By Sandra Gurvis
Ten superstar doctors, researchers and administrators who joined The Ohio State University Medical Center in the past year talk about the factors that attracted them here over other cities and other academic medical centers. Collaboration opportunities, collegiality, modern facilities and a focused commitment to excellence are but a few.
A cure for one form of cancer. Relief for chronic pain when all else has failed. A new way to treat drug-resistant bacteria. These are but two of the many goals that top-tier educators, researchers and scientific leaders have brought to The Ohio State University Medical Center (OSUMC) in the past year. Some were lured away from other institutions, while others sought out a unique working environment and found it at Ohio State. Nearly all were surprised at what the University and the city of Columbus had to offer; the term “undiscovered gem” crops up in their comments more than once.
Like Ohio State’s well-known athletic teams, it makes perfect sense that star players in the medical field are drawn to the largest university in the United States, despite its location in the middle of what some call “flyover country.” In addition to the numerous awards and honors that speak to Ohio State’s and the Medical Center’s excellence (see sidebar), “the opportunities here are unparalleled,” observes Steven G. Gabbe, MD, senior vice president for Health Sciences and chief executive officer of Ohio State’s Medical Center. Rather than protecting their own research and scientific turf, “people here are interested in what they can do collectively and collaboratively.”
Gabbe himself was recruited twice: First in 1987 as professor and chair of Ohio State’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and again in 2008 from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, where he had been the dean. The second time around, he noticed, “there was amazing growth: outstanding physicians and established signature programs that were attracting top-tier talent. Many, if not most, of the people I’d worked with before were also still here, which says a lot about this institution.” It also provided a chance to work again with Ohio State President Gordon Gee, whom Gabbe knew from Vanderbilt. “I was thrilled about that – and also to be back in Columbus” with its ever-expanding menu of educational, lifestyle and cultural opportunities.
They Come from Everywhere
“I had grown comfortable there; it was pleasant,” recalls Jason Calhoun, MD, FACS, of his position as the J. Vernon Luck Sr. Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Missouri. During his four-year tenure there, Calhoun expanded the program from three to 23 faculty, quadrupled revenue and saw a tremendous increase in grants and research publications. This made him a prime target of an Ohio State search committee.
As much as he enjoyed Missouri, the opportunity to step outside the box was too enticing to resist, and Calhoun came to Ohio State in January 2009 as chair of the Department of Orthopaedics and holder of the Frank J. Kloenne Chair in Orthopaedics. “The deans and the entire administration here are dedicated to excellence and improvement.” The Medical Center’s strategic plans and Signature Programs allow him the opportunity to grow the Department and extend its offerings in sports medicine, a hand center and more. Calhoun is able to continue his own research on the evaluation and treatment of drug-resistant bacteria in bone infections in soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Although I’ve only been here a few months, it’s been exciting: a real challenge.”
Until he was contacted by an Ohio State search committee, “I hadn’t even considered a professional life outside of Boston,” admits Arnab Chakravarti, MD, Ohio State’s new professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Medicine and holder of the Max Morehouse Chair in Cancer Research. A lifelong East Coast resident, Chakravarti had been affiliated with Harvard Medical School since 1995, rising to associate professor of Radiation Oncology there, as well as serving as both a radiation oncologist and director of the Brian D. Silber Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Radiation Neuro-Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Among other things, he and his lab focus on molecular mechanisms of radiation resistance and ways to overcome it, with a concentration on gliomas and prostate cancer.
Not only did Chakravarti bring his wife and three children to Columbus in March 2009, but his entire lab came with him as well. He says the opportunity and emphasis on collaboration, in combination with having one of the best cancer and medical facilities in the world, were attractive, “along with the chance to improve on our current directions of research and establish venues of research not explored before.” Additionally, he saw that top investigators were already in place in neurosurgery, internal medicine and experimental therapeutics, allowing him and his team access to the latest and most in-depth information.
|What’s So Great about Ohio State?
