Grand Valley positioned to help region's health care industry

Cranes, bulldozers, workers in hard hats and an array of orange construction cones are a familiar sight along a one-mile stretch of Michigan Street in downtown Grand Rapids. The area, between Lafayette and Division, is becoming known as Medical Mile or Health Hill. It includes Spectrum Health's Butterworth Campus, the Van Andel Research Institute, a number of medical professional buildings and the future site of Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine. At the top of the hill sits Grand Valley's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences.

The center holds Grand Valley's Kirkhof College of Nursing, the College of Health Professions and the West Michigan Science Technology Initiative (WMSTI).

Now in its fifth year, WMSTI is one of SmartZones. It is a vibrant partnership between Grand Valley Grand Rapids Community College, the City of Grand Rapids, Van Andel Research Institute, The Right Place, Inc., Spectrum Health, Saint Mary's Health Care,Mary Bed and the Grand Angels, a group of local venture capitalists.

The Kirkhof College of Nursing offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Master of Science in Nursing and a combined Master of Science in Nursing and Master of Business Administration.

College of Health Professions includes eight programs: one is a clinical doctorate program in Physical Therapy; two are master's degrees in Occupational Therapy and Physician Assistant Studies; and five, at the baccalaureate level, are Clinical Laboratory Science, Health Professions, Occupational Safety and Health Management, Radiologic Imaging Sciences and Therapeutic Recreation.

Plans for the center date back to the mid 1990s, when university officials couldn't have known what a wise decision it would be to locate the building at Michigan and Lafayette. To say it was the right building, at the right place, at the right time, sounds trite, but it is absolutely true, said Matt McLogan, Grand Valley's vice president for University Relations. If we had free reign to pick the perfect place for the Center for Health Sciences, the site we'd pick is the one we have.

It provides a unique professional opportunity for our students by making it possible for them to complete their medical studies on a medical campus. That feature gives our students an extra dimension to their preparation and makes them stronger candidates when they seek employment after graduation.

Grand Valley's administration had discussed the possible relocation of the university's health professions from the crowded Allendale Campus to the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. At the same time, McLogan approached officials at Spectrum Butterworth to determine the hospital's interest in becoming more immediate neighbors. Recognizing the value to its own operations, Spectrum agreed to sell to the university property the hospital had just acquired on the northeast corner of Michigan and Lafayette. This enabled Grand Valley to construct its Center for Health Sciences on the Spectrum campus atop the Michigan Street hill, just a block away from the hospital. Convenient shuttle buses bring students from the Allendale and Pew campuses.

Grand Valley's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences sits atop Health Hill or Medical Mile on Michigan Street in downtown Grand Rapids.
Photo by Bernadine Carey-Tucker The $57.1 million project was made possible with support from the state of Michigan and hundreds of West Michigan donors, led by philanthropists Peter C. Cook and Richard M. DeVos, for whom the center is named.

New opportunities for Grand Valley and Michigan State will emerge from the construction of MSU's College of Human Medicine, scheduled for completion in 2010. Health sciences will be one of the leads for the 21st century, said Grand Valley President Thomas J. Haas. Grand Valley understands its role and its responsibilities to serve the region and state as we help lead the way to a revitalized Michigan.

No one doubts the importance of doctors in health care, but increasingly, for economic and other reasons, health care teams appear to be the future of health care delivery. Grand Valleys graduates in physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing and health professions make up the delivery team.

Michigan State will eventually have about 800 medical students in Grand Rapids; Grand Valley has 1,400 students in health professions programs and another 4,500 in pre-nursing and pre-health professions programs.

The arrival of MSU's medical school will mean more opportunity for interdisciplinary education for research and for service, said Jean Nagelkerk, Grand Valley's vice provost for health. National reports show working in teams translates into better care and fewer mistakes.

Nagelkerk said Grand Valley's nursing and health professions students will work with MSUs medical students on case studies, research and simulation experiences.

Grand Valley President Emeritus Arend D. Lubbers said he and former Michigan State University President Peter McPherson had discussions about the possibility of the medical school coming to Grand Rapids. I told him I had no objections and that both institutions would benefit, said Lubbers. I also cautioned against a duplication of efforts where its not needed.

Partnerships aren't new for Grand Valley and Michigan State. Both are a part of the Medical Education Research Center, along with Spectrum Health and St. Marys Health Care; Metro Health and Ferris State University are affiliate members. The Medical Education Research Center helps with continuing medical education, clinical placement of students and interdisciplinary simulation experiences.

Nagelkerk, noting that Grand Valley has one the largest collection of nursing and health profession programs in the state, said Grand Valley and MSU each bring a different set of strengths to the table. We offer programs in social work and psychology, and have centers of excellence in philanthropy and autism, Nagelkerk said. Whats more, we have a masters in health administration, pre-dental and pre-med programs, and are planning to add a health sector management emphasis to our masters in business administration program.

