U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md), a graduate of the University of Maryland Law School, met with education and research leaders, small business executives, and students at the University of Maryland BioPark on Feb. 18. Earlier in the month, several members of the Maryland Senate Finance Committee met with deans of UMB's schools of dentistry, pharmacy, medicine, and nursing to discuss their initiatives for training medical professionals in rural and underserved parts of the state.
Cardin's staff said his favorite stop at the BioPark was a microbiology class of the Life Sciences Institute (LSI), part of the Baltimore City Community College (BCCC), now in its second semester at the BioPark. "It's just great for bioscience students to see [the BioPark] while they learn," said Cardin.
The LSI is part of a biosciences education pipeline the university has created through partnerships with middle and high schools, the BCCC, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
LSI Director Kathleen Kennedy Norris, PhD, said the visit was an excellent opportunity for Cardin, whom she said is "a champion" of community college education and community businesses, "to see what we are doing so that he may see some things that will help him with the jobs situation."
So far, two of a planned 12 research buildings at the BioPark include more than 20 tenants, a dozen of whom are bioscience companies employing more than 400 people.
Cardin noted the significant development within the BioPark and saw plans for its third commercial building. "And, these are tough economic times," Cardin responded. "We've got to figure out how to get these kinds of jobs to more people and [the university] is a unique area, a growth area. This is an area we think will be one of the great areas for job growth."
He continued, "Being right here with a great hospital [University of Maryland Medical Center], a great university, as well as small business startups all working together to figure out how to solve today's life sciences problems--this is very, very valuable." He told the students, "I just wanted to come by to say thanks for being here, and we want to duplicate this program nationally."
The students peppered Cardin with questions on stalled federal health care reform efforts on Capitol Hill. One microbiology student asked, "We are in a group that doesn't have a lobby to talk for us. Can we count on you? " Cardin said he is optimistic that a health care bill will be passed, and added, "But we will need your help for developing more answers to cure medical problems, more prevention and care."
BCCC President Carolane Williams, PhD, told Cardin, "I think the answer is to introduce students to biosciences at an early age. This campus also serves as a place for middle school students to learn about these sciences."
Later, in a meeting with small business executives, Jonathan Cohen, CEO of 20/20 GeneSystems Inc., Rockville, asked Cardin to try to help members of Congress to understand that "you need more than academic research; that you need more work from companies like those in this building to create jobs."
Earlier this month, the chair of the state Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton (D-Charles Co.), and other committee members questioned several UMB deans on each school's response to shortages of health care workers in some parts of the state.
Christian Stohler, DMD, DrMedDent, dean of the Dental School, discussed a new dental clinic the School is operating in rural Cecil County. He said the new curriculum creates a work force that "understands some of the unique problems we are facing in rural environments." He said, "This is the first experiment of its kind" to allow students to experience rural and suburban patients and situations.
Also, Stohler explained that a "Dean's Faculty" of private dentists has been volunteering time to teach since 2003 "in order to bring in the feel of working in the suburbs."
Applications to the Dental School have risen 46 percent in four years, more than double the national average.
Natalie Eddington, PhD, dean of the School of Pharmacy, reported three efforts to increase enrollment and address the shortage of pharmacists.
In 2000, in response to studies predicting pharmacist shortages nationally, the school increased its enrollment 20 percent. A second campus at the Universities [of Maryland] at Shady Grove, Montgomery County, has increased enrollment another 33 percent.
To expose the pharmacy students to rural and underserved patients, students are required to work 1,600 hours in pharmacies in community and health clinic settings.
"It's critical for pharmacists to be in rural and underserved areas because one of the major problems is a shortage of primary care physicians." She said diabetic patients, as an example, are helped by pharmacists to manage their care between their doctor visits. "Pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals and the rural model is the best model to illustrate the critical role of pharmacists."
In 2009, the School of Medicine's department of family medicine started a Rural Clinical Rotation program for residencies in rural western and southern Maryland. Officials of the school asked the senators to be open to ways to help ease the issue of "enormous" student debt. "What worries us tremendously is that the amount of debt influences career choices," said UMB President David J. Ramsay, DM, DPhil.
A projected national shortage of 260,000 registered nurses by 2025, with a shortage of about 5,000 in Maryland, is being partially met through with the largest enrollment in the school's history at the School of Nursing, said Dean Janet Allan, RN, PhD, FAAN. Between 80 to 95 percent of admissions are students from Maryland, she said.