Archive for Sunday, July 17, 2011

Big decision on KU Medical Center leadership to follow review

July 17, 2011


Some time in the next several days, Kansas University School of Medicine faculty members will be receiving forms from KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little’s office asking them to fill out a performance review questionnaire on Barbara Atkinson, executive dean of the School of Medicine and Executive Vice Chancellor.

According to various medical school sources, this is the first time Atkinson has undergone a review, contrary to the policies of the medical school, which call for periodic reviews of all deans and department chairs. Atkinson has been at the medical school since 2000 and was named executive dean in 2002.

This review comes at a time when morale at the school is poor and deteriorating, and many faculty members question Atkinson’s leadership and management skills. There has been unrest at the school for some time, and in recent years, the role Atkinson played in trying to provide aid for Kansas City’s Saint Luke’s Hospital at the expense of the school and KU Hospital; the firing and the manner of the firing of one of the school’s most distinguished researchers and teachers; the manner in which Atkinson filled a vacancy created by the retirement of highly respected Ed Phillips, vice chancellor for administration; and questions surrounding the recent resignation, or firing, of a staff member who had served as an associate director of the school’s cancer center, all have added to questions about Atkinson’s ability to lead the school.

Medical School sources tell this writer a search for an assistant and backup for Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the cancer center, had been under way for some time, with several interviewees turning down the job. The departed assistant had been hired just last July, and Atkinson’s critics say the hiring of that individual is evidence of her poor management skills, in that before being hired by KU, he had held five different university positions in eight years and that there were unanswered questions about him.

This comes at a particularly bad time for the university as it has been planning to submit an application sometime this fall, most likely in September, to have the Medical School designated as a National Cancer Center.

Some at the school say there now is serious discussion under way about whether to delay the school’s application for the national cancer center designation because of internal situations at the school.

A massive three- to five-year effort has been under way at the school to obtain the prestigious designation, and it would be a major and discouraging blow to those who have worked so hard to achieve this title to learn of a significant delay.

Atkinson’s critics at the school of medicine claim that the leadership situation is “fragile” and that the review of her performance comes at a terribly important time. Some who received word of the upcoming review have asked whether answers to the review will be handled in a confidential, anonymous manner. If not, it is doubtful the chancellor will receive an objective picture of the situation at the medical school.

With the recent attention given Gov. Sam Brownback’s appointment of three new regents, it will be interesting to see if the Board of Regents will be brought into the discussion about the leadership and management of the medical school. It is known one of the governor’s goals is to have the medical school raise its national rankings and reputation, just as the KU Hospital has done over the past 13 years.

Many people question whether significant improvements can be made with Atkinson’s leadership, and they claim there may be a number of superior staff members who will decide to leave if Atkinson is retained.

With the performance review due to be sent out this coming week, it appears the medical school leadership question now is clearly in the hands of Chancellor Gray-Little. A great deal rides on her decision.


Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 10 months ago

A good article on a very important issue.

But a few days ago, there was an excellent article on the differences between the KU Hospital and the University School of Medicine. A number of commenters pointed out that it didn't make any difference to them, or to anyone else.This is ridiculous. And it is typical of a lot of commenters - instead of trying to make a point, or to enlarge on something that is useful to many people, they apparently just comment to here themselves talk..

You and I may depend some day on the decisions that are made at the Medical School. I hope that the review of Atkinson's leadership and management skills involves a lot of people. She is in a very important position.

LJD230 6 years, 10 months ago

This opinion piece is NOT about the KU Medical Center. It is about the KU School of Medicine. Each of these entities are two very DIFFERENT beasts,

Like all medical schools, the KU School of Medcine's missions are EDUCATION, patient care and research. The education mission has both an undergraduate and graduate component.

The quality and REPUTATION of both undergranduate and graduate medical education is highly dependent upon where and how students receive basic science education, where undergraduates do there clinical clerkships and where the postgraduates--both residents and fellows--provide direct patient care and perform research. The KU Hospital is TOO small i.e., not enough clinical material to fully accomodate both missions.

This lack of scale requires that students, residents and fellows be "farmed" out to other institutions for clinical experience.. Other than KU Hospital, what other hospitals where medical students, residents and fellows train are MAJOR ACADEMIC affiliates of the KU School of Medicine? How much influence/control do the clinical chairpersons in the School of Medicine have over the experiences of their residents and fellows when working at other facilities?

Despite the misgivings of some, a major affiliation with St. Lukes would have gone a long way in improving and expanding both undergraduate and graduate medical education at the KU School of Medicine.

And please, this NOT ABOUT KU Hospital or any of the other entities comprising the KU Medical Center.


LJD230 6 years, 10 months ago

And one more thing.

Is there any compelling reason why KUMC is not overseen by a Vice Chancellor TO WHOM the Dean of the School of Medicine reports? Is the existing table of organization still applicable and appropriate?

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 10 months ago

I would think that the more appropriate question would be "is there any compelling reason to go back to the old system where the two positions were held by different individuals?"

And Dolph complaining about Atkinson is not a compelling reason :-)

LJD230 6 years, 10 months ago

A better organization model would be that of having the dean of the medical school solely responsible for the educational mission of the medical school. The dean of the medical school would in turn report to a Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences who would be responsible for all academic affairs within the medical center.

You think this organizational structure adequately supports the mission of the school of medicine?

