Faced with a "huge amount of change" within and outside of Medical College of Georgia, the school must navigate the changes and grow in an era of shrinking research and tighter returns, Dean Peter Buckley said. It must also do a better job of hanging on to its faculty, he said.
In his annual State of the College address to the faculty, Buckley acknowledged the enormous upheaval at Georgia Health Sciences University since the arrival of President Ricardo Azziz as he sought to integrate the health system, the colleges and Physicians Practice Group in a way that was truly needed.
"We were more divided than we should be," Buckley said. "In fact, at times we were tripping over each other."
One of the first problems Azziz sought to address was faculty morale. A 2008 survey found a distrust in the administration, and many faculty members felt that administrators did not care whether they succeeded. A 2009 survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges comparing MCG faculty to 23 other schools also found dissatisfaction, Buckley said.
"You all said, 'I'm not too happy here. I don't think you value me here,' " he said.
That has had consequences, the dean said. Two or three faculty members left last July and August, but the departures spiked to 21 in April and this month and is projected at 15 for June, according to numbers the school supplied.
"We have a retention problem here," he said. "This is a problem that we need to look in the mirror and face up to because it bites us."
Part of the problem might have been that bright young investigators arrive at MCG and find no others who share their research interests and struggle to find collaborators, said Dr. David Pollock, of the Vascular Biology Center.
Now, basic scientists like him are included in the search for clinical chiefs.
"That's key," he said. "That kind of thing is happening now whereas it didn't happen in the past."
Most of GHSU's research, 81 percent, is still in basic research, which must change, Buckley said.
The school has done well in pulling down high-profile Program Project grants from the National Institutes of Health, which encourages multidisciplinary research, he said.
The school must also expand its clinical practice overall by at least 2 percent, he said.
"We have to do two things and we have to do them synergistically," Buckley said. "We have to grow our clinical practice because our clinical practice fuels particularly our research."