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September 24, 2014

Berk: Time for Another Medical Revolution

Medical Center CEO prepares to lead new institute devoted to research and treatment for neurological disorders and diseases.

Brad Berk
“Together we’ve accomplished more than I ever thought we could,” Medical Center CEO Bradford Berk told a full Flaum Atrium when he announced that  he was stepping down after eight years as CEO and senior vice president for health sciences. Beginning Jan. 1, he plans to launch the Rochester Neurorestorative Institute at the Medical Center, an emerging effort to develop new devices and therapies to help patients with neurological deficits to live fuller lives.

As a cardiologist, Bradford Berk was at the forefront of a transformation in research and treatment, and as the Medical Center CEO prepares to embark on a new leadership role at the University, he hopes to be at the vanguard of another clinical revolution.

Berk, who has served as Medical Center CEO and senior vice president for health sciences since 2006, announced this month that he plans to step away from those leadership roles to launch the University’s Rochester Neurorestorative Institute, an emerging effort to develop new devices and therapies to help patients with neurological deficits to live fuller, more productive lives.

Berk, who suffered a serious spinal cord injury in 2009, has spoken often over the past five years of his passion for creating a patient- and family-centered culture within health care and of his desire to improve care specifically for those with chronic neurological conditions.

Berk says that advances in research and treatment for people with neurological conditions remind him of the early 1980s when he began his career in cardiology. It was a pioneering time, when he and other leading medical scientists began introducing angioplasty, coronary stents, implantable defibrillators, programmable pacemakers, and other breakthroughs.

“Those innovations changed the game in cardiology,” he says. “And new technologies in neurologic rehabilitation will transform lives in equally dramatic ways. I am watching with great interest the dawn of a revolution, as biomedical engineering breakthroughs such as robotics, exoskeletons, implantable nerve stimulators, and real-time biometric feedback promise to improve quality of life for people like me.

“I have never felt more energized about my ability to use my background in research, my administrative leadership skills, and my personal story to make a difference for the increasing number of individuals with chronic conditions, especially those who, like me, have lost neurological function. It’s a cause to which I plan to devote the next 10 years of my life.

“As a scientist, clinician, and patient, I want to be part of that,” he says. “I am passionate about this. I want this institution to lead that revolution.”

At the end of the year, Berk will transition out of his role as leader of the Medical Center to focus on the new initiative. After a sabbatical during which he plans to write a book that will help outline the ideas behind the institute, he will return to the Medical Center as a full-time faculty member with the rank of Distinguished University Professor.

During a Medical Center event to mark the leadership transition, President Joel Seligman announced that Mark Taubman, who has served as dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry since 2010, will become CEO of the Medical Center and senior vice president for health sciences, succeeding Berk in those roles.

“Mark is the right leader to take the Medical Center to the next level of achievement,” Seligman said to a full Flaum Atrium. “Mark has proven to be unflappable, a straight shooter, a dean with particular success in working with his research and clinical faculty. He is a man of unquestioned honesty and integrity, whose sense of ethics is of the highest order.”

Taubman and Berk have collaborated for more than 30 years, since they first met as cardiologists doing research at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. In 2003, Berk recruited Taubman from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, where he was the director of cardiovascular research. Taubman served as codirector of the Cardiovascular Research Institute with Berk and was chair of the Department of Medicine before being named dean in 2010.

Berk, who earned his MD and PhD degrees from the School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1981, joined the Rochester faculty in 1998. Named CEO in 2006, he served as cochair of the Cardiovascular Research Institute, chair of the Department of Medicine, and several other leadership roles at the Medical Center.

In 2009, he suffered a spinal cord injury in a bicycling accident that left him with diminished function in his arms and legs, a condition that didn’t deter him from returning to lead the Medical Center. In addition to earning wide praise for his clinical, administrative, and strategic leadership of the Medical Center, Berk has been credited with leading efforts to improve the experience of patients in the center’s multicounty regional network of hospitals, clinics, and other care settings.

He acknowledges that his own experience renewed his interest in the experience of patients and families, but he credits the staff of the Medical Center with being more than willing to get behind the idea.

“My experience as a patient drove me to champion our cultural transformation,” Berk says. “Every day, I receive feedback from patients who notice that things are different today: we take the time to involve patients and families, we demonstrate how much we care about them, and we take the time to care about each other. I can’t be more proud of the way that everyone in our clinical enterprise has jumped on this bandwagon. I view this as my single greatest achievement as CEO.”

Berk says he’s confident that the Medical Center is ready for the transition in leadership. The past few years have required faculty, staff, clinicians, and health care providers to focus sharply on the aspects of their mission that matter most to them and to the University, and the Medical Center has come out as a national example of success. “Our research programs may be leaner but they are more progressive, more collaborative, and more focused than ever,” he says.

“Our teaching programs are innovating with inter-professional education, team learning, educating medical and nursing professionals and scientists who will lead tomorrow’s medicine. Together we’ve accomplished more than I
could have ever hoped.”

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