SCIENTISTS SPEAK OF COLLISIONS. Educators refer to collaborative learning. Architects use terms like “porosity” and “transparency.” They’re all talking about essentially the same thing: the need for today’s health education environments to be open, accommodating spaces that foster interchange among occupants.
It’s a goal that the new home of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences achieves in spades. “This building is a vessel of collaboration,” says Kenneth Drucker, design principal of HOK, the global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm that created the 628,000-square-foot facility.
A six-story central atrium, glittering with more than 19,000 feet of glass, puts much of the interior space in plain view. That visibility, and the very real sense of interconnectivity it establishes, continues into the laboratories, where the open-concept plan lets researchers, students and staff watch and learn from all that’s happening around them. Classrooms and study spaces—expanded to accommodate a larger student body—got the interactive treatment too, thoughtfully designed for active learning and communication.
The showcase building, located at Main and High streets as a gateway to the bustling Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, is positioned to promote connectivity with partner institutions as well as the surrounding community. The grand opening ceremony in December brought a crowd to celebrate the move downtown, and the class of 180 first-year medical students started courses there soon after.
“The main message for the students is to take advantage of all the technology and space that is provided here, to make use of the fact that we are so closely integrated with our research partners,” said David A. Milling (MD ’93), senior associate dean for student and academic affairs and associate professor of medicine, on the first day of classes. “Also, to understand that they are part of the community. They are embedded in the community as part of the campus.”
Many years ago, from 1893 until 1953, UB had its medical school just steps away on High Street. Now it has returned downtown, to a dramatically changed landscape that integrates education and research with exceptional patient care. Below, a glimpse into the future of medicine.
IN THE WAKE of the $30 million gift from the Jacobs family, the generosity of thousands of alumni, donors and friends has played a critical role in the completion of the new home for the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Below are some of the notable gifts committed over the last few months as the school surpassed its $200 million goal for the Build the Vision campaign:
SOMETIMES a new building doesn’t just change the landscape around it. Sometimes it changes the way things happen inside of it.
Such is the case on the seventh floor of the new Jacobs School building, where a visionary center is at the heart of a radical new approach to anatomy. Called UB RIS²E (Research, Innovation, Simulation, Structure, Education), the center promotes collaboration among pathologists, structural scientists and surgeons—specialists who don’t typically interact—to achieve a fuller understanding of how the human body works.
In some ways, the center’s focus on pathology and anatomy puts UB at odds with trends in medical education. John Tomaszewski, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the inaugural Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Chair of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, notes that some medical schools have been dismantling anatomy departments, focusing almost exclusively on digital approaches. “We think that’s absolutely wrong,” he says. “There’s tremendous and important meaning in human structure.”
UB recruited two medical giants to develop and execute this concept: Tomaszewski, who has been in the forefront of advances in digital pathology and computational modeling, and Professor and Chair of Surgery Steven Schwaitzberg, who has pioneered minimally invasive and robotic surgical techniques. Under Tomaszewski, pathologists and computational anatomists are using experimental methods and digital technologies to generate and analyze biological data. Schwaitzberg and his colleagues are applying that data to the development of new procedures, instruments and surgical techniques.
Together, they see UB RIS²E as a multidisciplinary center that educates every level of learner—from medical students to practicing physicians—about the human body in the most comprehensive way possible. “Our facility has this integration of people: surgeons working with anatomists working with computational people and engineers,” Tomaszewski says. “It’s a whole team approach.”
This approach takes advantage of both hands-on and virtual techniques, from advanced imaging and computational methods to phantoms (organs generated by 3-D printers and biological materials). UB’s robust anatomical gifts program, the state’s largest, plays a key role, not just in educating medical students but in providing simulation opportunities for researchers and industrial partners. “This is what the future of medicine is all about,” says Schwaitzberg. “Integrating anatomy and imaging from the cellular level to the whole body.”