You think this organizational structure advances the mission of the KU Medical Center?

Too much authority has been vested in the hands of the Vice Chancellor.

And in my humble opinion, the position of Vice Chancellor should be downgraded to that of Provost for Health Sciences with all the deans reporting to him or her.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 10 months ago

Based on comments and reactions to Dolph's columns over the years, it appears that a number of people only have Dolph's column and his generally negative comments upon which to base their opinions of what is going on at the KU School of Medicine. (And Dolph regularly confuses the School of Medicine and the KU Hospital, which doesn't strengthen his arguments one bit.)

Yet, based on conversations with the people I know who actually work/teach/study there, it seems there are a variety of differing opinions, none as extreme as Dolph's, and many differing degrees to which those opinions are held.

Interestingly, the topic of "morale" was almost always met with eye-rolling. Why? Well, just because your ego tells you that your you-know-what doesn't stink doesn't mean it doesn't stink. And expertise in one area doesn't automatically make you an expert in all areas. And not getting everything you want because you want may not like that, but it doesn't mean your "morale" is low.

"Low morale" is often used as a catch-all excuse. Sadly, when folks like Dolph do this, their overuse of the term diminishes its effectiveness when there truly are morale problems.

Based on his own words, I don't believe Dolph will be satisfied unless Gray-Little fires Atkinson. But what if the reviews come back and they don't support Dolph's position? What if, contrary to Dolph's small cadre of 'sources', most folks at the KU Hospital don't particularly have a problem with Atkinson?

Well, yeah...I know...Dolph won't accept that. He'll come up with excuses.

For example, he wrote that "some who received word of the upcoming review have asked if it will be handled in a confidential manner".

But receiving word about the review is NOT the same thing as actually being asked to review. For all we know, these people 'wondering about confidentiality' have nothing to do with the process. (Note that Dolph didn't refer to them as 'medical school sources'.) They can be curious, sure. But, if Gray-Little doesn't fire or discipline Atkinson, I'll bet that Dolph will complain about 'lack of confidentiality'...and won't present any evidence to back up that claim...just innuendo from unnamed "some people".

He also wrote that, according to his sources, "this is the first time Atkinson has undergone a review, contrary to the policies of the medical school, which call for period reviews of all deans and department chairs".

Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but "periodic" doesn't mean "annual" or any other specifically regularly scheduled time. And Atkinson doesn't schedule her own review. But I'll bet again that Dolph will blame her.

I don't know if this woman is lousy or really good or anywhere in between. I just know that the people I know who work/teach/study there do NOT agree with Dolph...and they apparently have far more dealings with her that Dolph does.

Jack Martin 6 years, 10 months ago

Barbara Atkinson's review was scheduled long before this columnist's recent fixation on her. It is part of the standard review process for officials who report directly to the Chancellor. The General Counsel's review was just completed and Dr. Atkinson was next in line. The results of all of these reviews are strictly confidential - something to remember when reading future columns that claim to know the contents.

Rather than performing a cut-and-paste of my response to previous similar columns, I'll just point out that under Dr. Atkinson's leadership, the School of Medicine's NIH ranking has risen 15 places in five years; the faculty has more than doubled; philanthropic support has nearly doubled; and enrollment capacity -- critical to meeting Kansas' need for health care professionals -- is up significantly.

I'll also point readers to a couple of recent articles from this very newspaper detailing the advances being made at KUMC. The first is about a $20 million grant that puts KU in an elite group of 60 universities collaborating on ways to turn research into treatments faster. The second is about the merger of the KU Cancer Center with the Kansas City Cancer Center, which strengthens KU's application for NCI designation.

KU_alum_professor 6 years, 10 months ago

As an professor at a competing university and an alumnus of the KU School of Medicine, I must say that the KU School of Medicine is not at the level of its peer institutions' respective schools. As an example of the inept medical school leadership, Barbara Atkinson put a radiologist in charge of the Dept. of Health Policy and Management and development of the School of Public Health. That's like letting the hospital administrator provide radiological services.

equalaccessprivacy 6 years, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Jack Martin 6 years, 10 months ago

Here is a response to this column by Dr. Roy Jensen, director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center:

To the Editor:

As director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center, I would like to express my dismay at the errors in Dolph Simons, Jr.’s column on July 17 – particularly those relating to the cancer center’s application for National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation on September 25.

We will make our application on time, as our external advisory committee gave us the green light to do weeks ago. If I or anyone else in a leadership position with the cancer center had been consulted for this column, we would have made that fact abundantly clear.

We have had and continue to have remarkable stability in the leadership of the cancer center, which will be a major point in our favor in the NCI process. Hundreds of university employees are working tirelessly on this initiative, which includes the recruitment of additional top-flight cancer researchers. Tens of thousands of people in the region are supporting this effort because they know the benefits it will bring for patients.

The success of our application depends on a favorable review by our national peers. Inaccurate reporting harms that effort. The State of Kansas and its citizens have invested a great deal of money and time in this cause, with one goal in mind: eliminating the burden of cancer for people in our area.

We are scientists who are judged on facts. We hope the publications that cover us are bound by the same standard.

Sincerely, Roy A. Jensen, MD Director, The University of Kansas Cancer Center Director, Kansas Masonic Cancer Research Institute Professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, anatomy and cell biology, The University of Kansas School of Medicine William R. Jewell Distinguished Kansas Masonic Professor

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