Prioritization of Academic Programs

April 2001

I.   Introduction

The UNMC prioritization process focused on existing and emerging areas of excellence rather than colleges, schools, institutes or other traditional academic organizations. This approach highlights the directions in which UNMC is moving as an academic health sciences center (AHC) in education, research and patient care. Educational activities are the primary function of UNMC and were featured prominently in the prioritization process. The UNMC education programs that focus on the education of health care practitioners for the State clearly were the top priority.

Research in academic health centers has never been more interdisciplinary. Molecular biology technology has provided the infrastructure for the traditional disciplines to interact and foster new research directions. The human genome project will change biomedical research and patient care in ways not imaginable 15 years ago. All of this will come about because of the interactions of the various health care disciplines.

Therefore, our prioritization process focused on what we do well regardless of discipline. Innovative education programs are not the purview of one discipline, but are found throughout the health sciences. Exciting biomedical technologies do not arise or apply solely in one AHC college; all academic and research units foster the development of new technologies.

The listing below addresses areas of excellence at UNMC relative to Education of Health Care Professionals, Research, and Health Care Delivery and Outreach. Various colleges and institutes contribute to each of these areas of excellence as indicated in the examples associated with each area.

II.  Education of Health Care Professionals

The UNMC is the only publicly supported AHC in Nebraska. A primary function of the campus is to educate health care practitioners for Nebraska. The highest priority educational programs are those that meet the definition of excellence as judged from student educational outcomes and national accreditation standards and that produce entry level generalists in relatively high volume:

  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
  • Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS)
  • Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology (BSMT)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

There are several other excellent educational programs that meet critical needs in Nebraska, but often produce smaller numbers of graduates. For example, the UNMC dental hygienist program graduates 20 hygienists per year. Similarly the Radiation Science Education programs are even smaller, but the workforce needs are nearly as critical. The total number of degree granting programs (including 2 certificate programs) at UNMC is 28. This does not include any of the 38 medical, dental or pharmacy residency programs.

Many information technology platforms are utilized to deliver these educational programs. For example, the RN to BSN program and B.S. in Medical Technology are offered via distance education, as are components of the Rural Training Track in Family Medicine. Information technology infrastructure is essential to support the educational programs, as well as research and health care delivery (e.g., telemedicine).

III. Research Programs

Each of the research areas identified as priorities for UNMC has many components. The components of the research areas being investigated are specifically targeted to match the expertise of the faculty. Furthermore, there is considerable interaction among the research areas, e.g., genetics and cancer. A faculty member may be involved in several research areas, overlapping equipment needs exist and there may be overlapping funding of several projects. This again demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature of modern biomedical research. Also, the identified research areas involve educational programs (graduate and professional) and patient care programs. For example, the UNMC research programs are the foundations for the M.S. and Ph.D. graduate programs. The genetics program provides a variety of educational experiences in addition to strong research. Finally, imbedded in many of the research programs are related clinical/patient care activities.

a)  Cancer

The Cancer Center is one of 60 National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated Cancer Centers and 1 of 14 NCI designated Clinical Cancer Centers. The Center is recipient of 1 of the 2 NCI SPORE (Special Programs of Research Excellence) in GI/Pancreatic cancer. The Cancer Center uses the state-of-the-art Lied Transplant Center for cancer patients receiving bone marrow stem cell transplantation therapy.

The Cancer Center has 140 members from throughout the NU system, including UNMC (all units), UNL and UNO. Research areas, basic and clinical, include: the internationally recognized lymphoma program, stem cell transplantation program (over 2600 transplants have been done), pancreatic cancer program, breast and prostate cancer programs and oral and head/neck cancer program. Active research programs in cancer biology, cancer etiology, developmental therapeutics, drug delivery systems, gene therapy, cancer prevention and symptom management also exist in the Center. A variety of multidisciplinary clinics for cancer treatment are housed within the Cancer Center.

The Cancer Center has a Cancer Research Training Program and a Breast Cancer Training Program. Also, there is an international exchange program funded by the Chinese government, which brings 5‑7 Chinese scientists to the Cancer Center each year.

b)  Cardiovascular Diseases

Various cardiovascular diseases are associated with aging, e.g., heart failure.

