Community Engagement

Dean Termuhlen's Take Header

In this month’s installment of Dean Termuhlen’s Take On …, our dean Dr. Paula Termuhlen discusses the ways the medical school engages with the greater Kalamazoo community and how the community can help shape WMed for the future.

Dean Paula TermuhlenWMed is described as a community-based medical school. What does that mean?

Community-based medical schools historically rely upon a substantial portion of their educational work to be done in partnership with community physicians and usually have multiple clinical partners. In a more forward-thinking context, it also calls upon this type of medical school to be more deeply engaged with its community partners beyond the clinical operations as well.

Ascension Borgess and Bronson Healthcare are two of our main clinical partners, but we have relationships that transcend those two. We have partnerships with Grace Health and the Family Health Center, two Federally Qualified Health Centers, and the Veterans Administration in Battle Creek as part of our portfolio of educational experiences. We also have several emerging opportunities in the areas surrounding Kalamazoo and within Southwest Michigan that are associated with other health systems.

What impact can medical schools have in their community?

The impact of a medical school within a community goes beyond creating physicians to serve the community. I think this is really well illustrated by the economic impact study recently conducted by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research that showed WMed added 1,600 jobs in 2020 and provided an additional $115 million in personal income to Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties, which fueled a $353 million increase in total sales in the two counties.

Medical schools typically will raise the level of care in a community. We can attract individuals who have outstanding clinical experiences, can ensure the people of a community are well cared for and can attract others into the community to receive care. We can start to work with our undergraduate, high school, and elementary school partners to build educational capacity within medical schools. We don’t own that because we’re not experts in that space, but we recognize that we play an important role in encouraging young people to consider careers in the science and technology fields. We’re also research engines, and we’re able to bring innovative, new opportunities that can forward the science in a variety of different areas. It also allows us to build collaborations that ultimately transcend into better ways to provide care for patients and to improve health.

What impacts have you seen WMed have in the Kalamazoo community and what would you like to see in the future?

Our history has been focused on the educational mission. That began long before WMed came into existence when we were Michigan State University Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies (MSU/KCMS). People are very familiar with the impact we’ve made in that area. Many individuals practicing in this community were either MSU medical students doing their clinical years of medical school in Kalamazoo or trained in our residency programs and have remained in Southwest Michigan to be able to provide care for patients. We should be very proud of that history and legacy. 

What’s on the horizon is for us to start to think about the aspects I alluded to earlier. As we attract faculty with research programs, we’ll be able to help to solve some of the challenges within health equity. We have laboratory scientists who will partner with Western Michigan University and others to help drive a better understanding of what causes disease. We’re also positioned to bring in individuals who can contribute unique types of clinical care to our community. That’s important for our educational mission but it’s also important to provide that care in our community so patients don’t have to travel. They can stay within Kalamazoo and receive their care with us as we are part of both of our health system partners.

How can the greater Kalamazoo community help shape the medical school for the future?

There’s a very tangible way the community can help shape us right now as we ask for their opinion. We’re in a comprehensive planning process, the Empowering Our Future planning initiative, to help us create an identity that’s inspirational and aspirational for WMed as a medical school. We’re doing the internal work but equally important is the external work where we’re asking our community, what can WMed do for you? How do you see us partnering with you in a variety of different initiatives so we can improve the health of our community and ensure we are good citizens within Southwest Michigan? I’m grateful to the individuals who have taken the time to speak with our WMed representatives and our consultants to help us define and start to shape what that future vision can look like.

In addition, it’s time for us to be seen as part of the fabric of Southwest Michigan. We are the medical staff at Ascension Borgess and Bronson. We are members of the community that provide care through our Street Medicine Kalamazoo interest group and at the FQHCs in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. We are part of the EMS system with our Department of Emergency Medicine. We provide medical examiner services for many counties in Michigan in this part of the state. We’re not just an entity that sits on Oakland Drive and on Portage Street. We’re part of the community already, and one way the community can help is us by recognizing that. 

Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?

We have groups we’ve already established relationships with, but we recognize there may be individuals who feel like we haven’t reached out to them. It’s possible we haven’t. If you’re looking for opportunities to work with us, please reach out. Don’t be shy. We welcome the invitations to consider the possibilities. We also welcome growing closer to our current partners that are the foundation of our school – WMU, Ascension Borgess and Bronson. We look forward to working more closely with all of them. We also recognize there are entities that we may not have reached out to but we would certainly welcome their invitation for partnership. 

A Hat Tip from Dr. T

I recently had the opportunity to ride with Dr. John Hoyle, our assistant dean for Simulation and a professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, in the medical school’s Medical Support Unit (MSU-2). Our emergency medicine team has a far reach by serving members of Kalamazoo County as part of the physician support for the EMS system as well as Yellowstone National Park. They’ve embodied what it means to be part of a community and to directly serve their community whether it’s near or far. In service to that work, they are sometimes putting themselves at risk. I certainly respect and appreciate the work they do and how it helps show that we are here to help and be a part of the communities we serve. 

In addition, I’d like to recognize our medical students who are trained and licensed Medical First Responders and have used their training to augment EMS coverage for several WMU football games this fall. Our medical students are part of this entire network we’ve created to be supportive of our emergency responders across Kalamazoo County and beyond. They do this work at a very high level and work to become even better. We know from some recent competitions that the Emergency Medicine department has been very successful in teaching our medical students and residents and participating as faculty in these initiatives that really demonstrate a commitment to excellence.

Dean Termuhlen’s Take On ... is a monthly message from our dean to discuss topics of importance to WMed, medical school stakeholders, and the communities that make up Southwest Michigan. Is there a topic you would like to hear Dean Termuhlen’s take on? Let us know by sending a message to