leadership-NeilsonHarrisonHow We’re Planning to Transform Healthcare Through Research

In February, nearly 300 of our principal investigators gathered in a hotel in downtown Chicago to contemplate the future of Feinberg’s research enterprise. Working together, these scientists and physician-scientists spent the day brainstorming ideas for the medical school to prioritize in the next five years.

During nearly eight hours and three rounds of discussions, facilitators recorded hundreds of thoughts and suggestions. After each round of dialogue, ideas were projected onto screens around the room, refined, voted upon and ranked. Topics like epigenetics, community partnerships, big data and personalized medicine using stem cells rose to the top during the final ranking process.

Now we must reflect on these ideas and decide how we can best build on our existing strengths to continue advancing our research to transform healthcare. Undoubtedly, this will involve increasing the size of our faculty, ensuring we have the space and infrastructure to support that growth, and solidifying collaborations across Feinberg and other schools at Northwestern University. Research exploring how we can elevate the way we deliver medical education — an area that translates directly to clinical outcomes — will also remain a priority for us. (See this story about our exciting simulation-based medical education research.)

Another critical key to our success is partnering with our clinical affiliates, from Northwestern Medicine and beyond. Each is a laboratory to undertake research. We know that only by working together can we enhance quality of care; attract new patients to participate in clinical trials; and improve outcomes with better diagnostics, better therapies and by using big data analytics and precision medicine tools. It’s no coincidence that our research growth over the last five years has occurred as our clinical partners expanded, too. (Read here about how a multidisciplinary team of our physicians took collaboration to heart to save a patient with a highly unusual complication post surgery.)

Visualizing where we want to go requires thinking about how far we’ve come in just half a decade: In 2016, Feinberg received $443.1 million in research awards, a 40 percent increase from 2012. We also ranked 16th in National Institutes of Health funding among all American medical schools, up from 20th in 2012 and 39th in 2002. Feinberg is now ranked 17th among the nation’s best medical schools, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital 8th among hospitals, according to U.S. News & World Report. These impressive facts and figures confirm that we are well on our way to solidify our place as an elite medical school for years to come.

This promise was on display in February at the retreat and again in April at our annual Research Day, where more than 400 students, trainees, staff and faculty proudly presented the findings from their projects and solicited feedback to make their work even stronger. The record-breaking participation in this event celebrating research, the energy and comradery palpable in the conversations that took place that day, painted a striking picture of the way we approach research here at Northwestern Medicine.

With warm regards,

Eric G. Neilson, MD                                      Dean M. Harrison
Vice President for Medical Affairs                 President and CEO
Lewis Landsberg Dean                                 Northwestern Memorial Healthcare