This fall, I was honored to attend the opening of a new interprofessional medical education building at one of our member institutions. The new building featured a design that reflected the effort to build a community among health professionals, including physicians, athletic trainers, scientists, physician assistants, and physical and occupational therapists. But what impressed me most was the way that the community being fostered within the building mirrored the supportive community outside its walls, which came together to make the building a reality. The project was made possible not only through support of the state government, but through partnership with the local community and with many generous donors from across the state. By supporting this project, they showed the high value they placed on strengthening medical education and improving health and access to health care throughout their state.
The success of this endeavor illustrates the best of what can happen when our communities come together to support the missions of medical schools and teaching hospitals. At the AAMC, we often talk about how medical schools and teaching hospitals exist at the intersection of three important public goods that help determine the well-being of our society: educating the next generation of physicians, conducting cutting-edge research, and offering world-class patient care. Strong support from federal and state governments is essential to maintaining these public goods and fulfilling our overarching goal to improve the health of all. But in recent years, debate over government support for these public goods has intensified. Meanwhile, the future of the Affordable Care Act is uncertain, student debt has risen, and we lack sustained and predictable increased funding for medical research.
At a time of great uncertainty about federal funding, philanthropy gives patients, families, alumni, members of our local communities, and others a stake in the work we do. It creates bonds between our institutions and the people we serve.
Philanthropy cannot replace government support for the public good. But it can help fill in the gaps, especially at a time of uncertain government funding. Moreover, philanthropy can have a great impact that extends beyond what the government can do to fund medical education and scholarships, research projects, current operations, and other institutional priorities. Since 1999, the AAMC has published the results of an annual national benchmarking survey to measure philanthropy to medical schools and teaching hospitals. According to this year’s survey, 81 percent of donors to AAMC member medical schools and teaching hospitals are unaffiliated with the institutions. In other words, rather than alumni, faculty, or staff at an institution, donors are grateful patients, families, and other individuals who have developed strong personal connections to our institutions.
Occasionally, a gift can truly transform an institution. This fall, the University of Vermont College of Medicine received a $66 million gift to overhaul its approach to teaching. With this generous gift from Robert and Helen Larner, the medical school is reforming its curriculum completely, moving to a lecture-free approach to learning. It has constructed new spaces to foster student learning, and the curriculum will be updated to incorporate the flipped classroom model, where content that once would have been taught in lectures will be completed as homework and classroom time is spent on interactive activities and real-world application. The gift from the Larners has allowed the school to transform its curriculum so that students can focus on learning competencies and developing the real-world skills they will need as practicing physicians.
Academic medical centers play a key role in strengthening community health and cohesion. But we could not do that without the volunteers, donors, and community members who help shape and strengthen our institutions by contributing their time, talent, and resources to building our shared future. At a time of great uncertainty about federal funding, philanthropy gives patients, families, alumni, members of our local communities, and others a stake in the work we do. It creates bonds between our institutions and the people we serve. At a time of year when we focus on celebrating the bonds that connect us, I am thankful for the people and communities across the country who help us do the important work of improving the health of all.