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Renewal: New Strategy for the School of Medicine

January 18, 2006

Suzanne Johnson
Michael DeMocker

tulwin06_gutterNew Orleans has long struggled with population issues. Before Katrina, the city had about 480,000 residents, about the same number it had in the mid-1800s, with most of the greater metro area population of 1.3 million living in neighboring parishes.

With post-Katrina damage and portions of Orleans Parish not habitable, New Orleans' December 2005 population was estimated to be about 70,000. Before the storm, there were 5,000 hospital patients in the city at any given time; on a recent day in December, the number was 100.

The city's downtown healthcare district, decimated by flooding, is nonexistent. Tulane's School of Medicine will have spent the entire academic year hosted by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston before moving back to New Orleans in May 2006.

In light of the changing healthcare landscape in New Orleans, it was natural that the Tulane University School of Medicine would need to change to fit the circumstances -- nothing new for the 172-year-old school that was Tulane's first, founded in response to the yellow fever epidemics that plagued the city in the 1830s.

As is true of other parts of Tulane, the School of Medicine will get smaller and stronger, with the goal of positioning the school among the top National Institutes of Health-funded institutions in the country.

The downsizing of the clinical operations will result in the elimination of 180 faculty positions, approximately one-third of the total medical faculty of 545.

Board member Martin Payson said officials had to face a basic fact in making decisions about the medical school's clinical operations: "They don't have patients in the city of New Orleans right now," he said. "We had a large medical teaching operation that had to be brought back to fit the size of the constituency."

The medical curriculum will not shrink but will be redesigned, added board member Linda Wilson, NC '57. "You look at what is required to be an accredited medical school and what is required to be a strong academic research medical school, and then you do what is required to do that."

Payson said community physicians will be recruited to supplement full-time clinicians. "The program will not be brought down -- it will be delivered in a different way," he said, adding that it will allow the medical school to partner with other New Orleans-area hospitals.

In the meantime, areas in which Tulane has the greatest strengths -- gene therapy, for example, as well as organ transplantation, cancer, infectious diseases and vascular disease -- will be enhanced.

Tulane remains in partnership with HCA healthcare, owners of the Tulane Hospital and Clinic, and has consulted HCA throughout the restructuring process. "We have worked on this plan with them and are taking steps forward that are optimal from their perspective as well as ours,"Wilson said.
The postgraduate medical program will continue, with residents working at area hospitals such as Tulane-Lakeside Hospital in Metairie, La., Lakeview Hospital in Mandeville, La., and the Veterans Administration Hospital in New Orleans.

Neither board member expects applications to the Tulane University School of Medicine to be affected. "We have so many applicants because this institution has a strong reputation for training doctors," Wilson said.

From Survival to Renewal
Renewal: The Undergraduate Experience
Renewal: Academic Reorganization
Renewal: New Strategy for the School of Medicine
Renewal: Community Focus and Partnerships
Renewal: Intercollegiate Athletics

Winter 2006

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000