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The University of Rochester Medical Center is on the verge of signing alliances with Chinese medical schools and Indian hospitals.
The deals would follow trips by URMC officials, including CEO Bradford Berk M.D. and Chief Operating Officer Peter Robinson, who respectively led delegations to China and India in October.
In those countries, Berk and Robinson, as well as other top medical center officials and faculty, met with medical school and hospital counterparts.
The delegations laid groundwork that is expected to bear fruit soon in the form of mutually beneficial long-term relationships, said Berk, who as a researcher has decadelong personal ties to schools in China, South Korea and Japan.
URMC has a dual goal in extending such feelers, he said. It hopes first to get its name out in Asia and the Pacific Rim as a top-flight teaching and research institution. In addition, it hopes, the relationships will pay financial dividends.
Such ambitions are crucial to the university's future, said UR provost Peter Lennie, who along with President Joel Seligman visited two Chinese universities and two in Hong Kong last May. He and Seligman plan a second excursion to explore ties with Chinese schools sometime in 2013, Lennie said.
Among the first fruits URMC expects to pluck from its recent Chinese excursion is a pact establishing a UR China Institute at the Shaoxing People's Hospital, a research institution in the municipality of Shaoxing. The institution is one of the country's most respected research facilities, Berk said.
Accompanying Berk on the trip were top officials of URMC's Clinical and Translational Science Institute, including Director Thomas Pearson M.D.; Thomas Fogg, executive director of operations; and Matthew Skerritt, researcher.
Berk expects to sign an agreement formalizing a relationship between URMC and the Shaoxing hospital in mid-2013. Expected terms would call for URMC faculty members to spend one to three months a year in China in a first phase focusing on education. The UR China Institute would offer master's programs in clinical research, public health and technology commercialization.
Shaoxing is a short hop by high-speed rail from several of China's C9 League universities, a group along the Yangtze River Valley that is known as China's Ivy League. He expects the institute to draw students from across the Yangtze Delta, Berk said. He envisions the educational exchange going both ways, with URMC students and faculty being schooled in traditional Chinese medicine. He personally has come to appreciate the 2,000-year-old discipline since adding some of its remedies to therapies he has employed since a 2009 bicycle accident that left him in a wheelchair, Berk said.
Robinson said he believes the excursion his group made also will yield partnerships with Indian hospitals.
The India delegation included Raymond Mayewski M.D., URMC chief medical officer; Robert Panzer M.D., chief quality officer; and India Initiative executive directors Mukesh Patel and director Barinder Patel. Also along were URMC radiology professor Vikram Dogra M.D. and Vivek Kaul M.D., gastroenterology division chief.
The group visited hospitals in Mumbai and Delhi and Sri Ramachandra University and Medical Center in Chennai, conferring with officials at nine institutions in 10 days.
URMC's ophthalmology department already has ties with the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India, Robinson said.
Such alliances would be important to UR's future, Lennie said. In an increasingly globalized environment, the school faces two main challenges: maintaining and improving its status as a research institution and keeping its curriculum relevant.
Through the 20th century and early into this century, Lennie said, the United States maintained primacy in research because university investigations were supported by federal money and because many of the brightest scientists from around the world flocked to U.S. universities.
As federal research funding sinks and the economies of developing countries rise, fewer researchers will be motivated to come here from abroad, Lennie predicted. It will behoove U.S. schools go out to the rest of the world instead.
UR also needs closer ties to foreign schools if it is to prepare students properly for roles in the global economy, Lennie added.
Relationships with foreign schools and offshore institutions are not new to UR, he said. The school has links to New Zealand, South America and Europe, for example. But in the past such relationships have formed on an ad hoc basis as initiatives grew from individual relationships between researchers or teaching faculty.
UR wants to keep establishing and growing such ties organically, Lennie said. But it wants to start nurturing contacts and establishing its global brand in a more organized way as well. In addition to any more immediate boons it might bring, URMC's current efforts to forge ties to Chinese and Indian institutions will serve as a learning experience, providing insights helpful to future efforts.
Establishing UR as a player in places such as China and India will pay off at home as well in Asia, Lennie believes.
"We are not always recognized for some of our better points," he said. "We have been underappreciated."
Berk seconded the provost's view.
"We need to have a global presence to establish ourselves as a brand," he said.
But a higher profile in Asia could have a more direct payback, Berk added.
China and India are the most populous countries on Earth and together account for more than one-third of the planet's population. And, Berk said, Asian economies are among the world's fastest-growing.
U.S. investment in health sciences still exceeds that of nations such as China and South Korea in absolute terms, he said. But those countries are putting 5 percent and 7 percent of their gross domestic product into health sciences, while the annual U.S. investment in health sciences stands at 1.5 percent of GDP.
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