The Ohio State University and its Medical Center (OSUMC) are picking up honors almost as fast as Buckeye athletes score points. Along with being named one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for the 17th consecutive year by U.S.News & World Report, OSUMC was named an Honor Roll hospital this year, now ranking it among the top 21 hospitals in the nation. For three years, the Medical Center has been named one of central Ohio’s “Best Places to Work,” according to the region’s leading business newspaper. And in 2009, Ohio State was recognized for the second year in a row as a “Great College to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Ohio State and OSUMC have also been prolific in attracting financial support. Faculty at the Medical Center hold more than $205.7 million in external research funding. During the past eight years, total research award dollars and NIH research award dollars have more than doubled.
• Ohio State led the nation in new fellows elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in three of the past five years.
• In 2008, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and OSUMC received a prestigious $34 million NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award.
• The Medical Center’s new Biomedical Research Tower is the largest research facility on the Ohio State campus and is designed to encourage interdisciplinary activity among principal investigators and lab teams.
• Over the past seven years, The Ohio State University College of Medicine’s ranking among U.S.News & World Report’s “Best Medical Schools” has increased more than that of any other college of medicine in the United States.
• The Medical Center has broken ground on the largest construction and renovation project in University history. It’s called ProjectONE.
Ohio State is renowned for having everything a medical researcher or clinician needs in a single place, making it a major draw for recruits looking to grow their science programs. “I knew I wanted this job within 90 minutes of my first interview,” says Susan Brown, RN, MSN, who was hired as chief nursing officer for Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) in June 2009. “I am, first and foremost, a cancer nurse,” she notes. “This position allows me to focus on high-level nursing, practice and education, and on advancing cancer nursing, both at the Medical Center and beyond.” Previously, Brown spent 12 years as associate vice president for oncologys services and director of the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Indeed, the OSUCCC – James, in addition to being a leader in teaching and patient care, boasts vast numbers of research projects and grants, and is part of a planned $1 billion-dollar facilities expansion called ProjectONE. “As the only freestanding cancer hospital in the Midwest, and the fourth busiest in the nation, we are growing in an economy where many other organizations are cutting back,” observes Michael Caligiuri, MD, chief executive officer of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, and director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Caligiuri helped recruit Brown and others. “In the CCC alone, we have more than 250 investigators doing basic and clinical research from 12 of Ohio State’s 18 colleges.”
The emphasis on interdisciplinary interaction caught the attention of Maura Gillison, MD, PhD, at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “I looked at 24 different jobs before coming to Ohio State,” says Gillison, now professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology and a member of the Cancer Control and Viral Oncology programs at the OSUCCC. “I was searching for a place that would view all the things I bring to the table as assets…Mike [Caligiuri] was flexible and willing to provide me with the infrastructure I needed.” A leading human papillomavirus (HPV) expert, Gillison, who came to Ohio State in January 2009, researches the role HPV plays in the development of head and neck cancers and studies the connection between infections and cancers.
“Involving researchers and scientists from many areas of study is a powerful tool in helping to answer complicated questions about cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other illnesses,” adds Wiley “Chip” Souba, MD, ScD, dean of Ohio State’s College of Medicine and vice president and executive dean of Health Sciences, who, along with Gabbe, helped recruit Chakravarti, Calhoun and others.
Attracting the Best
Souba also points out that Ohio State enjoys tremendous community support from legislators to citizens to alumni. “When people interview here, they sense our collegiality and esprit de corps.”
The concept of science as a “team sport” was a major factor in bringing Ali Rezai, MD, to Ohio State. Formerly director of the Center for Neurological Restoration and professor of Neurosurgery at the Cleveland Clinic, he is now professor and vice chair for Clinical Research in Ohio State’s Department of Neurological Surgery, holder of the Julius F. Stone Chair in Cancer Research, director of the Functional Neurosurgery Program and also of Ohio State’s new Center for Neuromodulation.