We also expect to soon offer a biomedical engineering minor now under development by Grand Valley's Padnos College of Engineering and Computing.

McLogan described Grand Valley and MSU as bookends, with Grand Valley' situated at the top of Health Hill and MSUs College of Human Medicine at the other end, with Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Research Institute in between.

Grand Valley collaborates with the Van Andel Research Institute in several ways. Some Grand Valley faculty are currently serving as visiting scientists performing research projects at the institute. Some graduate students from the cell and molecular biology program have clinical internships and work with researchers there, while some undergraduate students serve summer internships at the institute. Grand Valley graduates have even gained permanent research positions.

The Center for Health Sciences cements our position, while our graduates cement our reputation, McLogan said. As a result, Grand Valley will continue to be the number one provider of health professionals.

As the life sciences industry grows, so does the need for scientists who have the academic and professional skills to effectively bridge science and business. Grand Valley has been addressing those needs with their three Professional Science Masters degrees, developed in 2005/2006.

Touted as an alternative to an MBA for scientists and mathematicians, the Professional Science Masters degrees emphasize teamwork, problem solving, communication, and technical skills. It gives students the broad knowledge base they need to function in an environment that requires them to be proficient in disciplines as diverse as computer science, biology, statistics, physics and medicine, as well as work and communicate effectively with those in other disciplines.

Individuals with an educational background in these interdisciplinary areas are very few in number and will be highly recruited by industry. To meet the diverse needs of the life sciences industry, Grand Valleys PSM program offers three degrees.

The Masters of Science in Medical Bioinformatics utilizes computer technology to manage and analyze information in the life and health sciences. This degree is granted by the Schoolof Computing and Information Systems within the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing.

The Masters of Science in Cell Molecular Biology offers a biotechnology emphasis which provides students with the theoretical and practical training to use living organisms to produce food, drugs and other products. This degree is granted by the Cell and Molecular Biology Program within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Masters of Science in Biostatistics involves the application of statistical techniques to scientific research in the life and health sciences. This degree is granted by the Statistics Department within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

PSM programs have been established across the country with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation under the direction of the Council on Graduate Studies. PSM are two-year degrees that are designed to prepare professionals for work outside academia.

What makes Grand Valley's PSM degrees unique is the very cross-disciplinary nature of the three programs, said David Elrod, coordinator of the PSM programs. While each has classes specific to their discipline, all the PSM students join together to take overview classes in all three areas, where they learn from and help each other understand the other areas. This gives them even more of an advantage over other PSM programs

Instead of doing a masters thesis, an industry internship is required of PSM students.

Caryn Lehner is the first student to graduate from the Professional Science Masters in Cell Molecular Biology. She now works as a research technician at the Van Andel Research Institute.

Elrod, who came to Grand Valley after a long career in the pharmaceutical industry, said these are the people he would have hired in his industry because of their cross-disciplinary training.

Every course involves team projects, written work and presentations, giving the students real world skills, Elrod said.

Most of the classes are held in downtown Grand Rapids, at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, a convenient location, considering another difference; instead of doing a masters thesis, an industry internship is required. It is this close cooperation with area employers, who act as advisors, that guarantees that the skills and subject matter taught are cutting edge and relevant.

Because of the current state of Michigan's economy, it is a challenge to establish these business partnerships, said Elrod. The growth of the Van Andel Research Institute and the future MSU medical school will bring more research and thereby provide additional opportunities for our students as well.

As an example, Elrod explained that biostatistics students are trained to design and analyze both laboratory and clinical studies and data. More medical research being done here will boost that need, he said

A total of 62 graduate students are currently enrolled in the three PSM programs, with a good diversity of and international students, as well as a mix of male and female students. To date, two students have graduated from the programs. Caryn Lehner is the first student to graduate from the Professional Science Masters in Cell Molecular Biology. Her emphasis was in biotechnology.

When Lehner was nearing completion of her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Grand Valley, she was unsure whether to apply to graduate school or medical school.

My emphasis had been in biochemistry and biotechnology, said Lehner. When my then biochemistry lab professor Brad Wallar told me about the PSM program it sounded like a better fit for what I really wanted.

Lehner said the non-science interdisciplinary classes helped her to see the bigger picture.

As a result of her excellent work on her capstone project, generating data for a research project at the Van Andel Research Institute, they offered her a position. She now works as a research technician in the Mass Spectrometry Proteomics Lab on a project too proprietary to discuss.

The PSM programs are yet another example of how Grand Valley is making important contributions to the growing workforce needed to support the areas life sciences industry.

Grand Valley is leading the way by developing collaborative, interactive programs, said Elrod. This is a direct response to the expressed need for team-oriented professionals with advanced interdisciplinary knowledge and skills.

Page last modified March 17, 2014