How do you hide a giant?
The question has nagged me for some time, because somehow we have managed to hide a giant in our midst.
The Georgia Health Sciences University enterprise is the state’s academic health center (think UAB for Alabama, MUSC for South Carolina, UTHSC for Tennessee, and so on), encompassing the nation’s 13th-oldest and sixth-largest medical school; the state’s largest allied health sciences school and graduate nursing program; and Georgia’s only college of dental medicine.
IT HAS FOUR MEDICAL campuses, two nursing campuses and more than 800 clinical training sites throughout Georgia and South Carolina. It includes Georgia’s second-largest children’s hospital; one of the state’s four Level I trauma centers; one of Georgia’s designated centers for stroke care excellence; a state-of-the-art multidisciplinary cancer center; and more.
It trains one in five physicians and one in four dentists practicing in Georgia. It generates $90 million worth of biomedical and biotechnology research, with internationally recognized research in stroke, cardiovascular biology, cancer, childhood obesity and regenerative medicine. It has a direct economic impact of more than $2 billion and a statewide impact of more than $8 billion. It is the region’s second-largest employer and generates more than 50,000 jobs throughout Georgia. It is one of the state’s top 20 employers.
WE ARE A GIANT that thankfully is still growing – with relevance to the entire state of Georgia, large parts of South Carolina, the nation and the world.
So how is it that many of our legislators, government officials, statewide communities, peers and colleagues know very little about us?
In 2010 we surveyed a pool of individuals representing more than 70 institutions providing medical and other health education programs around the nation. Fifty percent had never heard of us, and only a third of the remainder knew us as a health sciences university.
When I visited Athens, Ga., shortly after I arrived here, a well-respected and influential community leader there noted that the only thing we had in Augusta was a medical school – and, when respectfully corrected, showed extreme surprise that we were anything else.
AND WHEN RECENTLY meeting with one of Georgia’s most notable philanthropists, he kindly noted that while he appreciated my visit, he had no clue who we were or what we did.
And in fact, why is it that our own Augusta community knows so little about us – considering our university as simply a type of technical college, a school for advanced health professions, ignoring the extensive and innovative research and discovery we do?
Why do people think of our health system as an “indigent” hospital, ignoring that in 2010 we brought more than $90 million in medical tourism dollars to the city – indicating that people who had a choice elected to come here because of our expertise at complex procedures? Thirty percent of our patients came from outside our metropolitan service area.
So really, how have we managed to hide such a giant in our midst?
WE HAVE CAMOUFLAGED the size of the enterprise by allowing the institution to be viewed only in parts – the hospital here, the school of medicine there, the practice plan hither, the school of dentistry yonder, its research over there.
And we have worked hard at misnaming the giant, such as calling the university a “college.”
And we pretended it wasn’t a giant at all. Many of us only highlight the obstacles and barriers facing us. Many said we were not worthy of federal attention, not worthy of recruiting the best and brightest or not worthy of national news coverage.
We pretended we weren’t a giant at all – because that is what we do when we forget to emphasize and celebrate the broad relevance and enormous impact the enterprise currently has on the welfare of our communities, our state and our citizens.
Perhaps we have taken it for granted, routinely walking around its great giant legs without noticing. Many of us and many in our community have taken our enterprise for granted – not noticing its enduring benefit on the immediate health and welfare of the community; on the value of Augusta properties and places; and on the livelihood and fortunes of many.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, we simply were silent, telling no one that a giant sat in our midst. Perhaps we hoped that if we did not say anything, others would not notice the giant sitting in the middle of the room.
Unless we really do not want to be noticed and recognized for what we are – and there are a million reasons, actually many millions of reasons, why we should – then each of us need to go forth, trumpeting who we are and how great we are.
With pride. With confidence. Making noise. Celebrating. Telling our story.
(The writer became president of Georgia Heath Sciences University in 2010.)