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  April 29, 2002

Health-Related Schools Soon to Join Forces
By Richard Veilleux

A plan to move UConn's four health and human development-related schools into a collaborative alliance is moving closer to completion. The alliance is intended to allow faculty to combine their strengths to better access private and governmental grants, enhance the experience and skills of students in each of the schools, and direct back to the schools the money saved by combining similar administrative functions.

The reorganization becomes effective July 1.

"We're very close to setting the final structure," says Charles Super, dean of the School of Family Studies and director of the new Division of Health and Human Development. "We should see a lot of good results. The promise of the division is very strong."

The reorganization brings the talents and skills of faculty and staff in the schools of allied health, family studies, nursing, and pharmacy into a single division, while allowing each school to maintain its autonomy and its own budget. Each dean will continue to report to the chancellor. The schools will be assisted administratively by a centralized staff, with a team of workers to handle the division's fiscal management, administrative, student services and external relations needs. The arrangement is expected to create efficiencies - and savings - in areas that currently overlap. Students will be better served through collaborative teaching and advising.

"This creates a foundation upon which the four independent schools can coordinate and collaborate, where that makes sense," says Super. He points to the field of gerontology as one area where collaboration could lead to interdisciplinary research that, combined, will be stronger than several individual initiatives.

Joseph Smey, dean of the School of Allied Health, says he recently saw first-hand how that collaboration can be positive.

"In terms of numbers, clout and potential, the difference in applying for research and training grants is night and day," Smey says. "We recently submitted a pre-proposal to FIPSE to fund an initiative to increase the cultural competence of students and faculty. When we included research from the other schools, it immediately made us competitive.

"This will open up all kinds of opportunities," he adds.

Laura Dzurec, dean of the School of Nursing, agrees. "This has great potential. It involves sharing ideas, communicating with one another on a regular basis, and drawing on each other's expertise," she says, "yet it maintains the autonomy of each school. It has the promise of being the best of both worlds."

Between now and July 1, the final loose ends related to the new division will be sewn up. The deans are currently working together to create job descriptions for the new central staff, which will be comprised largely of employees now serving in the individual schools. They also are reworking job descriptions for staff who will remain with their present school but whose duties may be refined to reflect the collaborative nature of the new group and to eliminate overlap. Savings from efficiencies or attrition will remain within the division.

"This change will require some administrative and staff adjustments, but it will position UConn very positively in the areas of health education and research. This is not a merger. The schools will retain curricular and PTR autonomy," says Chancellor John Petersen. "It is a strategic initiative that will help each of the schools achieve their individual goals and objectives.

"Increasingly, health care is taking a more holistic approach, becoming more interdepartmental. The reorganization will put us in a position to respond to that new dynamic," he says.

The need for greater collaboration among professions in the health fields is rapidly surfacing. For example, the pharmacist is becoming more of a partner with doctors, working with patients and their physicians and leaving the task of filling prescriptions to pharmacy technicians. To fulfill that role, however, new pharmacists need training in patient consultations, monitoring patients' blood pressure, and other vital signs.

"Who is going to provide that training to pharmacy students? I think those lessons are perfect for faculty in the nursing school," says Michael Gerald, dean of the School of Pharmacy. He adds that such a collaboration is already in place, with nursing faculty giving lectures to aspiring pharmacists: "These sorts of innovations in curriculum and research will be enhanced by the new administrative structure."

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