Indiana University Research & Creative Activity

The Art and Science of Medicine

Volume XXVI Number 1
Fall 2003

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One School, Eight Centers

Joel Vilensky considers his post as professor of anatomy at the Indiana University School of Medicine's Fort Wayne Center for Medical Education to be the perfect job. "I love it here," he says. "The small class size, the chance to get to know my students well—these are things that I hope will never change."

Vilensky's likely to see that hope fulfilled. IU's Statewide Medical Education System has been instructing first- and second-year students in eight communities beyond the Medical School's Indianapolis headquarters for decades, and the program has been extremely successful in meeting its two primary goals: increasing Indiana's doctor supply and encouraging many of those doctors to locate their practices in areas outside larger cities.

The Fort Wayne center is committed to continuing this tradition, but it is also on the vanguard of a new movement initiated by Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon, School of Medicine Dean D. Craig Brater, and other leaders who are contemplating the state's economic future. Along with its counterparts in Bloomington, Evansville, Gary, Lafayette, Muncie, South Bend, and Terre Haute, the Fort Wayne Center for Medical Education is poised to take on a greater role in the economic life of the surrounding region.

Vital to this new positioning is a construction project recently funded by the state legislature--a $14 million facility where the Fort Wayne center will relocate and expand its operations. The new building's up-to-the-minute laboratory space and equipment are expected to attract an additional seven to ten faculty members and millions of dollars annually in federal research funding, which can create jobs and benefit existing industries in the northeast corner of the state.

"We've been given a tremendous opportunity to ramp up our research effort," says Barth Ragatz, director of the Fort Wayne center and assistant dean in the Medical School. Ragatz and Vilensky were founding faculty members of the Fort Wayne center in 1981.

Ragatz envisions the center working closely with small medical manufacturers near Fort Wayne as well as with Indiana giants such as Eli Lilly and Dow Agrosciences, and with the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, a business incubator that draws on the resources of the IU-Purdue University Fort Wayne campus. The new center's features--including five instrumentation rooms, a computer laboratory, conference rooms and classrooms, a library, and a state-of-the-art gross anatomy lab--will fill nearly 30,000 square feet and make it a showplace. "I call it a new center for a new century," says Ragatz.

The Centers for Medical Education may be evolving, but Ragatz is confident that they will never lose sight of the teaching mission that inspired the creation of the state's first center on the Bloomington campus in 1959. "Our vision is shifting toward more research," he says. "But we are here to increase the capacity of the Medical School statewide. Just at our center, 24 percent of the alumni have practices in northeast Indiana."

K.G.