That integration is already happening in the school’s Gross Human Anatomy course, where first-year medical students are receiving high-resolution computational tomography (CT) scans of their cadavers in addition to the cadavers themselves. “To be able to understand something in full 360 degrees, you have to go from visual learning and simulation to phantoms, biological materials and human gifts,” says Tomaszewski. “The separation of these has been artificial and not good for the person who’s learning.”
And it’s not only students who benefit. In the center, clinicians and surgeons are learning new procedures and techniques through simulations with virtual or 3-D printed models, which are in turn being generated by computational anatomists who study how musculo- skeletal structure affects function.
For example, a partnership with the School of Dental Medicine is yielding answers about how the shape of the jaw correlates with temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ). And UB orthopaedists and bioengineers are looking at how computational models of the way humans bear weight can improve implantable hips and knees in an aging population.
Schwaitzberg points out that the integration of so many methodologies gives UB RIS²E major advantages over other facilities striving to do similar things, especially for industries seeking to innovate. “Simulation is an absolute requirement for the future,” he says. “We will be creating anatomical models of the liver and gall bladder so that surgeons can practice their skills, do flexible endoscopy training and become more proficient at screening for colon cancer.”
It’s a complex approach, with a simple goal: “When your doctors are better trained,” says Schwaitzberg, “you have better outcomes.”
It’s not all cutting-edge technology. The new building features some decidedly traditional instruments too, such as this baby grand piano that previously graced the Lippschutz Room on the South Campus. Now situated in the atrium near the Student Commons, the piano set a jubilant mood at the grand opening last winter and will be used for the Jacobs School’s Music Is Medicine program. Featuring performances by musically talented faculty, staff and students, the lunchtime concert series is just the diversion the doctor ordered for the building’s busy occupants.
MEDICAL STUDENTS often learn that health disparities exist. What they typically don’t look into is why. A new course at the Jacobs School, called “Health in the Neighborhood,” aims to address that glaring oversight. Developed over two years by an interdisciplinary team of UB faculty along with the pastors from two local Baptist churches, the course pairs medical students with families in the Martin Luther King Jr. Park neighborhood to give them an authentic understanding of the realities of health care in underserved communities.
The genesis of the class was a community immersion program launched in 2015 by the Jacobs School’s Center for Medical Humanities. It was a resounding wake-up call, recalls director Linda Pessar, one of the founders of the new course. “What shook us all was to hear the degree of distrust,” she says. “Most of us physicians think we are doing good. The intensity of the distrust was shocking. To discuss what health care providers can do to improve that, you need to go in without your white coat.”
The aim of the course is to get students to understand how structural racism results from policies that have created segregated, substandard living conditions; how the lack of knowledge about black culture among physicians creates a lack of rapport; how and why widespread bias persists among health care workers; and how health care delivery to these communities can be improved. Or, as urban planning professor and course co-creator Henry Louis Taylor puts it, “The aim is to ignite a process that teaches incoming medical students about black lives in the hopes that this knowledge and information will inform their growth and development as physicians.”
Taylor adds that the participation of the two churches and their congregations has been crucial, an assessment with which first-year student Karole Collier agrees. “Usually in medical school, you have doctors and scientists in the front of the classroom. This course shifts the paradigm; it puts community leaders and the people who will be our patients at the front of the room.”
One of those pastors, Kinzer M. Pointer of Agape Fellowship Baptist Church, says he got involved for the sake of his community. “I got tired of burying people at 55,” he says, noting that members of his congregation are dying at that age while the average life expectancy of a white woman in the U.S. in 2015 was 79. “We’ve got to turn that around.”
Pointer also hopes that through this program, he can convince Jacobs School students to stay and practice not just in Western New York, which suffers from a physician shortage, but in neighborhoods like MLK Park, where the shortages are far more profound.
Collier, for one, is listening. “It is incredibly uplifting for this course to happen during my first year in medical school,” she says. “It has changed my trajectory completely.”
Designed for LEED Gold certification (significant for a research facility, says Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer), the new Jacobs School home also exemplifies how a building project can support sustainable transportation and sustainable communities.