Dean leaves med school healthy but struggling
Fundraising is strong, Shomaker says, but costs are climbing
The new John A. Burns School of Medicine at Kakaako is "a point of pride for the entire state," but it's struggling with operational costs of about $10 million a year, says outgoing interim Dean T. Samuel Shomaker.
Faculty members are holding on to research grants and bringing in new ones, despite reduced federal funding, he said. An estimated $30 million is expected this year in grants and contracts, up from $25 million last year.
However, faculty recruitment was halted about a year ago because all "disposable income" had to go into facility operations, he said.
A $2.1 million deficit had been expected for the last fiscal year ending in June, but it may be reduced by savings on salaries from unfilled positions, he said.
Utility costs are the big worry, Shomaker said, as the school underbudgeted utilities by about $1 million in the past fiscal year.
He said the school is expected to break even this fiscal year because of additional university support, but it may have a deficit in 2007-2008.
Shomaker discussed the school's challenges and opportunities in an interview before he and his wife, Dr. Suzanne Yandow, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Shriners Hospital for Children, moved to Texas earlier this month.
Shoemaker will become dean of the Austin Programs of the University of Texas Medical Branch. He did not apply for the permanent position of dean at the UH school.
"We are devastated to lose him to Texas," said Beadie Kanahele Dawson, president of the 500-member Friends of the Medical School. "Our board voted unanimously to support him as permanent dean (of the medical school). He's so eminently qualified to lead this school."
Shomaker earned his medical degree from UH in 1986. He became associate dean in 2000 and interim dean last year when Edwin Cadman resigned after being diagnosed with a neuro-degenerative disorder.
Shomaker said he has mixed emotions about leaving. "By the same token, maybe this is the right time for the school to have somebody with a fresh perspective come in, to look at the direction and make sure it's the right one."
He feels the school needs a bigger role in economic development and "catalyzing" biotechnology. It should also collaborate closely with the Cancer Research Center when its new facility is built on adjacent property, he said.
"For my two cents' worth, things seem to be on the right track," he said. "The task of the new dean is to build on the foundation and take it to the next level."
The Kakaako school is "one of the most beautiful and functional facilities in the country," Shomaker said, noting it had 1,650 applicants last year for 62 freshman slots, including 1,400 from out of state.
"We got about a 250 jump in applicants. They're attracted by the curriculum, and word is out about our great new campus."
The school's research funding has increased 600 percent in six years, Shomaker said. "Even in the really difficult funding climate NIH (National Institutes of Health) is experiencing, we've still managed to get grants and hold on to most of the ones we had."
About 12 faculty members hired after Cadman was appointed dean have brought in $20 million in research grants, Shomaker said. "It only costs us about $2 million in salaries. So the people we were recruiting are very successful." Indirect costs associated with research grants generally are divided, with 50 percent going to the school and 25 percent each to the offices of the UH system vice president for research and vice chancellor for research at Manoa, he explained.
They have agreed to give their 50 percent, about $4 million, to the medical school this fiscal year, which will help prevent a deficit, he said.
"We're plowing indirect costs we earn back into operating the facility. We have to do it, but it also takes away a source of capital we could use to reinvest" for the research program, he said.
The Legislature provided about $6.2 million in operating money for Kakaako for fiscal 2006 and $6.7 million for fiscal 2007, but fiscal 2008 is a potential problem, he said.
Medical schools across the country are feeling a pinch in funding and clinical reimbursements because of fewer NIH dollars, Shomaker said. "In some ways we are better off than a lot of medical schools because we don't have the fixed overhead of a university hospital."
Speaking to the school's supporters at a recent open house, he said, "The vision is to be the best medical school in the world with an Asian-Pacific focus." The four areas of strength, with potential for additional funding, are tropical medicine and infectious diseases, reproductive and development biology, neurosciences and health disparities, he said.
"It's been my great honor and privilege to be the first alumnus in the medical school to serve as interim dean. That memory will always be cherished."