September 17, 2012
Shop Talk

Taking A Double Dose Of Change: Q&A With Dr. Michael F. Collins, Chancellor, UMass Medical School

Dr. Michael F. Collins, Chancellor, UMass Medical School

VIEW: UMass Medical Chancellor Dr. Michael F. Collins talks about how the new Sherman Center will distinguish UMass from other medical schools.

Dr. Michael F. Collins is overseeing an expanding medical school at a time when the role of government in the health care industry is a hot issue. On that latter topic, the state's new health care cost containment law will nudge providers toward more transparency in costs, something Dr. Collins says he has been advocating all along.

What does health care reform — at both the state and federal levels — mean for teaching hospitals?

What we saw here (in Massachusetts) was that, first of all, there were about 700,000 people who were uninsured (most of whom then entered the health care system). And for a period of time, it was difficult to get a primary care doctor, difficult to get access to the system and now ... there's a lot of conversation about cost. So, there's a very clear implication for academic health science centers because our institutions are more costly than a community institution. … And if you're looking at efficiency and effectiveness of care in a payment model, there are more inefficiencies in an academic center than there would be in a teaching hospital. And I don't mean that in a negative way. I just mean that if I'm taking care of you and I take time to teach a student while I'm doing that or show a student how to do a procedure … that's going to take me longer.

We have a responsibility to educate the next generation of physicians, and we do it with a lot of standby capacity. … That said, we have to do something about our costs.

With regard, then, to the health care cost containment law that was just passed, how far can that go toward that transparency you were addressing?

The bill calls for transparency. We've been calling for that for a while now, but if we get to it this time, I think it could do a lot to promote transparency. … I don't think there are a lot of people interested in transparency because when you put the (numbers) out there, they could be astounded at the variation (in costs) that exists.

You're just months away from the Sherman Center's debut. Where do you see it making the biggest difference in the medical school's stature among other medical schools?

We're going to be increasing both our education and our research spaces, in an environment in which, hopefully, the sparks of innovation will fly. So we've picked areas where we have a particular expertise — clinical translational science, RNA biology, gene therapy, gene research — and we're going to house those scientific endeavors within proximity to each other.

How does it make a difference for Central Massachusetts?

There will be a lot of grant money and a lot of jobs that will go through that building. So (that will be) a very important economic multiplier here. We recruited 85 faculty to come and work in the new building, so they all bought houses and contributed to the economy. And our goal is to increase the prestige of the degree every day.

What's the key to leading and managing an employee base of about 6,700?

When you have a large number of people when you're a leader, you have to rely on a lot of people by establishing a vision, articulating it, and (being) sure they understand it with you and then want to come along with you.

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