Throwing Fitz

The move to Fitzsimons was supposed to send CU's Health Sciences Center sailing into the 21st century. So why are so many doctors jumping ship?

In medical circles, the catchphrase du jour is "translational research." The NIH is pushing it as an emphasis in future research grants, and research institutions are scrambling to show their general capacity for it. The exact definition is a bit elusive, but translational research basically involves an integration of lab work, clinical diagnosis and therapy -- working with patients, taking discoveries from the lab to the hospital ("from bench to bedside") and back again to yield measurable benefits in health care. CU's team-oriented new campus would seem to be a perfect place to put the concept into practice, but researchers say the Fitzsimons model fails to address the need for these kinds of interactions. The hospital has become more monolithic and less interested in supporting research, they claim, while the research complexes are at a remove from actual patient care.

Translational research is particularly important to projects such as Chip Schooley's AIDS research. "For us, it's critical to be able to efficiently see patients, talk to them about their medical care, get the samples we need and get them processed efficiently," he says. "That's a real dilemma for this new enterprise."

"There will be multiple sites on the new campus for clinical research," Sladek responds. "But for three years, there will be people in transition, no doubt about it."

New digs: The recently opened Research Complex 1 
at Fitzsimons replaces cramped space at the Health 
Sciences Center's Denver campus.
Anthony Camera
New digs: The recently opened Research Complex 1 at Fitzsimons replaces cramped space at the Health Sciences Center's Denver campus.

Ridgway says the administration recognizes the need to address the issue. "The hospital and the Health Sciences Center planning have not been coordinated, that's true," he acknowledges. "But I think the Health Sciences Center has tried very hard to integrate clinical, research and educational programs. The campus is in the process of trying to develop what the resource needs are for translational research. Every institution is going to have to change its way of behavior to access research dollars."

Twenty years from now, the move to Fitzsimons may be regarded as a critical step in the HSC's quest to become one of the top medical schools in the country. Or it may represent the beginning of a plunge into debt and declining reputation that will transform the place into an elegantly appointed doctor mill.

Steve Dubovsky believes that the administration's disregard of the faculty's concerns, and the resulting loss of talent, will make recovery difficult. "If this was a private company, the board of directors would have fired everybody by now," the former psychiatry professor says. "In a medical school, you have people who could be working for industry and making millions. The main reason they're at a medical school is that they have very high self-esteem; some are arrogant and pushy, and that's why they're successful.

"When you have a management approach that says, ŒWe don't want anyone that's going to make trouble,' you're eliminating about 90 percent of the people with traits that make them successful in academic medicine. You'll have people who will go along to get along, but you won't be that successful anymore."

Chip Schooley has never been one to go along to get along. He knows what gets results in the world of AIDS, and that's what he plans to keep on doing, whether in Colorado or somewhere else.

"If we didn't do the lab work, we wouldn't be where we are now," he says. "That's the kind of medicine that appeals to me -- where you have an immediate impact on patient well-being, and at the same time learn fundamental things about how the disease works. That requires a real health sciences center, not a hospital on one side of the street and some laboratories on the other."

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