Achievements and challenges

The University of Iowa and our department are recognized as experts in a sizable list of diseases and conditions. We have a reputation for understanding and treating diabetes, cystic fibrosis, acute kidney injury, a host of gastrointestinal and cardiovascular complications, just to name a few. We are national leaders in outcomes for lung and kidney transplants and in a variety of cardiac procedures. Through our relationship with the VA Health System, our investigation of innovative systems improvements results in health care delivery that is safer and more efficient. And there is no question that, when it comes to cancer, University of Iowa Health Care is a national leader. The reputation of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center (HCCC) for discovery and compassionate care was not built overnight or easily maintained. It has been an ongoing effort from people at this institution over many years. And last week we learned that one of the chief architects and stewards of that effort, Dr. George Weiner, will step aside as HCCC director at the end of next month. If you have not had a chance to read his warm announcement and his assessment of 25 years of cancer care at Iowa, you can do so here.

In that letter Dr. Weiner points out a few reasons for why Iowa has become synonymous with world-class cancer care and research and why he remains optimistic about our future. He discusses transformative treatments such as immunotherapies that have long been championed by many of our visionary oncologists. They certainly hold significant promise, especially for people who might otherwise face life-ending diagnoses. But I would also emphasize the mention Dr. Weiner makes of clinical trials of many other kinds of treatments. New chemotherapy drugs may not be as headline-grabbing as CAR-T cell therapeutics, but our expanded ability in the last few years to launch a wide range of clinical trials for a spectrum of cancers has meant the difference for so many patients. Dr. Mo Milhem and Dr. Yousef Zakharia founded a working group to safely fast-track Phase I clinical trials and are piloting more studies for more patients than ever before. I agree with Dr. Weiner that Iowa will remain a leader and a source of comfort and hope for tens of thousands of Iowans for many years to come.

This is not to say that we do not face challenges in our ability to deliver that comfort and hope, particularly when it comes to faculty and staff recruitment. Last month’s video presentation of the successes of 2022 and the challenges ahead in 2023 from Dean Brooks Jackson and Interim CEO Kim Hunter provided detail on a couple dozen performance measures, all of which shows just how hard we have been working to meet each of our missions. I was pleased to see them acknowledge, however, that one of our greatest needs now and in the coming years will be hiring and retaining physicians, nurses, and other clinicians to staff the new facilities under development. It is important to note that we are not alone in this problem at Iowa, which makes the landscape in which we are recruiting dramatically more competitive. Our hospital leadership has started providing sign-on bonuses to recruit staff to the areas of greatest need, and it is likely that similar efforts at retention will target at-risk areas. Despite hiring more than 2,400 new employees last year and retaining more than 87% of our staff, it may take a while before we can feel the impact of this new focus.

For our part, there are aspects of employment with UI Health Care that we can and should emphasize, whether we are talking directly to recruits or even our peers at other institutions. The size of the institution and our large catchment area means that we have access to a broad spectrum of patients. We have freedom to pursue lines of inquiry that line up with our curiosities and passions, including fellowships in health services research or quality improvement at the VA. Whatever your interest, you will also have support through mentorship and administration to help you develop sustainable programs, whether it is by identifying and helping you apply for funding or by connecting you with other intramural resources, even colleagues or mentors who share similar passions. If taking on a clinical leadership role is more your interest, the UI Health Care Executive Leadership Academy is just one of many avenues to provide you formalized instruction and to connect you with support. There is no shortage of chances to learn something new and make your mark at Iowa.

And, as we look nationally for junior faculty to replenish our ranks, we should also talk about just how easy it is to live in the Iowa City area. We are fortunate to have such easy access to rich cultural events in a diverse community with a relatively low cost of living. Those of us who have lived here for a while may take that for granted but talk to your colleagues elsewhere about commuting or the price of an evening out. You may find you have much to say about what we have to offer at Iowa beyond just career opportunities.

About Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD

Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD; Interim Chair and DEO, Department of Internal Medicine; Kate Daum Endowed Professor; Professor of Medicine – Cardiovascular Medicine; Professor of Radiation Oncology

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