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Alan Bavley: Three deans of area medical schools write prescription for harmony

The opera world had its Three Tenors. Medical education in Kansas City has its Three Deans. And in their first recital together, they sounded in perfect harmony.

There are three medical schools in Kansas City — a large number for a metropolitan area of our size. And each has a dean who is relatively new to his job. The deans made a joint appearance last week before a gathering of students, faculty and civic leaders to share their thoughts on where medical education and research in Kansas City are headed.

It bodes well for medical research in Kansas City that their talk was filled with words like “cooperation” and “sharing” and “collaboration.”

Their medical schools have distinct personalities. The Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences trains doctors of osteopathy, a branch of medicine that has become part of the mainstream. The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine admits students straight out of high school for six years of training that leads to an M.D. The University of Kansas School of Medicine offers a “classic” four-year medical degree on a campus increasingly geared toward research.

In years past, the schools operated in their own worlds, paying little attention to one another.

But here was Bruce Dubin, dean of Kansas City University, talking about the schools sharing best practices in medical education.

And Steven Kanter of UMKC announcing a new bone and muscle research consortium that will team faculty from all three schools to make them more competitive for research funding.

That kind of multicampus collaboration helped win KU the status of a designated cancer center from the National Cancer Institute, KU dean Robert Simari said. And it’s becoming increasingly important as federal research money grows more scarce, he said. “We need to come together to compete on a national level.”

Indeed, Kansas City still has a long way to go.

Kansas City research institutions are receiving nearly $5.5 million in National Institutes of Health grants this fiscal year — the lion’s share, $4.3 million, going to KU. That puts Kansas City ahead of Oklahoma City, where researchers get a total of $4.8 million from NIH. But it doesn’t come close to St. Louis, for example, where Washington University, a national leader in medical research, is getting $41.4 million from NIH, or Pittsburgh, where Carnegie-Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh and other institutions rake in nearly $69 million.

For Kansas City to play on that kind of stage, the Three Deans will have to orchestrate a bravura performance.

To reach Alan Bavley, call 816-234-4858 or send email to abavley@kcstar.com.

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