Keck School of Medicine Dean Carmen A. Puliafito welcomes first-year physician assistants at their orientation on Aug.17 at the Alhambra Campus. During his tenure, Puliafito has emphasized the importance of physician assistants, noting that with new health care government regulations, they will be in high demand and highly valued.
HSC Weekly 2010-12-03
Carmen A. Puliafito marks third year as dean of the Keck School
Editors Note: Dean Carmen A. Puliafito celebrated his third anniversary as dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC Nov. 1. The Weekly recently sat down with him for a candid conversation reflecting back and looking forward.
Looking back three years ago, you anticipated great transformation on this campus. What are the most significant changes since you came to USC?
CP: Acquisition of our two hospitals to create USCs academic medical center, integration of the physician practices and the recruitment of more than a dozen institute directors, department chairs and division chiefsthose are the top three changes for the Keck School of Medicine.
When I arrived in November of 2007, the school was under great stress. Our own hospitals were under a state of siege. We were involved with a very bitter lawsuit with Tenet Healthcare, and some of our faculty were departing. We had some vacancies in several leadership positions, and the medical school was facing scrutiny by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. We had a lot of challenges to overcome. Three years later, this is a more positive, hopeful place.
One of your goals has been to build clinical programs. What progress have you made in that regard?
CP: Clinical excellence directly links to academic excellence. Medical schools exist to create new knowledge and train physicians, but all within the context of patient care delivery. Were going to have an outstanding medical school going forward because now we have our physicians, our hospitals, our researchers aligned in our goals.
Research has seen its own kind of explosion here with new programs and increased research funding. What is the significance of that success to the Keck School?
CP: Right now we have about $275 million in sponsored research in the Keck School and its affiliates. At the medical school alone, our sponsored research funding has gone up by about 25 percent in the last three years, which puts us at a greater level than our peer institutions as reflected in the ranking of the medical school. In a single year, last year, we moved up five spots to position #34 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.
Continuing on the topic of research, one of the Keck Schools newest programs is a collaboration with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. How did that come about?
CP: Interdisciplinary research is a real hallmark of USC its the hallmark of the Keck School of Medicine. We have a number of research collaborations between the Keck School and the Viterbi School, and we worked to enhance that by bringing together faculty with common interests for a series of retreats.
Our faculty agreed that building educational bridges across our two campuses and using students as intellectual vectors to promote collaboration would be very worthwhile. We are now in the planning stages for the first class of the new technology and engineering programHTE@USCwhich will co-educate a cohort of medical students and a cohort of Ph.D. students from the engineering school. We will train them in interdisciplinary laboratory worka very exciting new initiative to promote health, technology and engineering.
One of your accomplishments has been the full eight-year accreditation of the medical school by the LCME. How was that achieved?
CP: The key to our success was to address concerns that the LCME had shared with us about things like the student health service, about the availability of psychological counseling, career counseling. Another very important element was the appointment of a new vice dean for medical education, Dr. Henri Ford. We had the help of the entire staff of Educational Affairs and the clinical and science leadership of the school; the collaboration was fantastic. In the end, we were able to reveal the Keck School as the marvelous medical education institution that it is, and we got an extraordinarily positive review from the LCME Accreditation Committee. It was the best review in this schools history.
Youve been known to host students in your office for lunch, and you have hosted them in your home. Why is that important to you?
CP: I think interacting with the students and the residents in training is a great privilege. Mentoring and interacting with our future researchers and future clinicians is really very exciting. We have extraordinarily talented medical students at USC. They come in with unbounded enthusiasm for medical care and the future of medicine. Our job is to help them realize their dreams whatever they might be.
Looking ahead, you have been talking about the need to create new facilities for our campus. What are the top priorities?
CP: We want to make the USC Health Sciences Campus a destination for three types of peoplepatients, students and researchers. And by destination, I mean that you will know you have arrived at a very special place when you come here. We need to create a special environment with amenities for our faculty and staff. For our patients, it is important that they know that they are arriving at a place where their needs are our highest priority. We need to build a new ambulatory care center that addresses the medicine of tomorrow. Our USC University Hospital is growing quite rapidly, and its likely that were going to need more operating rooms and more ICUs soon.
For our students, we want to create a premier educational destination. There is a new emphasis on small group learning, high levels of interaction, and clinical simulation, and we need to build a new medical education facility that addresses this changing world and permits us to increase our class size, which we need to do in light of the coming shortage of physicians in this country. We can mobilize the clinical resources to train more than 200 doctors a year here, but to do that, we really do need a better core educational facility.
Finally, we want to make this a destination for researchers. We have a strong need for space for developing a new imaging program, and for programs in genomic medicine and preventive medicine. We have some outstanding laboratory space in three of our buildingsZilkha, the new Broad stem cell building, and the Harlyne Norris Research Towerbut we need additional standard dry lab space near wet lab facilities.
Through the campus master planning process, we plan to create an environment where there are amenities for our students, our staff members and patients and visitors. Im optimistic that were going to be able to build a hotel on Alcazar in the years ahead and also build improved student housing.
Fundraising will play a key role in creating new facilities and in creating new scholarships for medical students. What are your plans for raising those funds?
CP: President Nikias has outlined a very impressive plan for a very significant fundraising effort for USC, and the medical enterprise will play a major role in that. The goals of this campaign would include increasing the endowment of our medical school. It is important to differentiate between top medical schools and other medical schools by the size of their endowment. We need to build our endowment aggressivelyendowed professorships, endowed research pools and endowments to fund student scholarships in perpetuity. We need to raise money for the buildings that weve discussed and for the hospitals construction and modernization.
How are the leaders on this campus working together to plan for the future?
CP: When I arrived here, we had no hospital management team of our own because we didnt own any hospitals. I was instrumental in recruiting Mitch Creem as CEO of USC University Hospital and USC Norris Cancer Hospital. Mitch used to work with me in Boston, and so I think weve developed a very collaborative management structure between the hospital and our physicians and our researchers. That is a real accomplishment.
What else is on your mind as you look ahead to the new year?
CP: Were going to be recruiting more clinical leaders, which is a very important effort. We have searches under way for the next director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and for chairs of two clinical departmentsRadiation Oncology and Emergency Medicine. I look forward to bringing new talent and enthusiasm to the outstanding faculty we already have in place.
Puliafitos Keck School Deanship by the Numbers
35 new faculty leaders
Eight-year accreditation by LCME
Research funding up 25 percent
Moved up five spots in US News rankings
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