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Dennis Valenzeno, professor, associate dean for basic sciences and chair of the Department of Medical Sciences, KU School of Medicine–Wichita

Submitted/KU School of Medicine-Wichita

Dennis Valenzeno will help lead the KU School of Medicine-Wichita's transition to a full four-year program.

Years at current job: I started Jan. 1, 2011. However, before a six-and-a-half year experience at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I was a faculty member at the KU Medical Center for almost 25 years.

Job duties: My charge is to oversee the development and offering of the first- and second-year medical school curriculum in Wichita. This campus has offered the last two years of that curriculum, the third and fourth years, since the mid '70s. This fall, we will welcome the inaugural set of first-year students to the campus. They will be able to complete all four years of medical school here in south central Kansas.

What’s one thing that would surprise people about your work? I don’t know if others would have the same perceptions, but I am most surprised by the degree to which my job involves coordinating the actions of others, ensuring that “the team” is covering all the bases, not missing anything while, at the same time, adhering to the highest standards in all that we do. My most important job is to get the absolute best people in the correct positions, to ensure they have what they need to accomplish their goals, and then to get out of their way. It’s much trickier than it sounds.

A large part of your job will be helping the School of Medicine–Wichita transition to a full, four-year program. What about that challenge attracted you to this position? There are two phases to this development. The first is for us to offer essentially the same curriculum as Kansas City. We’ll do this for the first couple of years to ensure that we understand what that entails. Since I was in charge of a similar program in my previous position in Alaska, I’m confident we can accomplish that aim. The second phase will be to develop a new four-year curriculum for Wichita. That is the challenge that was most attractive for this position. These are exciting times for medical education. Medical education in the United States has been driven by a landmark report, The Flexner Report, commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation and published in 1910. One hundred years later, the Carnegie Foundation commissioned a second report, which was published last year. Its recommendations are expected to produce sweeping changes in the way medical students are educated. Thus, our curriculum development process is well timed to allow us to be responsive to societal needs as reflected in the new Carnegie Report and to develop a dynamic and effective curriculum that will educate a new kind of physician for Kansas.

How will having a four-year medical school in Wichita benefit the state? It has been amply demonstrated that two of the most important determinants of where a medical student chooses to practice are the location of his residency training and the location of his medical school. It has also been shown that medical students are more likely to practice in rural locations if a significant part of their training occurs in those settings. We have the opportunity to address the need for more physicians in Kansas, including in rural areas, with a new curriculum that enhances rural training experiences. Four-year medical campuses are also an economic benefit to their city and region. As medical student enrollment expands during the next several years with a target total of about 250 and the KU School of Pharmacy opens its satellite campus in Wichita, the annual economic impact of KU in Wichita will grow from $49.7 million to about $80 million.

You are coming to KU from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Are there similar challenges and concerns in medical education in two states as seemingly different as Kansas and Alaska? If so, how has that prepared you to serve the School of Medicine–Wichita? Somewhat surprisingly, there are great similarities in the development of medical education in Alaska and in Wichita. Alaska, a very rural state, participates in a multi-state collaborative medical school known as WWAMI (an acronym for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) that is accredited through the University of Washington School of Medicine. The program is just a few years older than the Wichita campus of KUMC. It originally offered only the first year of medical school in a student’s home state, but expanded through the years to offer numerous third- and fourth-year clinical experiences in all of the states. Now Alaska and a few other WWAMI campuses are planning to expand to full, four-year programs. The same issues of new vs. existing curriculum, student support services, need for increased faculty and the like are arising both at the University of Alaska Anchorage and at the KU School of Medicine–Wichita. A key difference: in Kansas we don’t have to worry about how to provide adequate medical care to remote villages that have no roads to them and are accessible only by boat, plane or (in winter) dog sled.

Campus closeup
Dennis Valenzeno, associate dean for basic sciences, School of Medicine-Wichita
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