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Fredric B. Meyer, M.D., was recently selected as the Juanita Kious Waugh Executive Dean for Education, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Dean, Mayo Medical School. His overall purview includes five schools: Mayo Medical School, Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education, Mayo School of Health Sciences, Mayo Graduate School and Mayo School of Continuous Professional Development. These schools span and serve all Mayo campuses and Mayo Clinic Health System.

Dr. Meyer recently spoke with Discovery’s Edge about his vision for education as it relates to research.

You’re a researcher and specialist in neurologic surgery. Why did you seek a broader administrative position?

I’ve always had a passion for education. So when this position was announced, I thought I would throw my hat into the ring to see if I might meet the qualifications to lead and advance education. My whole purpose is to try to improve the educational state of Mayo Clinic.

Do you have a vision statement for education at Mayo—the elevator speech?

Mayo Clinic is recognized as the premier health care provider. Correct? So my aspiration is to make Mayo Clinic also recognized as the premier educational institution in the United States and worldwide.

What are some strengths of education at Mayo?

You have very committed faculty who have commitment and passion for education for all types of learners—whether that’s a medical student, a resident, future Ph.D. researcher or a student in one of the allied health professions like physical therapy or radiology or whatever it might be. So that’s number one. Number two, since Mayo Clinic has an unparalleled clinical practice, the substrate to provide exceptional clinical education is here Three, we have great scientists at Mayo, so the opportunity to learn about research and conduct research, whether it’s in the laboratory or in clinical setting, whether it’s as a future care provider or scientist, is here.

Any weaknesses?

There are weaknesses, of course. I hope to expand educational opportunities for our medical students and trainees, which will include advanced degrees such as bioengineering, masters of business administration, or masters of public health in collaboration with leading educational institutions across the United States. I also hope to expand our outreach to underrepresented minorities, because we have a social obligation and sincere desire to do so.

Your own background as a researcher—how will that inform your job as Dean for Education?

I respect how difficult it is to do research. You have to have the intellect, the energy, the resources, the finances, and the infrastructure to really have a robust research effort. Mayo is fortunate because we have a large research infrastructure and very generous funding from benefactors and the National Institutes of Health, which is a testimony to the excellent science performed at Mayo. Since we have excellent scientists we have great opportunity to mentor and train the next generation of scientists.

Medical training and research

Mayo has been a leader in getting medical students involved in research. Why is it important to encourage medical student research?

Mayo Medical students at the Multidisciplinary Simulation Center
Mayo Medical students at the Multidisciplinary Simulation Center

Research and the advancement of knowledge, whether it is in the basic sciences or translational-clinical sciences, are essential to advancing patient care. Therefore it’s essential in my opinion that medical students, residents—in fact all health care providers—actively participate in some type of research. Research advances one’s own knowledge base, it enhances care, it leads to discovery, and new and better ways to treat patients.

What about enhancing the ability to evaluate research?

True. Research gives you the academic discipline to objectively evaluate data in publications to determine the veracity of that information. Let’s say you’re a physician in practice. You read a publication that advocates a certain approach to managing a medical problem. As the reader and treating physician, you want to evaluate for yourself the validity of the data, the validity of the study, and the conclusions and to decide for yourself whether it is meritorious and deserves to be applied to patients. It probably is a mistake to take for granted what is published in the medical literature. It’s much better to read for yourself, to understand the findings and make sure that you agree with the conclusions of the publication or study.

Is there a direct link between involving medical students in research early and patient care?

We have an obligation to advance science and medical knowledge to improve patient care. That’s part of the mission of being a physician. That’s why, if you think about it, at Mayo Clinic we have three shields, right? We have a clinical shield, an education shield and a practice shield. And they’re intertwined.

Some of the things I’m beginning to have discussions about include reducing medical school to three years. Imagine you had three years of medical school, did one or two years of your residency at Mayo, then you broke off for a couple years of research and then went back into the final years of clinical training.

A national medical school 

What are some of the immediate challenges—such as the opening of the new four-year campus in Arizona next year?

Opening up a new medical school campus is ambitious. The good news is that we have excellent people in Arizona who are working long hours with tremendous commitment to make the project successful. They have excellent support from the faculty, school leaders and administrators in Rochester—very integrated and collaborative because it is a national medical school approach.

How many students per class year in Mayo Medical School now?

About 54, but with the Arizona campus opening to its inaugural class in 2017, it’s going to double to a little over 100 Year 1 students.

Any thought about increasing beyond that?

It will probably be at that for the time being. Honestly, it’s an issue of cost. It is my hope to someday to install a third full medical school campus in Florida—to repeat what is happening in Arizona and Rochester.

You have proposed a new Mayo Graduate School program on Regenerative Medicine. Why? And what will that look like?

Our graduate school offers seven excellent Ph.D. training tracks. I have talked about the idea of creating a new Ph.D. training program in Regenerative Science, because I think that is one of the futures of medicine. Restoration of function in many organ systems is really a key advancement that is going to happen in medicine, and I think Mayo needs to lead that.

– Greg Breining

August 25, 2016