Dear RBHS Community Members,
The end of the year is a natural time to reflect. Perhaps in no other year in our lifetimes has there been more to contemplate as the world has been gripped by a once-a-century pandemic. But through the difficulty, I have been inspired by the response you have all made to compassionately treat your patients, serve your community, and bring new innovations to populations that need hope. Though the pandemic has disrupted many of our plans and processes, it will never compromise our mission to deliver vital care that improves the health of New Jersey residents.
Through the difficulty, we have much to be proud of from 2020. In our fight against COVID-19 our clinicians, trainees, and staff delivered and continue to deliver life-saving care to our communities. Our research made rapid COVID-19 testing a reality and continues to provide hope for treatment and mitigation. Our experts kept the public well-informed with accurate guidance and helpful resources, and together we quickly transitioned our work and studies to continue our training, research, and discovery. The RBHS research community coped well with the necessary research ramp-down, and despite all the difficult challenges are now back at high capacity while exercising the necessary precautions. Our educators quickly adapted to remote teaching methods and made creative adjustments to meet the needs of our learners.
RBHS has been sought out as a partner by both public and private organizations as the pandemic has unfolded. We have been a valuable asset to the State of New Jersey, first by lending our expertise to grow the testing infrastructure, then to aid in its expansion of contact tracing, and soon to support its efforts to vaccinate to prevent COVID-19. We were also among the first in the nation to enable early graduations for our nursing, pharmacy, and medical school students, who then nobly joined the ranks of the frontline health care workers treating patients in the first wave of the outbreak.
Our nimble and robust infrastructure has enabled us to partner on vaccine clinical trials with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Moderna’s vaccine was granted an Emergency Use Authorization last week. Johnson & Johnson is expected to report their Phase 3 results next month; notably Rutgers is the second largest recruitment site for this vaccine trial worldwide. Our integral work with these public and private partners is something that should build immense pride in all of us.
Despite obvious headwinds, there was good news of the steady progress we have made in growing the research enterprise at RBHS. We have cultivated an environment in our schools, centers, and institutes to promote scholarship, innovation, and discovery. The growth of our research portfolio has been spectacular. Since 2014, research awards (in dollars) have grown by 67 percent and, save for a short pandemic-related dip in funding from FY19 to FY20, we have seen consistent year-over-year growth, culminating in our reported $365 million for FY20. Thus far in FY21 the news is again good; we are tracking substantially ahead of our FY20 numbers. Through the first quarter of FY21, our federal grant awards ($64 million) are up by 29 percent versus the same timeframe last year.
Our research success is consistent across many areas. In cancer, our ongoing designation as New Jersey’s only NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center allows us to continue our work toward new oncological therapies while serving as New Jersey’s prime destination for treatment. Upon the establishment of the New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science (NJ ACTS), a statewide hub for clinical and translational science, NJ ACTS earned New Jersey’s first Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), which is increasing our university’s access to clinical trials, helping to introduce new therapies, and creating opportunities for increased funding. CTSA awards support a national network of more than 50 medical research institutions nationwide that collaborate to speed the translation of research discoveries into improved patient care. NJ ACTS has recently supported one of the largest studies of the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers and secured NIH funding to develop COVID-19 testing strategies in vulnerable populations. Numerous investigations to learn more about the human microbiome, neurological disorders, and environmental health are breaking new ground, too.
As we race to meet the challenges of today, we are also planning for the future. We have embarked upon an RBHS strategic planning process under the guidance of Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Bishr Omary. Development of the plan is being guided by an outstanding steering committee co-chaired by Gwen Mahon (Dean, School of Health Professions) and Sylvia Christakos (Distinguished University Professor, New Jersey Medical School). This new plan will succeed the institution’s first, which was initiated in 2014. The steering committee and its broad-based subcommittees have already met with many stakeholders across the university and held several town halls. I am very excited to see how the committee connects our previous strategic achievements with a new, bold path for the future.
2020 has also been a remarkable year for the evolution of graduate medical education. Rutgers Health became the sponsoring institution for all GME programs and we have recruited Sherry Huang to be the inaugural Vice Chancellor for Graduate Medical Education and Enterprise Wide Designated Institutional Officer. Dr. Huang, a pediatric gastroenterologist, joins us from University of California-San Diego, and will oversee more than 1,600 residents and fellows across RBHS and RWJBarnabas Health. This recruitment is an important outcome of our partnership and special collaboration with RWJBarnabas Health.
Another addition to our leadership roster in 2020 was the appointment of Linda Flynn, PhD, RN as the Dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing in June.
Lastly, I am grateful to report that we have reached a collective negotiations agreement with the AAUP-BHSNJ, the union that represents 1,400 faculty members at RBHS, which has been ratified by the faculty.
Together we have already accomplished so much, and though we have much work left to do, I have high hopes for what lies ahead. Thank you all for your hard work, resilience, and dedication. I am deeply grateful and humbled to work alongside each and every one of you. As one of the best academic health and research centers in the country, we are truly shaping the future of human health, innovation, and discovery.
I wish you and your loved ones a healthy, joyous, and fulfilling holiday season and New Year.
Brian L. Strom, MD, MPH,
Chancellor, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences