As 2012 closes, many chairs, faculty and staff are optimistic about the UM Miller School’s trajectory. Yet they feel the weight of the layoffs and the absence of staff who tracked billing and shepherded grants, and provided other key support functions that are now centralized, with mixed results. They know anxiety is high and morale low in some quarters, but they see a positive trend.

“Maybe it’s the holiday blues, but there is a lot of worry that the change hasn’t paid off,” said Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., M.S., Miller Professor and Chair of Neurology and Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders, who singles out the IT and other central systems for being too weak to fill the gaps left by departed personnel, especially in tracking grant spending. “Yet our budget is so much better this year. The fiscal year 2013 budget is on track, even slightly ahead of plan. That to me means that some of the changes did pay off financially, but the strain on the staff and faculty and the effect on morale is of great concern and taking a toll.”

Still, Sacco and many other department chairs are buoyed by the tangible evidence that the vision of Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., to create a top-tier research institution continues to move forward. They’re excited by the fact that 1,000 more applicants applied to the medical school this fall over last, by life-changing research underway at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, by the new brand campaign to re-energize faculty and staff, and the many notable milestones over the past year. The calendar year began with Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., a renowned researcher and clinician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, accepting the director’s post at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and is ending with the Miller School’s continued climb, to No. 38, in the amount of NIH funding awarded to medical schools across the nation.

Contributing to the improved ranking were the initial rounds of funding that came from the NIH’s recognition of the Miller School as Florida’s first and only Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), and the award that established the Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) and placed the University among an elite consortium of 60 nationally prominent research institutions charged with accelerating the translation of biomedical discoveries.

“Steve Nimer and No. 38 are really big deals,’’ said Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., Pharm.D., professor and Lucille P. Markey Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which in two years has risen from No. 76 to 37 out of 105 peer departments. “Is it where we want to be? No. But it is very noteworthy that we are moving forward, rather than backward in these very tough times, when the entire nation is suffering. Three of our own basic science departments are now in the Top 30, but it is not just us.

“Look around,” Daunert continued. “We have the CFAR, the CTSI, the first clinical trial for Schwann cells at The Miami Project, Josh Hare’s amazing stem cell work, new money for BioNIUM and from the military, all the groundbreaking work at the Hussman Institute, Bascom Palmer, the Diabetes Research Institute, the Gordon Center, the Miami Transplant Institute. The list goes on, and it’s all thanks to Pascal’s vision. If you want to move up, you have to take risks and his risks are paying off in terms of research. We cannot let criticism and distractive behavior from a few make us lose sight of what we have achieved and can achieve.”

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