What Is UH Health?

Q&A with Provost Antel


John AntelThe pathway to Tier-One status for the University of Houston rests firmly upon President Renu Khator's major initatives, including a far-reaching plan for expanded research and education in health-related fields. In this Q&A interview, Provost John Antel, UH's chief academic officer, provides an overview of UH Health.

by Eric Gerber (’72, M.A. 78)

Q. How would you describe the UH Health initiative?

A. It is the intersection between where we want to go as an institution and what we think is good for Houston. The Texas Medical Center (TMC) makes this one of the most important health care sites in the world. UH is exploring the best way to capitalize on that. You play to your strengths — and we already have very strong faculty and a number of health-related programs. Basically, we are going to coordinate and expand our health-related research programs.

Q. So this isn’t a new enterprise so much as an enhancement of established programs?

A. It’s both. Right now, more than half of our externally funded research is health-related. With this initiative, we are bringing that all together and strategizing our next steps.

Q. Where do we need to go next?

A. As a full-fledged TMC member, we now have many obligations but also immense opportunities. Our model is to complement our TMC partners. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit. The timing couldn’t be better for UH to expand its presence. It’s right in step with the national agenda of health care reform and an aging population. We’ll be very well positioned to make a major impact in research and education. We will do this gradually because of budget constraints, but there will be steady progress.

Q. Where is our health care research headed?

A. For one thing, what’s happening with the Genome Project and genetics is analogous to small particle physics research in the 1940s. And there is going to be an explosion of new research in biology and behavioral fields. But it’s not all white coats in labs. UH will play an increasingly important role in health care policy, which involves psychology, economics, philosophy and legal issues.

Q. Will there be a central health-oriented venue, comparable to the Energy Research Park?

A. Not now. But our new biomedical research building won’t be limited to optometry — everybody’s going to use those facilities. In a few years, we could launch a College of Health Professions.

Q. Workforce development has been a UH strength. Will that remain a priority?

A. Absolutely. That’s why an advisory board of top health care executives, which we’ll create next year, is invaluable. It’s saying to the industry, “Tell us what you need.” That applies to personnel and professions as well as our research collaborations. We’re looking at occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing, health management, etc. This will be more of a partnership within the UH System. UH-Clear Lake already has a first-rate management program and UH-Victoria’s building a solid nursing program.

Q. Our health-related research would seem to have considerable potential for commercialization of intellectual property. Is that the case?

A. Tremendous opportunities. But not many institutions do it well — USC, Stanford, MIT and a few others. That’s why we’re reorganizing the Division of Research. Moving forward, we need more than a great legal staff to write copyright contracts. We need people with their ear to the ground in various research areas to make sure our faculty are involved. We need IP managers who can provide entrepreneurial support.

Q. Our advantages seem clear. What are the challenges?

A. Supporting talented faculty. A successful researcher has to manage a lab, have capable postgraduate students and talented junior colleagues. That’s why we’re now set on the team-hire approach. We must provide the capacity to be productive. We’ll likely need at least two or three more major research buildings.

Q. Five years from now, what will UH Health be like?

A. We should be doing more than $100 million just in health-related research, doubling our current level. We’ll have a world-class biomedical engineering program. We’ll be bigger and better, with a balance of basic research, applied research, educational programs and community outreach.

Q. And 10 years?

A. Important partnerships in addition to our TMC affiliations. Much more engineering, management and computer sciences involved with health. I can see a Health Policy Institute.

Q. Can you see a UH medical school?

A. We already have three top medical schools here, so it’s a matter of funding and the state’s priorities. We’re focusing on making UH Health a success on its own terms. If the stars are aligned in the future, and the state decides we need another medical school, UH will certainly be ready.

BY THE NUMBERS

21 percent — UH undergraduates pursuing health-related degrees (2009)

25.9 percent — UH graduate students pursuing health-related degrees (2009)

50 percent — UH professional students pursuing health-related degrees (2009)

49 — Number of UH health-related degree programs

94,000 — Number of Gulf Coast-region health care industry jobs expected to be added by 2016

1 in 7 — New jobs expected to be in the health care industry between now and 2016

$61.1 million — UH’s 2009 awards in health-related research

48 — Number of member institutions at the Texas Medical Center, including UH

No. 1 — Department of Health and Human Performance national ranking (Academic Analytics’ Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index)

No. 3 — UH Health Law program national ranking (U.S.News & World Report, 2009)