them off to a technologist, or to a graduate student to supervise. But it doesn’t carry the same weight as when the primary investigator interacts with the student, and enriches that summer experience. So we don’t want to dilute the programs by just bringing in large numbers, and then assigning them to inappropriate people in the institution. Because as much as it can be an encouragement, it can also be a turnoff if they had the experience that is not satisfactory. So I think that that will always be a limiting factor, and we’ll have to be careful in how the balance takes place.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

You mentioned a grant that Dr. DuBois is administering for this purpose. I missed the name of it.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

It’s a CPRIT grant.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

CPRIT.

Michael Ahearn, PhD

Yes. It took place at the Texas Cancer Council, you know with the tobacco money.

Chapter 12: The Future of The School of Health Professions and the Summer Programs

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