UNMC has selected this research area in response to the needs of Nebraskans. The cardiovascular research group specializes in studies directed at understanding diseases related to failure of the heart and blood vessels. Although associated with aging, lifestyle changes can modify the development of these diseases. The areas of research explored by basic scientists and clinicians at UNMC are heart failure, stroke, lifestyle changes in preventing diseases, developmental studies, and neural control of cardiovascular function.

c)  Genetics

The Center for Human Molecular Genetics (CHMG) was created 3 years ago to provide the focus for basic research in genetics. The CHMG addition to UNMC/Munroe‑Meyer Institute genetics programs provided the final component to the overall genetics program. In addition to the CHMG, various other activities exist, e.g., clinical genetics (diagnostics and prevention), genetic counseling, rehabilitation programs for children/ adults with genetic disorders, education programs on genetic disorders for health care professionals and laboratory services (diagnostics). The research activities involve transgenic studies, gene‑chemical interactions, microarray analysis, and neurosensory developmental studies (including mechanisms of normal and abnormal development).  

d)  Innovative Biomedical Technologies

In addition to traditional biomedical research opportunities, the development of new biomedical technologies is a prime consideration for UNMC.  Traditionally, biomedical technologies have arisen from research and development at academic health science centers. Various efforts at UNMC have led to new technological developments including the formation of "spin off" companies, e.g., Lab‑InterLink, Hickman‑Kenyon Systems, Inc. and ScanMed. Presently, several potential technologies are under development in a variety of areas, e.g., robotics/biomechanics, diagnostic technologies, microarray analysis coupled with bioinformatics (partly in association with UNOmaha), biomaterials/prosthetics and all aspects of minimally invasive surgery (including, but not limited to robotics).

e)  Neurosciences  

This is an expanding area of research at UNMC. Activities range from cellular and subcellular basic research programs to clinical trials for new drugs and related therapeutic modalities. The focused areas of research related to neurosciences are important for Nebraska with its aging population. The Center for Neurovirology and Neurodegenerative Diseases, is a focus for several of the research programs. Some of the research programs include studies on the potential mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and AIDS dementia, as well as studies on mechanisms of treatment for these diseases. In addition, cell signaling studies and clinical trials on new drugs also are underway.

f)  Stem Cell and Transplantation Programs  

The UNMC has long been a leader in providing clinical services in the transplantation of solid organs and bone marrow or hematopoietic stem cells. With the advances in developmental biology, there is an increased emphasis in research related to stem cells, cellular transplants and new approaches to solid organ transplantation. In this arena, patient care, research and education are closely linked. Some of the areas of research involve human adult stem cells, mouse embryonic stem cells, transgenic techniques, diabetes and pancreatic transplantation, hematopoietic stem cells, solid organ transplants with minimal immunosuppression, surgical robotics in support of transplantation and liver studies.

IV. Health Care Delivery and Outreach  

Another primary activity of UNMC is to provide health care services and health education for all the citizens of Nebraska. This is accomplished through a variety of activities.

The delivery of health care services to the citizens of Nebraska, as well as to those beyond our state borders, encompasses both urban and rural areas and is accomplished through the primary care and specialty clinics and health care services provided by UNMC. Examples of such services include the College of Nursing Mobile Nursing Center that provides interdisciplinary health care education and health screening, primarily for the elderly in rural central Nebraska. The Munroe‑Meyer Institute cares for patients with developmental disabilities through the ongoing provision of on‑site clinics throughout Nebraska. The faculty of the College of Medicine provides clinics across the state in a variety of medical subspecialty areas. In urban Omaha, clinics are provided in both north and south areas of the city. The Colleges of Dentistry and Nursing jointly operate a clinic in downtown Lincoln.

In addition to serving the needs of Nebraskans, clinical activities are important to UNMC as well. Clinic revenues are an economic driver for UNMC and NHS. The financial health of the UNMC/NHS partnership is critical to the viability of the UNMC educational, research and service programs.

The priority area of outreach constitutes a separate activity from delivery of health care. Outreach involves those activities designed to offer ongoing educational support and expertise to the healthcare providers located throughout Nebraska by the units at UNMC. Such activities include the provision of continuing education for practitioners and telehealth support. Although primarily considered an activity associated with the educational process, clinical education relationships are of mutual benefit to UNMC and the practitioners throughout the state. Through the Rural Health Education Network, all UNMC academic units provide opportunity for students to be educated in a clinical setting. In this setting health care practitioners serve as preceptors for UNMC students. The Rural Health Opportunities Program is an outreach effort designed to recruit students from rural areas into the health professions. In summary, the priority programs related to Health Care Delivery and Outreach are:

  • Primary care and specialty clinics/health care services
  • Continuing Education  
  • Telehealth
  • Rural Health Education Network
  • Rural Health Opportunities Program