Making More Room at the Inn, Part 2: Research and Education

In the last edition of On the Same Page, titled “Making More Room at the Inn,” data on the increased demand for clinical services at UF Health were presented. We are thrilled to be building new hospitals in Gainesville and Jacksonville to accommodate future growth in patient care, but what do we do in the meantime? While we wait for our new facilities to open, innovative programs were described that are addressing the significant problem of how we can care for more and more patients in already crowded hospitals, while achieving high and improving patient satisfaction at the same time.

We face similar challenges in research and education: How can we accommodate the expanding research programs of new and existing faculty in a fixed research chassis while providing an excellent research environment for faculty and staff? How can we accommodate exciting new educational programs, which require more space for small groups and interactive curricula?

Under the UF Preeminence and the UF Cancer Preeminence initiatives, the colleges of the UF Health Science Center have the unprecedented opportunity to hire 60 to 65 highly accomplished scientists who will be partly funded by the state of Florida. Indeed, of the 26 thematic targets of UF Preeminence, 12 involve UF Health colleges, with the anticipated hiring of about 40 faculty positions. UF Preeminence funds are applied to salary and benefits, with start-up funding assistance from the UF Office for Research. Remaining salary expenses, additional personnel and other expenses are funded by the colleges that will provide the academic home for the faculty member. 

The UF Cancer Preeminence Initiative is a contract between the state of Florida and UF Health Shands Hospital to enable the UF Health Cancer Center to attain National Cancer Institute designation by 2019. The hiring of 20 to 25 well-established cancer researchers is anticipated, as well as the use of these funds for space, equipment, support staff and educational programs.

The addition of 60 to 65 senior investigators and new research programs to UF Health will no doubt accelerate our scientific momentum, but the vision of their impact is much broader. In particular, selection of faculty for the preeminence initiatives has taken into account their impact on the productivity of current faculty across UF through collaboration, synergy, the building of “critical masses” of investigators in specific fields and training new investigators. The goal is to establish collaborations with existing faculty to compete successfully for program projects, center grants and training grants. Such clusters of research also will enhance clinical training in related fields and the development of new clinical services.

This growth in research, however, creates a challenge similar to that in the clinical arena discussed in the last OTSP: How can we accommodate research growth in existing research space while awaiting new and renovated facilities to come on line? Hiring 60 to 65 new faculty and their research staffs will create huge space demands, at the same time that growth is occurring in the research programs of current faculty. To address this problem, there is a short-term and long-term solution. Short term, we continue to implement a policy of right-sizing laboratories in accordance with their level of funding and staff density. We have collectively recognized that research space is not “owned” by an investigator, department or college, but rather by the University of Florida. Thus, under our current strategic plan we reassigned and renovated space that housed unfunded or underfunded programs, so that growing programs have adequate facilities to maintain or expand productivity.

We will continue to implement this strategy under the next strategic plan. Toward this end, we have created an inventory of all HSC research space, along with the productivity of the associated programs as measured by funding per square foot and people per square foot. Using this inventory, we will continue to equilibrate research space in accordance with one or more of the following parameters, adjusting for the fact that older space is less efficient than newer space: $300 in total funding per square foot, $100 in indirect costs per square foot and 150 square feet per person.

Longer term, it is recognized that laboratory renovations and new research buildings will be needed. The Clinical and Translational Research Building, which houses the Institute on Aging, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, the departments of epidemiology and biostatistics, and several clinical research programs, was a response several years ago to a similar need to accommodate growth. The CTRB was funded using a combination of construction grant funding, awarded to the Institute on Aging from the NIH, and the issuance of bonds to finance the remaining cost.

Our clinical and translational research programs have grown quickly and significantly — amazingly, less than two years after its opening, the CTRB is out of space. Large grants in outcomes research and growth in the informatics program have created an unsatisfying scenario in which we are building temporary quarters to house faculty and staff. In our current strategic planning process, it was recognized that a new building is needed to house these expanding research programs in the associated fields of population and data science. We will work with UF to make such a new research building a priority.

On the laboratory side, a significant amount of space has become unfunded or underfunded in this very difficult research environment with extremely tight pay-line thresholds. By adding new faculty to distribute these labs in accordance with funding and personnel, the overall indirect cost recovery will better support the research space. In addition, laboratories currently used infrequently for teaching can be converted to research labs. In both scenarios, renovation will be required.

Already planned is the conversion of non-research space on the ground floor of the Basic Science Building to new Cancer Biology Laboratories, bringing online 7,700 square feet of new wet bench laboratories and renovating another 2,300 square feet of renovated older laboratories. Moreover, the College of Dentistry has planned an expansion in which some new research labs will be built, and the Diabetes Institute aspires to raise funds to build a new research building. 

Our education mission also is growing in quality and quantity. The new George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building provides wonderful new space for innovative educational programs and an experiential learning center with new educational technologies. The occupants of that building also free up space in the Communicore and elsewhere for additional growth. For example, the College of Pharmacy has curricula changes requiring space for small group learning that can now be accommodated. More flexible educational laboratory space for the College of Veterinary Medicine can be shared with other programs.

We are extraordinarily fortunate to be in a position where we are expanding our research and education enterprises at a time when national support for science is being constrained by budgetary and political considerations. Our existing and newly recruited faculty members have the knowledge and skill to pursue exciting new avenues of scientific inquiry in biomedical and population science, aimed at translation to improve health. But they need adequate facilities in which to work and learn. This is a good problem to have, and one that we are committed to addressing successfully with new and renovated space.

Forward Together,

David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Vice President for Health Affairs, UF
President, UF Health