In the shadow of the Sleeping Giant, Bruce Koeppen is building a med school out of whole cloth
Bruce Koeppen discovered his love of teaching at the University of Chicago in the mid-1970s.
“There was a course offered in the second year of the curriculum, and faculty would choose fourth-year medical students to help teach it,” recalls Koeppen, who was among the chosen.
As a result, he says, “I made the decision to go into academic medicine.”
Several decades later, in 2010, Koeppen was selected as founding dean of a medical school at Quinnipiac University. Its principal mission is to train order xanax physicians.
“The other piece is to work collaboratively with the schools of nursing and health sciences, and teach them in an interprofessional curriculum,” says Koeppen, 61, whose experience makes him especially suitable to spearhead the effort.
The first in his family to attend college, Koeppen grew up in Elgin, Ill., about 40 miles northwest of Chicago. “I was always interested in science,” he says. “What I really liked was understanding the function of the human body.”
Koeppen majored in physiology at the University of Illinois/Urbana, where he earned a BS in 1973 and began a lifelong interest in the workings of the kidney.
After graduating, he says, “Instead of getting an internship, I got advanced research training.”
Koeppen got his MD (1977) at the University of Chicago and Ph.D. (1980) at the University of Illinois, then spent two years at on a research fellowship with renal physiology expert Gerhard Giebisch.
Koeppen has since co-authored several textbooks and dozens of articles about physiology and the kidney.
His first faculty appointment came in 1982, as an assistant professor in the departments of medicine and physiology at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington. Over the next decade Koeppen conducted research at UConn while becoming an associate professor and professor in the departments of medicine and cell biology. Working with Peter J. Deckers, then dean of the UConn Medical School, Koeppen also revamped the medical school education program.
“We implemented a totally new curriculum that was system-based rather than subject-based, which was pretty controversial among faculty and still is at some schools in America,” says Deckers, whose current title is dean emeritus of the UConn School of Medicine and professor of surgery. “Bruce was completely responsible for implementing that at all levels and exemplary in making it happen.”
In the early 1990s, Koeppen was named associate dean for preclinical education at the UConn Medical School. Over the next decade and a half he held a variety of administrative titles, culminating in dean for academic affairs.
“I was responsible for administrative oversight for all education programs, from medical students to residents to continuing education, and also had administrative responsibility for facilities,” he explains.
Along the way, he earned a slew of UConn and national awards, including the American Society of Physiology’s Arthur C. Guyton Teaching Award (1995), the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Alpha Omega Alpha’s Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teaching Award (1998) and the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine’s Distinguished Service award (2002). In 2009, he became an inaugural member of the University of Connecticut’s Academy of Distinguished Educators.
In February 2010, Koeppen began to contemplate a different future.
“I picked up the Hartford Courant and saw a story about Quinnipiac University’s plans to build a new medical school,” he recalls. He quickly applied for the job as founding dean of the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine.
“I did initial interviews in June,” Koeppen says. “I made it to the short list and did second interviews in July and August. In mid-September I got the phone call from Mark Thompson (now Quinnipiac University’s executive vice president/provost) and officially started on November 1, 2010. At that time I was the only employee of the School of Medicine.”
Building a medical school from scratch wasn’t such a stretch for Koeppen, who had plenty of experience evaluating other institutions going through the process. A member of Liaison Committee on Medical Education [LCME], the accrediting authority for medical education programs leading to an MD degree in the U.S. and Canada, he had been on accreditation teams for more than a dozen universities. He was chair of the accreditation team for the preliminary accreditation for the Hofstra University North Shore-LIJ Health School of Medicine and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University.
“Bruce had done many site visits and had been executive secretary on a lot of those visits,” Deckers says. “Therefore, he knew the strengths and weaknesses of medical schools. Some are clinically focused; some are research-focused and spend more time on that than education. So Bruce was extremely well prepared to implement a new curriculum in a new medical school — probably better than anyone else.”
From 1999 to 2005, Koeppen served as a member of the Graduate Medical Education Advisory Council at the state of Connecticut’s Office of Health Care Access.
“To start a new medical school you really need two things,” adds Decker. “One is to know all the demands of the groups that license and accredit you. No one knew it better than Bruce, who had lived through and knew all the issues that had to be on the table. You also have to know how to recruit good faculty with a commitment to education.”
Koeppen’s qualifications were perfect for Quinnipiac.
“Bruce is just an ideal dean for our school, says university President John L. Lahey. “In addition to just getting through the process and knowing what to do, he has the temperament and experience to accomplish our medical school’s mission, which is to try to encourage as many of our graduates as possible to practice primary medicine, and to do this working with schools of health science and nursing.
“Bruce is brilliant, yet you’d never know it to interact with him,” adds Lahey. “His personality is very welcoming, and he’s got great interpersonal skills you don’t always find it in geniuses.”
The U.S. is in the midst of a new medical school boom.
“The last round of new medical schools was in the 1960s and ’70s, and that round was sparked by impending physician shortages,” Koeppen explains. “The feds helped these schools get of the ground.
“This round also is being fueled by impending physician shortages. But this time they are being funded by states, clinical entities or private universities, and hopefully will provide additional physicians to address the shortage of about 100,000 physicians by 2020 and 150,000 by 2025.”
At least 16 new medical schools have obtained initial accreditation, including three in Florida and three in Michigan, and half a dozen others are in the works.
“Health care increasingly is a team sport, with everyone working together for the care of the patient,” Koeppen says. “Quinnipiac said that’s clearly the future of health care, so why not train our students to be better team players when they get into the workforce?”
Koeppen has been hiring and seeking “master teachers who have a track record of as excellent medical school educators, or junior faculty who have the potential.”
“Our model is not traditional,” he says. “We are not going to be a research-intensive medical school or have a faculty practice. We hope our graduates go out and practice in the trenches.”
For a medical school to be accredited, Koeppen explains, “You’ve got to document that you have all resources in place to be successful, including the faculty, staff and clinical placements, so students you admit will get a quality education and that they’ll be able to finish. Our documentation was eight inches [thick] of paper.”
On October 3, 2012, Quinnipiac received approval from the state Board of Education to award medical degrees, shortly after received preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. The first class, which will matriculate this fall, will have 60 students, a number projected to grow to 125 by 2017.
St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport will be the school’s primary clinical partner, with other training sites at MidState Medical Center in Meriden and Middlesex Hospital in Middletown.
Slated for completion in March 2013, the 145,000-square-foot Quinnipiac medical school will include offices, 16 exam rooms, a human anatomy facility, a clinical skills assessment facility, two simulation operating rooms, a library, a lounge space with a yoga studio and a fitness center.
“Bruce has developed a curriculum, designed a medical school building and hired faculty and administrators all in about a year’s time,” says Lahey, who adds that to accomplish preliminary accreditation “in less than two years is just phenomenal.”
Koeppen’s extraordinary competence comes as no surprise to Deckers, who was “delighted” when his former colleague landed the founding dean’s job.
“Bruce is very much a professional,” Deckers says. “He takes being in a position very seriously. He manages times impeccably and has a sense of duty that transcends that of other people. He wants to instill in the generation of students that he’s going to be responsible for the same kind of personal and professional pride.
“I know that that school is going to be successful, and I’m absolutely sure they’ll recruit outstanding people to the classroom, because Bruce wouldn’t have it any other way.”
— Karen Singer