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Mission in Progress

With construction complete on Le Bonheur's new tower, pediatric research and mentoring intensify.

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“Research at Le Bonheur has a community focus,” says McCullers. “The big health issues here” — asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and developmental disorders — “stem from childhood obesity. Obesity drives chronic disease.” Therefore, