While the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s commitment to maintaining its 500-mile wide campus from Scottsbluff to Omaha is sizable, UNMC Chancellor Dr. Jeffrey Gold says the center’s true reach stretches closer to 15,000 miles in the educational opportunities it offers in medical, nursing, dental, public health, and other specialties around the globe.

Gold, a physician who assumed the role of UNMC chancellor in January 2014, shared some of UNMC’s latest accomplishments and contributions to the state during a 30-plus minute presentation at the Hastings Noon Rotary Club meeting Friday at Mary Lanning Healthcare.

The invited guest speaker touched on some of UNMC’s latest medical breakthroughs in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, leukemia, and pancreatic cancer before opening the floor to questions about the medical center’s role in bio-containment of the Ebola virus. Topics covered included UNMC’s $4.8 billion impact on the state’s economic development and its role as the state’s No. 1 employer.

“Our first mission is the mission of education,” he said. “We have educational programs that span not only the entire Big 10 network of relationships that we have, but many other surrounding states and frankly around the world. We have educational programs as far as Shanghai, all through the Middle East, through several locations in Central and South America, and Western Europe as well.

“The programs that the med center has span everything from the medical programs, nursing programs, pharmacy programs, dental programs, allied health programs, public health programs, and graduate programs. All of our colleges are thriving from a perspective of enrollment.”

He also noted that several UNMC programs are ranked among the top programs in the nation and world, a testament to the high quality of education offered that continues to garner worldwide attention for its excellence.

Examples provided included UNMC’s medical school, which ranks fourth in the nation for 2019 by U.S. News and World Report in terms of clinical primary education; its pharmacy department, which ranks sixth in the U.S. in total research productivity; and its College of Public Health, which ranks 50th out of 300 following its first ranking of its 11-year history.

“Not to say that these external rankings and ratings are that meaningful, but it does mean that compared to our peers on the things that they rank us on we are in pretty good shape,” Gold said. “What excites me the most in the educational arena is our students. I get to spend a good deal of time with them and chat with these young women and men, and I get to meet some of the most amazing people.

“The generation of young women and young men that are currently studying in the health profession are incredibly capable, hard-working, dedicated, caring people.”

An all-new health and humanities program launched this week and named in honor of Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate from 2004-06, combines undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies to explore how humanities, health sciences and healing arts come together to aid in the healing process.

“It’s been well known for a very long time that art, music, literature and poetry all help people heal, but it’s never been really understood how and why and what is the effect of different types of music and different types of art,” he said. “Health humanities is recognition of the fact that young women and young men who study art and literature and music become great dentists, doctors, physicians, scientists, and carry on that humanistic side of the equation which helps them heal others (and) maintain their own resiliency (and) wellness.”

Following his update, Gold answered questions from the audience pertaining to UNMC’s latest advances in dementia treatment and its elite bio-containment program, which has drawn worldwide attention for its treatment of the deadly Ebola virus.

“We’re about to publish an amazing breakthrough paper on Parkinson’s that is going to report the first clinical trial of a brand-new medication that is going to have an incredible impact,” he said. “Thirty-two patients have been treated with this new medication, and it has taken Stage 4 Parkinson’s patients and reverted them all to Stage 1. One of them is training for a marathon.

“The interesting part about it is that those who had Parkinson’s dementia, which is a type of dementia similar to Alzheimer’s, their dementia that was thought to be irreversible has completely reversed. It may very well be that this new type of drug therapy will have an effect on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and the whole spectrum of dementias.”

Following the presentation, Gold fielded questions from the Tribune about his dual role as chancellor of UNMC and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“In Fall of 2016, the chancellor of UNO announced he was going to retire at the end of the academic year and they were unable to find somebody who was suitable,” he said. “(University of Nebraska) President (Hank) Bounds and the regents asked me if I’d sit in the role on an interim basis and I agreed to do it... One thing led to another, and last December the board decided to make it permanent.

“The initial term of that will be three years. What will happen after that …The agreement that I have is that if they decide or I decide or my wife decides that it’s enough, that’s when it ends. But I’m loving it. It’s not like I have two jobs — I have one job with two campuses.”

UNMC and UNO are sister institutions, along with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Kearney, within the University of Nebraska system. Each institution is led by a chancellor who is answerable to the NU system president and the elected University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

Addressing the rising cost of health care, he said it will be up to health care providers to find a way to to deliver the latest medical advances at a price that is affordable to all.

“That is the goal,” he said of affordability. “There are only four things that are going to determine the future of health care in our country: Availability or access; ability or quality; workforce — to have the right people in the right place at the right time; and affordability. If we don’t have an affordable health care system, it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s accessible and able. It’s got to be affordable.”

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