Academic medical centers: Shaping the future of healthcare

June 23, 2016
Academic medical centers: Shaping the future of healthcare
UCI Health School of Medicine students enjoy “Match Day,” when they learn where they will perform their residencies.

Progress in medicine isn’t just a matter of luck or happenstance. It emerges largely from the network of highly trained and talented physicians and researchers who work at academic medical centers around the nation.Orange County is home to one such institution.

Through research, community outreach and training, UCI Health physicians, nurses and other health professionals set the bar for the highest-quality care while helping to instruct and shape the younger members of their professions.

The outcome of this important process impacts patients for years to come, as students mature into the caregivers and thought leaders of tomorrow.

Dr. Michael Stamos, interim dean of the UCI Health School of Medicine
Dr. Michael Stamos

We asked Dr. Michael Stamos, interim dean of the UC Irvine Health School of Medicine, to describe how Orange County benefits from having a top-rated academic medical center in its midst.

What does it mean to be an "academic medical center?"

Academic medical centers make up 2 to 2.5 percent of all hospitals in the country. UC Irvine Medical Center is the only one in Orange County. An academic medical center is, by definition, a teaching hospital or what I call a “learning hospital” because we are all learning. A variety of people are being taught here: residents, fellows and other allied health professionals. Academic medical centers are affiliated with medical schools.

Why is care at academic medical centers superior?

Being an academic medical center is a mark of excellence. The top-rated medical centers in the United States are academic medical centers, and these institutions form the core of leadership in medicine for the nation. The research we perform leads to new clinical therapies. We offer dozens of clinical trials that compare the best existing treatments to emerging treatments that may be even better. Clinical trials offer patients the opportunity to receive innovative therapies well before they become available to the general public. Clinical trials are done under review and with close oversight, and there is no obligation to participate.

What are some of the other unique attributes of academic medical centers?

Academic medical centers are not-for-profit medical centers, so we reinvest money into leading-edge technology and innovative teaching and learning. We also focus on the needs of our own population—the residents of Orange County and surrounding counties.

Who is being trained at academic medical centers?

We educate people across a full spectrum of professions. We educate medical students, residents and interns, but at UCI Health that just scratches the surface. We think it’s important to teach other allied health professionals, nurses and nurse practitioners and students at our soon-to-be-established schools of pharmacy and population health.

How does the presence of students and trainees elevate care?

Having students here keeps everyone on the leading edge. The medical students in 2016 are incredibly bright, talented and inquisitive. They are constantly pushing all of us to think in a different way. They don’t have preconceived biases that others have, and they don’t fall back on the status quo. Our doctors are practicing physicians and university faculty members. We hire only the best. If you’re going to work with these young brilliant medical students, it pushes you to be on the leading edge as well. You have to be up-to-date. Many physicians in practice have very little time to learn new things and go to medical conferences. That creates a problem. In an academic medical center, our physicians are doing the teaching, lecturing at national and local meetings, performing research and analyzing data to establish new standards of care. Our physicians are thought leaders in their fields.

What responsibilities do medical students have at academic medical centers?

Attending physicians have full responsibility over patients and provide care. Medical students accompany attending physicians as part of their training. Many of these students are quite mature. What they lack is experience. If we don’t train medical students to be clinicians, who will take care of us later? That’s an incredibly important role we provide to the general population. A large percentage of physicians practicing throughout Orange County have had some or all of their training at UC Irvine Medical Center.

A student on Match Day 2016
Medical student on Match Day.

Does the medical center provide education and training to professionals other than medical students?

We do. We actually have a lot of learners who come through our doors. Practicing physicians are required to complete Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses in order to stay licensed. We sponsor many CME events annually to doctors who come to us from throughout the nation. We do this to keep practicing doctors up-to-date on the latest in their fields. Established physicians can also do preceptorships, which are training programs that last a day or two or up to a week. They come from the community, from around the state, the country or even globally. They spend time here and take back that knowledge and expertise to their own patients. That’s done as part of our responsibility to the greater community.

How else does a community benefit by having an academic medical center in its midst?

We also provide telemedicine and telementoring to help treat patients in remote areas where certain specialists are not available. Right now we have a stroke telemedicine program with Corona Regional Medical Center Through this program, our stroke physicians provide high-quality care to patients in the Inland Empire who otherwise wouldn’t have access to that level of expertise. Also, via telementoring, physicians who are learning to do a procedure and don’t feel their training is complete can have our physicians observe them during the operation and ask questions.

Are there some types of services that only academic medical center provide?

Yes. In addition to surgeons and physicians coming back for additional training, we provide unique services in the community that can’t be provided elsewhere. We have a STEMI center for care of heart attack patients, a telemedicine stroke program and the only Level I trauma center in the county. That should be a great comfort to everyone who lives in Orange County. We also have a certified burn center and offer world-class neonatal care and maternal-fetal medical care. We have an operating room and a critical care physician and trauma surgeon available 24/7. Community hospitals can’t afford to do that.

What are you most proud of as a faculty member?

I’ve been involved in medical training for 25 years. No doubt what makes me most proud is seeing students and residents develop great passion to provide the best possible care for their patients. It’s their life goal. That’s what this is all about. These brilliant young people are capable of being successful at anything. They choose medicine because they have that passion.

Learn more about UCI Health and the role of Orange County’s only academic medical center at

— UCI Health Marketing & Communications
Featured in UCI Health Live Well Magazine Summer 2016


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