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Partnership for Health
Visionary change, strategic growth and a drive to partner have defined the leadership of President and CEO K. Michael Welch, who retires on Dec. 31. Provost Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FNAP, will assume the duties of interim president on Jan. 1.
Rosalind Franklin University has earned the respect, recognition and trust of its community during the tenure of President and CEO K. Michael Welch, MB, ChB, FRCP, who has led a team effort to improve the health and well-being of both the university community and the populations that surround it.
Dr. Welch led a pioneering model of interprofessional team-based education, clinical care and collaborative practice and strengthened and energized that model through direct engagement with local communities. Stewardship of health equity has become a cornerstone of RFU's more than 30 academic programs, as future health professionals learn to embrace their responsibility to improve both the health of their patients and the communities in which they work and live.
"The work we've done in partnership with our community is visible proof of our desire for a strong and lasting relationship," Dr. Welch said. "Working together, with the support of our Council of Deans, faculty and students, we're determined to fulfill our social responsibility to improve health and wellness."
The RFU community continues to support and participate in various efforts to align health professions education with workforce needs. The university helped found and continues to lead HPEC, the Health Professions Education Consortium, a public/private partnership that is working to expand opportunities in medical and health sciences education and careers, especially among underrepresented minorities, by partnering with regional schools, businesses, nonprofits and government. Growing the number of minority health professionals is key to eliminating health disparities, according to the National Academy of Medicine.
The university has invested in numerous pipeline and pathway programs aimed at diversifying the local and national STEM and healthcare workforce, including its nationally recognized INSPIRE summer research and mentoring program, its Pre-Matriculation Program, North Chicago Community High School (NCCHS) Healthcare Career Pathways and numerous other initiatives, often led by RFU students who mentor, tutor and introduce area youth to the health professions.
"What can we do to ensure our region has a very high standard of health care?" Dr. Welch asked at a meeting of HPEC. "We can educate the children in our communities, steward them through high school into college, graduate school and careers."
The NCCHS pathway, which offers a guided curriculum, mentoring and the opportunity to gain industry-recognized credentials, is a particular point of pride for Dr. Welch, who recalls the Latina student who reported that after nearly two semesters in the pathway, she had increased her attendance from 50 to 85 percent and her GPA from 1.7 to 3.4.
As a new era of accountable care took hold, Dr. Welch and his team aligned curriculum development and investments in technology and teaching with national goals for improving health. Faculty in the College of Health Professions, under then-Dean Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FNAP, spearheaded the university's new focus on interprofessional innovation, developing RFU's first Interprofessional Healthcare Teams course and other initiatives that emphasized integrated medical teams and collaborative learning and patient care.
"Dr. Rheault has been a driving force behind our adoption of interprofessionalism (IP), an educational model that is second to none in the nation and is an example for others to follow," Dr. Welch said. "IP is the future of care. We were 15 years ahead of most organizations in understanding that interprofessional teams are essential to coordination of care that is safer, more integrated and more responsive to patient needs."
The IP model helped fuel a new culture of inclusion and collaboration at RFU and it also infused the administration and facilities, Dr. Welch said.
"There's a strong commitment to the highly collaborative IP ethic, which is reflected across the academic and administrative life of our university — in our inclusive strategic planning processes, our leadership committees, the Board of Trustees election each year of a student trustee, curricular innovations and even our architecture," Dr. Welch said. "We're not built in silos; our spaces over the last decade have been intentionally designed for IP education — a design that's unparalleled in the nation."
Dr. Welch led numerous other advancements, including significant investments in the university's research enterprise that prioritized the recruitment of top scientists. The new Innovation and Research Park, now under construction, an effort led by Dr. Ronald Kaplan, executive vice president for research, will promote collaboration among investigators in the academy and industry, innovators and entrepreneurs with the goal of accelerating the development of RFU's nationally recognized research into prevention and treatment of diseases.
Dr. Welch and his team established university think tanks for research and advocacy, including the DeWitt C. Baldwin Institute for Interprofessional Education, the Center for Advanced Simulation in Healthcare, the Center for Interprofessional Evidence-Based Practice and the Interprofessional Healthcare Workforce Institute. An early and prescient investment in healthcare simulation allowed RFU to provide interprofessional teams of students — and now health professionals at partner institutions — learning opportunities focused on decision-making strategies to improve collaboration around diagnosis and care.
The university's mission to serve the population through interprofessional education and to create knowledge dedicated to improving wellness is fueled by its care and concern for the community. RFU is making targeted efforts, in collaboration with community stakeholders, to improve the health and lives of its neighbors through initiatives that include the student-driven Interprofessional Community Clinic for the uninsured, the Community Care Connection mobile health coach and a multitude of IP team-based health screenings and education and mentoring activities.
"We can't improve the health of populations without caring for our communities," Dr. Welch said. "They help deepen our learning, service and research. They teach us respect, civility, teamwork and problem-solving — all qualities needed to reach across professional, political and cultural divides. Our community sees us as a resource for health and education — a source of support. And that's how we see our community."