Neuromodulation holds tremendous therapeutic potential in movement-disorder neurology, epilepsy, stroke, headache, pain management, psychology, psychiatry, and physical medicine and rehabilitation through “easing pain, providing hope for and restoring quality of life to patients with chronic disabling conditions who have tried all other treatments,” says Rezai.
Although he had offers from major institutions throughout the United States, Rezai, who started here in August 2009, says he “chose Ohio State because of its unique combination of strong leadership, the vision of its leaders and the emphasis on innovation and patient care.” From the top on down, he says “leaders, along with department and support staff, are synchronized in pushing the frontiers of medicine forward and developing new therapies. They are dedicated professionals who deeply care for patients and their families.”
OSUMC’s partnership with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus helped attract pre-eminent cancer researcher Peter Houghton, PhD, that same month. Houghton, after 33 years at St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, was eager to take over the Center for Childhood Cancer at Nationwide Children’s and help develop pediatric oncology programs at Ohio State.
Among other things, Houghton’s groundbreaking research deals with the basic biology of childhood solid tumors, as well as the discovery of new therapies to treat tumors occurring in muscles and other soft tissues, among the most common and highly malignant cancers in children. He was impressed by the combination of Ohio State’s pediatric oncology program and the opportunity to use the powerhouse resources of Ohio State, Nationwide Children’s and others “to develop large, therapeutic approaches for childhood cancer.” Plus, he notes, “the timing was right – both of my kids were in college, and my wife had accepted an out-of-town position that was equally far from Memphis and Columbus.” As with Chakravarti and others, Houghton’s entire laboratory came with him to Ohio State.
To Join the Best
Although many scientists and researchers dream of doing the work they love in an environment that allows them unlimited access to resources, the reality is that they have families and, in many cases, colleagues and laboratories, to consider. Ohio State recruiters make great efforts to accommodate these concerns. Affordable housing and cost of living, ease of commute, quality of schools and even cultural and recreational opportunities can make or break a decision to accept a job offer.
“Once we get people to Columbus, they discover it’s a wonderful community,” Gabbe says. Ohio State staff members work closely with scientists and their families to find jobs for spouses, educational programs that meet the needs of children, and neighborhoods that fit in with lifestyle choices.
Wael Jarjour, MD, who came to Ohio State in June 2009 from the University of Virginia to head Ohio State’s Division of Rheumatology and Immunology, found the constant communication from future colleagues and staff members incredibly useful. “I felt like part of the Ohio State family long before I arrived on campus,” he remarks. “I kept getting e-mails from people who genuinely wanted to communicate” and to facilitate his adjustment. And two potential critics – his teenagers, aged 18 and 14 – “like Columbus a lot. In fact, the oldest is planning to enter Ohio State as a biomedical science major.”
When recruits leave places like football archrival University of Michigan (Ted Teknos, MD, director of the Division of Head and Neck Oncology – Head and Neck Surgery in the Department of Otolaryngology, September 2008) and sun-and-sea meccas like the University of South Florida (Marc J. Tassé, PhD, director of the Nisonger Center, August 2009), it’s obviously to join a winning team. “When a colleague asked me why I was moving from Tampa to the snowy Midwest, and I explained it was to work at the Nisonger; he immediately understood,” says Tassé, who has more than 20 years of experience in conducting research and providing clinical service in intellectual and developmental disabilities. Having completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Ohio State in 1995, “I was thrilled to return to the Nisonger, which has an enviable reputation,” he says.
Teknos, who holds the David E. Schuller, MD, and Carol Schuller Chair in Otolaryngology, jokingly admits to being harassed by colleagues and friends from both states. His research interests include angiogenesis, refinements in micro-vascular reconstructive surgery, development of novel therapeutics for disease treatment and more. But the move has been well worth any ribbing. “There’s a unique focus on cancer patients not found elsewhere, along with some of the best doctors and research in the country.” So, rather than simply meeting his high expectations, Teknos says “Ohio State has exceeded them.”