A top leader of the nation's largest health promotion foundation visited the University at Buffalo on Friday to praise the university for building its medical school downtown – and to encourage school leaders to use the project as a springboard to help improve the health and wealth of all Western New Yorkers.
"Ultimately the economic success and healthiness of a city, and the success of a university and an academic medical center located there, are fundamentally linked, inextricably linked," said Dr. James Marks, executive vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Marks – a 1973 graduate of the UB medical school – made his remarks on the North Campus at the start of Homecoming Weekend during a keynote speech and panel discussion entitled, "Building a Brighter Future for Buffalo: Academic Medical Centers and Why They Matter."
He pointed out that health care is the largest single business sector in the national economy, that other Great Lakes cities also are using health projects as linchpins for economic revival – and that health in its most meaningful form goes far beyond treatment of sick patients.
Sharing the thoughts of a chamber of commerce member in Oklahoma City, he said that cities and regions that focus on well-being seek to attract a dynamic, talented work force with a mix of plentiful green space, places to walk and ride bikes and public transportation, as well as healthy, vibrant schools.
"What this is really about is a community becoming a good place to raise a family," Marks said.
Marks praised those who helped plan and develop the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus for taking bold, thoughtful steps to assure work conducted at the new medical school will fill far beyond its walls and neighboring buildings.
The eight-story, $375 million UB Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will house 2,000 students, faculty and staff when it opens early next year on High Street. Most of that throng will move from existing medical school buildings on the South Campus at Main Street and Bailey Avenue.
The transformation will create much more space, spawning the need for 100 new faculty positions. It also will support 3,000 new jobs, school officials said.
More space and teachers also will allow each medical school class size to grow by about 40 students, bringing the number of new students each year to 180.
The new school will include a Metro Rail stop beneath it and be physically connected to the neighboring John R. Oishei Children's Hospital, which will open soon, as well as Buffalo General Medical Center and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. This will make it easier for medical students, UB residents and fellows to quickly get between the school and nearby buildings where they work and/or train, said Dr. Roseanne Berger, senior associate dean for Graduate Medical Education with the medical school.
UB med school will have a similar look at feel to the nearby Gates Vascular and UB Clinical and Translational Science institutes, housed alongside Buffalo General and featuring a towering, open atrium and layout designed to help health professionals mingle.
It will be the latest gem that medical school faculty and administrators will be able to dangle in front of the top aspiring medical professionals from around the world as they look to lure them to Western New York.
"The turnaround since I've been here has been remarkable in terms of getting more people here, getting more money into the area to really revitalize things. It's made a huge difference and very notable change," said Dr. Tyler Kent, 32, a Chicago native who came to the region almost 10 years ago and has stayed on for his residency and fellowship.
The roughly 1,500 UB-connected medical school students, residents and fellows are among the young people who have thrown new energy into the housing market and business districts in the Elmwood Village, Allentown and West Side.
"It's very exciting," said Dr. Christopher Schaeffer, who grew up in the Buffalo Parkside neighborhood, has been on faculty with the UB Internal Medicine Residency Program for 15 years, and run the program the last six. "Never in a million years do I think people my age or older could see this coming."
Marks said the medical school move, and the energy it will bring, must also extend to improving the health and well-being in the poorest of neighborhoods that fan out in many of the blocks that stretch from the medical campus – and that the campus should strive to do more than treat sick patients, but look to prevent health challenges in the first place by building a community with better food access, more walkability and greater civic health education.
"Buffalo is a poor city socioeconomically and the weather here is perceived as a real negative, perhaps uniquely so," said Marks, "especially those who don't live here or grow up here. We know it's not so bad when you have lived here…
"The move of the medical school and creation of the medical center campus is a morale-building statement of confidence in Buffalo's future. Coupled with what's happening at the waterfront and Canalside, it's almost as if the signal Buffalo is making is that it intends to become the next cool city to live, work and play in.
"This is not prophecy, though, especially of the most fulfilling kind. Rather you're at the beginning of a crucial phase of turning that statement and that signal into real accomplishment."
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon