Health sciences department may break from medical school

After nearly a decade of informal planning, the Department of Health Sciences may be separated from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and potentially form a new school for the next academic year, University officials confirmed last week.

Senior Associate Dean of Health Sciences Jean Johnson said establishing a separate School of Health Sciences would be an “incredible opportunity,” both for health science programs and for the University.

As a new school, Johnson said, health sciences would increase control over the future of its programs. Internally, the school could expand opportunities for growth by creating more job opportunities, developing new academic programs, increasing student opportunities at new clinical sites, and reinvesting in the school’s own health sciences programs.

“We sometimes get a little lost with medicine,” said Johnson, emphasizing the importance of attracting high-level researchers, many of whom are concerned with a title. “By being a separate school, we have an opportunity to attract people who believe the recognition of being a school is significant.”

As part of the 11th oldest medical school in the country, the health sciences programs have already become independent from SMHS in several areas; the department operates its own office of admissions, office of student services, convocation, and graduation.

“We already have much of the necessary school infrastructure in place,” said Johnson. “Because of how we’re structured, some people assume already that we’re a school.”

The split from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences may not involve a new building for health sciences, Johnson said, but if any new facilities are created, the school would most likely move to the Loudoun campus in Virginia. Like other GW medical programs, the new school would continue functioning as a part of the University Medical Center.

“The formation of this new school will strengthen the University’s position in academic health,” Johnson said. A significant difference for the health sciences department, she explained, “would be through direct reporting and being part of the Dean’s Council in the University.”

Johnson said though talks of health sciences becoming its own school have gone on for years, the growth of the field and the department has fast-tracked discussions.

“This conversation became stronger when we actually sat back and took stock of where we were a decade ago,” she said.

At that point, there were roughly 300 students in health sciences, and minimal research was conducted. The program’s growth since the late 1990s has been significant, Johnson said. Today, 1,000 students are registered in the degree and certificate programs, and an additional 400 certificate students study through military contracts.

Johnson said plans are far from complete and no definite decision has been made, but a decision could be made at the next Board of Trustees meeting. Johnson said the idea of a new school is a “process that’s really going through exploration.”

Even so, Provost and Vice President for Health Affairs John “Skip” Williams expressed optimism about the proposed new school.

“I believe that this is the next step in the evolution of the medical center,” Williams said. “If it turns out that this is the right thing to do academically, educationally and financially, I believe this will be a tremendous growth opportunity for the University to highlight a new creative, productive and academically challenging school.”

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