A conversation with Dean Brashear


Published March 21, 2023

Allison Brashear.

Last December, Allison Brashear marked her one-year anniversary as vice president for health sciences at UB and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Brashear recently talked about her efforts to leverage UB’s many health sciences schools and the strengths of the Jacobs School in order to optimize the university’s potential to become a top-tier research institute and leader in academic medicine.

Since joining UB, you have often observed that the five health sciences schools, plus the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Social Work, create a “richness” that provides UB with a competitive advantage. Can you elaborate on this?

As vice president for health sciences at UB, I have had the pleasure of seeing the great benefits of interprofessional collaboration between the Jacobs School and the schools of Dental Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Public Health and Health Professions. Together with the School of Social Work and Department of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, UB brings together this diverse group of talents to think differently about health care. Very few universities, if any, can boast having all of these constituents. The combination of these amazing schools and leaders gives us the ability to develop programs that cut across schools and campuses. This provides us a unique opportunity to bolster UB as a health science powerhouse in research, clinical care and education.

Patient-centered care is of paramount importance to you. How has your own work with patients over the years informed this perspective?

Throughout my entire career, I have advocated for patient-centered care, whether at the bedside, in a lab or in administration. It starts by treating patients as you would your own family. It is imperative that we as health system leaders create models of care where patients can, if able, have care delivered in their own homes with their families nearby. Patients and their families are an integral part of the health care team.

Health care reimbursement is moving to something called value-based reimbursement, where physicians and health systems are paid for outcomes, rather than by procedures, visits and admissions. I believe if we put the patient at the center of all that we do, we will improve health outcomes, as measured by access, patient and family satisfaction, and decreased utilization of precious resources. 

I firmly believe that all of us entered into the field of medicine to improve the care of our patients. By focusing on patient-centered care, we can also improve the satisfaction of our health care workforce. My goal is to increase the health care workforce of Western New York by 20%. Making the right care, at the right place, accessible to all will improve the health of our patients and the satisfaction of our health care workforce.

Does this experience dovetail with the importance you place on research?

Absolutely! Patients are the reason why scientists are working together to find better solutions to complex problems. All the individuals who work at the UB schools of health are here because they want to impact health. They want to take research, education, clinical care and make a difference in the lives of patients in our community and nationally. We are taking new discoveries to hospitals, clinics and home care settings. That type of teach-science collaboration drives discoveries and advances to help better our world.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges you see for growing medical and biomedical research programs at Jacobs School and UB?

Research is one of UB’s biggest opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the people of Buffalo and beyond. Health research is essential to improving community health, health equity, and it also helps to spur economic development. Over the next five years, we want to increase our research funding by 30% and increase our clinical trials by 60%.

To advance our research goals, investigators must have access to multiple sources of funding. My goal is to attract and retain more NIH-funded investigators to UB. The university is one of two flagship schools in the SUNY system and is one of 63 highly research-intensive universities in the U.S. As part of a research-intensive university, the medical school must increase our funding in basic, clinical and translational research. This reflects our goal to be a top 25 public research institution. 

And, of course, research studies also depend heavily on the participation of volunteers. We need to continue engaging and building trust within our local communities and make these kinds of opportunities available to anyone who wants to participate.

A newly revised curriculum for the medical school will be fully implemented next year. What are some of the primary issues being addressed by these changes and why?

It’s been more than 20 years since the last major curriculum revision at the Jacobs School, and it is critical that we re-examine our teaching and learning environment and methods in order to prepare the most exceptional clinicians. The health care needs of the population continue to change, and we have to evolve to meet these needs.  

There is no one way to solve the complex problems facing our country in health care. At UB we want to train future doctors of tomorrow who are able to adapt to new challenges and lead during times of change while always putting the patient first. The pandemic has taught us that we need doctors who are as comfortable in teams as they are leading teams. We want students who are willing to take on big challenges, like the effect of climate change on health, health inequities and lack of access and cost of care. We need to train physicians who want to meet the need to expand primary care in underserved communities. We want students who think creatively about how to solve big public health challenges, like gun violence, cancer and obesity. When we think of lifesaving discoveries, UB graduates will be amongst those who come to mind. My hope is that our UB students be future leaders in care delivery, health policy, and basic and translational science. 

You are outspoken about the need to increase the diversity of our faculty and student body, both in terms of race and gender. How does this translate to better care in the community?

Reducing inequities in health is a high priority for me and the Jacobs School. In the current workforce, diversity among physicians is limited. That can lead to mistrust in doctor-patient relationships, even during routine checkups. Studies have also shown that in a health care setting, racial and ethnic biases can affect care delivery and, ultimately, lead to health disparities. We know that patients are more likely to visit a doctor and follow the plan if they have some shared cultural background with the provider. UB, like all medical schools in the U.S., is committed to training a more diverse physician workforce as one of many potential solutions to solving health disparities.

All of the aspirations you have spoken about related to research, patient care, education and community involvement are integral to the goal of building and sustaining a strong academic health center in Buffalo. Can you speak about the pivotal role UB has and will continue to play in this effort, and why it’s important for our city and region?

UB definitely plays a pivotal role in building and sustaining a strong academic health center in Buffalo. We contribute to Buffalo’s economic development by attracting federal grants and commercial investments in the biomedical industry, health research and innovation. I see Buffalo following other cities, like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and my hometown of Indianapolis, where health care is a major driver of economic development.

As we continue to recruit the best and brightest students, clinicians, educators and researchers to the Jacobs School, these individuals will also constitute a major economic drive for the community. This creates jobs, spurs the housing market, and increases spending in the Buffalo area.