A Conversation with Dean Cain

Michael E. Cain, MD, is the third-longest-serving dean in the history of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Since being recruited to the University at Buffalo 15 years ago, he has focused his energy and expertise on preparing the Jacobs School to excel in the 21st century and beyond. Indeed, many of the initiatives he has guided to fruition will represent a lasting legacy.

Q: The school is in the process of developing a new curriculum. Can you comment on this initiative, and why it is being undertaken at this time?

I try to avoid the word ‘new’ because it makes you think, ‘Oh, I’m learning from an old curriculum’ [laughs], when in fact revisions to the curriculum occur regularly in medical school. For example, you need to learn about COVID-19 now, but you didn’t need to know about it two years ago.

Beginning in August 2022, revisions to the curriculum will be clearly visible. The curriculum will have three phases instead of the current two. Certain topics such as health-system operations, scientific literacy, and preparation for residency will be expanded. We will take full advantage of the many innovative learning venues in the new building. By fall 2023, the redesigned curriculum will be fully implemented.

The primary focus of this effort is to reinforce the importance of integrating learning objectives horizontally across a year and vertically across the four years—mapping out how and when those learning objectives are going to be met. In doing so, we will better incorporate the basic sciences into clinical medicine and make the basic sciences more relevant to clinical medicine. This involves shortening the time that students learn basic sciences in the traditional, didactic format and moving the recouped portion of time into the clinical realm. This change will allow students to enter their clinical rotations during the second half of their second year. During the clinical clerkships, basic sciences specifically useful to the care of patients will be stressed.

Q: Under your leadership, UB was awarded a highly competitive Clinical and Translational Science Award, which was recently renewed. What does this prestigious award mean to the Jacobs School and its future?

The award establishes the Jacobs School for what it is—a National Institutes of Health-designated center for clinical and translational research. By awarding this grant to UB, the NIH has acknowledged that we have created the infrastructure necessary to successfully conduct a wide spectrum of state-of-the art clinical research programs. We have graduated to the big leagues, and this is testament to UB having done so.

With that said, one of the foremost deliverables of the Clinical Translational Science Institute at UB is that our work has a favorable impact on health care disparities in our community—it is a structure that maximizes our ability to formulate and implement action items that make a difference when confronting these disparities.

Q: Each year, a growing number of Jacobs School graduates are choosing to stay and train in Buffalo. What does this say to you about the trajectory that the school is on as an increasingly attractive destination for medical education and health care?

This positive trend was on full display at this year’s Match Day, when 54 students—30 percent of the Class of 2021—chose to stay at the Jacobs School for their training.

It is an endorsement of the school and its relations with our hospital partners, and it speaks to the fact that we continue to evolve as a  more mature and integrated academic health center that provides a growing number of clinical care services that people want to be part of.

Ten or 15 years ago, if you were a student who was graduating and you asked, ‘Do I want to stay here for graduate medical training?, there were many things that were not in Buffalo. There was no Clinical Translational Science Institute, no comprehensively organized clinical research program, no truly collaborative partnerships with area hospitals, and minimal relations with our other health science schools.

We didn’t have the depth of clinical expertise that we do now. If graduates did choose to stay here, they accepted the fact that they would have to refer patients to other medical centers to receive a fairly wide range of specialty and subspecialty care that we didn’t offer here. We still have a few gaps in clinical services to fill, but much fewer than was the case 15 years ago. So, it speaks to the maturation of our academic health center.

Q: How has Buffalo and Western New York benefited from having a medical school in its environs for 175 years?

Over the last 175 years, many physicians who have practiced in Western New York—particularly in Buffalo and Erie County—earned their medical degree at the University at Buffalo. For almost two centuries, we have consistently provided the physicians who take care of those of us who live in this community.

One way to train future physicians to deliver the best clinical care is to have them be part of an institution that asks questions, challenges traditional paradigms, creates new knowledge and uses that new knowledge to advance the standard of care. The Jacobs School has consistently delivered this benefit throughout its175 years of existence.

The Jacobs School has also been a consistent voice for the public health in our community. We are an institution that advocates strongly for advancing public health measures at the local, state, and federal levels of government and through businesses and community outreach. A good example of the latter is our Mini-Medical School.

We are champions of public health and as a school, we have done and will continue to do everything we can to educate the public in a timely way about best practices in health and well-being.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, another favorable impact that the medical school has had on the community is the role it plays in the development of the region’s economy. As we have grown, we have attracted people from around the country and world to live and work here and support the economy.

This influx of talent has also served as a catalyst for the launch of start-up companies in our region and for established businesses to relocate to Western New York. This is evident in the growth of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the synergy that is created there, which impacts our entire region.