UT Health Science Seeks Millions In Donations

By Tom Wilemon

Dr. Hershel Wall

Dr. Hershel Wall, chancellor of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, is seeking $180 million in private donations so the institution can continue to grow.

“Private giving is no longer just an enhancement,” Wall said in a Friday speech to the Memphis Regional Chamber. “It is now critical. It is now essential to our future successes.”

He called UTHSC’s importance to Memphis “one of the best kept secrets in town” even though it generates almost $2 billion for the city economy each year.

UTHSC, which has received little state funding for new construction for the past 20 years, is now contending with state cutbacks for operational funding, he said.

“That will be devastating,” he said. “We’ve been taking away the fat. We’re into the lean, and if we get another 7 percent hit we’re going to be in serious trouble.”

Tuition will be going up, he said, but he did not specify by how much.

Weighty contributions

The $180 million is part of a $1 billion overall goal for the University of Tennessee system. The money here will help the Health Science Center continue its expansions. The Health Science Center has raised just more than $111 million or 62 percent of its goal.

“Do we stand still?” Wall asked. “Does the ship just stop and drop anchor? I don’t think so. We don’t anticipate any new state dollars for capital construction any time soon, so we will move ahead and self-fund almost $100 million of our center’s $200 million master campus facility plan. The first construction project will be a 100,000-square-foot research facility.”

The state did provide $42 million for UTHSC’s new pharmacy building. UTHSC is also building an $18 million regional biocontainment laboratory, one of only 13 in the country.

These types of facilities nurture scientific ideas and research capabilities that evolve into bioscience companies or attract them here, Wall said.

“This spring, RxBio (Inc.), a program launched by a faculty member at the Health Science Center, developed a program selected as one of the top 100 examples across the globe of how innovation from an academic research center makes its way to the market,” he said. “RX 100 is a life-saving compound designed to protect the human body when it’s exposed to radiation.”

UTHSC’s faculty received more than $100 million in research funding during its 2008 fiscal year.

However, Wall pointed out that the Health Science Center’s historical and continuing mission is to educate and train doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and other health care professionals.

“As the state’s flagship academic health care facility, we’re one of the largest academic health care facilities in the country,” Wall said. “In our 97-year history, we’ve educated nearly 40,000 health care professionals. Think about what we contribute to the state. We have educated 75 percent of the dentists, 40 percent of the pharmacists, over 40 percent of the physicians, the lion’s share of the nursing educators.

“About 80 percent of the allied health graduates in Tennessee for roles in occupational therapy, physical therapy, dental hygiene and so on.”

The students learn their professions under the supervision of faculty professors who also staff Memphis hospitals.

“UTHSC faculty members fully staff The MED and nearly all of Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center and the VA Medical Center,” he said.