Chancellor Shares Vision for UCSF to Become World's Preeminent Health Sciences Innovator

By Lisa Cisneros

In her third year as Chancellor, Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, unveiled an action plan for UCSF that builds on its meritorious mission of advancing health worldwide.

“My vision for UCSF is that we are the world’s preeminent health sciences innovator,” Desmond-Hellmann said during her State of the University address on Oct. 4, which was live-streamed, reaching more than 1,000 viewers. 

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“The tagline doesn’t change,” she said. “Advancing health worldwide speaks to everyone across the campus. UCSF advances health worldwide through innovative health sciences education, discovery and patient care. That is meaningful, no matter what you do at UCSF, be it something locally, something aspirational to change the future, teaching to provide health care providers and leaders for the future, or in global health sciences.”

Delivering her address in Cole Hall Auditorium, Desmond-Hellmann began by reflecting on recent accomplishments and thanking members of the UCSF community for their work in making the University an institution of great international stature.

But the chancellor made it clear she has set her sights on reaching even greater heights.

“I want us to be ahead of the game,” she said. “And so, to that end, my team and I asked ourselves, ‘Who do we aspire to be in three years, five years, 10 years? What do we want UCSF to be known for? And what are the things that we can do to make sure that UCSF is the place we aspire it to be?’”

The focus of the resulting three-year plan, Desmond-Hellmann said, is creating an environment where faculty, staff, students, trainees and patients can thrive.

“The most important resource here at UCSF are the people of UCSF,” she said. “It is amazing, the intellect, the passion, the drive, the commitment, the hard work and the inspiration I always derive from the people of UCSF, our most important asset.”

State of the University Resources

Working with members of her leadership team, the Chancellor’s Executive Committee, Desmond-Hellmann drafted the three-year plan building on tenets of the 2007 strategic plan, the first-ever campuswide blueprint for the future.

“The 2007 strategic plan was a very inclusive, cross-campus plan that did a fantastic job of reflecting our values,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “And we used that 2007 plan and all of the collective wisdom and input of this campus as the framework for this update.

“This [the three-year] plan serves as our near-term action plan, reflects our immediate priorities in the current environment.”

Facing a New Reality

Conveying a sense of urgency, the chancellor said the new plan is needed to respond to new realities – both challenges and opportunities. Among them:

  • An ever-changing national economic landscape with funds from the National Institutes of Health fluctuating, resulting in 2012 purchasing power expected to be about the same as it was in the year 2000.
  • The addition of 15 to 20 million Medicaid patients who will come into the health care system over the next five years, alongside marked declines in Medicare funding.
  • The ongoing decline in state funding with a net estimated cut of $38 million to UCSF this year alone.

“It’s tough out there,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “It’s a big, challenging time, and unlike some other times for us here, we don’t have good news on one front and challenges on the other. There are challenges everywhere we look. But there are many opportunities, and I would point out that as we look at the opportunities, we’re in a great place in terms of what we do.

“Our mission continues to resonate, and people are looking to places like UCSF for answers to some of the questions – health care costs, innovation, “ she said, adding that the University is located in an area with the “fastest-growing industries – health care, Silicon Valley – healthy and thriving. So we’re in an environment that’s actually prospering right now.”

Outlining a Three-Year Plan

UCSF’s Plan of Action

UCSF’s goals, which reflect the Chancellor’s top priorities, are:

  • Provide unparalleled care to our patients
  • Improve health through innovative science
  • Attract and support the most talented and diverse trainees in the health sciences
  • Be the workplace of choice for diverse, top-tier talent
  • Create a financially sustainable enterprise-wide business model

To realize the vision of becoming the world’s preeminent health sciences innovator and execute the three-year action plan, Desmond-Hellmann said UCSF must achieve five goals, all of which coincide with her priorities as chancellor: patient care, discovery, education, people and business.

Goal No. 1: Unparalleled Patient Care

Goal number one, she said,is to “provide unparalleled care to our patients across all sites.” That can be achieved by hiring and retaining the top health care providers and accelerating the translation of groundbreaking science into therapies for our patients.”

To accelerate the translation of science into benefits for patients, UCSF must continue to “make sure we’re effective at collaborating, both with other academic institutions and with industry,” Desmond-Hellmann said.

And providing world-class patient care will be easier with the addition of UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, a state-of-the-art hospital complex to serve children, women and cancer patients. The new medical center is expected to open in early 2015.

Goal No. 2: Improving Health Through Innovations in Science

“The second goal is to improve health through innovative science, by maintaining our commitment to excellence in basic science and collaboration efforts within the UCSF research community, by investing in infrastructure that enables UCSF to excel at basic clinical and population research, and by leading and influencing biomedical research policy at a national level,” Desmond-Hellmann said.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jeff Bluestone, PhD, said this involves a three-pronged approach:

  • Investing in infrastructure improvements that support the basic science community and making sure that the funding opportunities at NIH and elsewhere are as easily as possible to the University community.
  • Continuing one of the great legacies of UCSF by recruiting exceptional, outstanding, and creative and innovative scientists and
  • Fostering more partnerships with industries, like Sanofi, Pfizer, Merck and others, as well as investigators across multiple disciplines at UCSF, in the clinical departments, in the other basic science departments, with other universities that offer engineering and mathematics.

“We need to open our world, we need to open our work to collaborations and partnerships that will help us not only do the best research possible, but be able to support that research,” Bluestone said.

Goal No. 3: Nurturing Diverse Trainees

The most important resource here at UCSF are the people of UCSF

Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann

The third goal is to attract and support the most talented and diverse trainees in the health sciences. The first priority in this area is to increase professional and graduate student financial support to help offset rising student fees and student debt load upon graduation.

“We do need to develop infrastructure for the way we want to teach our trainees and to create a learning environment in which our trainees thrive,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “And again, one example of this is the intention to create a multicultural resource center, so that all our students from an incredible variety of diverse backgrounds feel welcome on our campus.”

Goal No. 4: Creating a Workplace of Choice

The fourth goal is for UCSF to be the workplace of choice for diverse, top-tier talent. Among the strategies to achieve this goal are offering enhanced development opportunities for faculty and staff; basing compensation on performance and at market levels; and creating an environment where people can thrive.

“So there’s a lot to this – job, family, and career pathing, development plan, succession plans, and making sure that we have a plan for endowed chairs for our faculty,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “There’s a lot under this, and we’ve really, really got to get this right.”.

Goal No. 5: Fostering Financial Sustainability

The chancellor acknowledged that the fifth goal – to create a financially sustainable, enterprise-wide business model – prompts questions about what that means.

Securing UCSF’s financial health is akin to preventive care, ensuring that the University can survive and achieve its mission well into the future, she said.

“UCSF is a public university,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “We have a public mission, which all of us collectively love. We cannot have community engagement and honor our public mission if we can’t afford it. So part of having a business plan that sustains us and gives us a line of sight to future funds is making sure we execute our public mission.

“The first four things I told you about will not be possible if we can’t pay for it. So we have to have a healthy future when it comes to the money.”

A Call to Action

With a set of clear goals and direction in hand, Desmond-Hellmann emphasized that every member of the UCSF community should know exactly how they can contribute to the University’s success.

“I’m asking all of you to be a great citizen of UCSF, to know that a healthy future for all of us involves change. And change is hard, and it rattles all of us,” she said.

“I think UCSF, after watching and listening and being your chancellor for two years, is an astounding place, an amazing place filled with talented people. And I do think if we did the things we’re capable of, we would not just astound ourselves, we would astound everyone.”

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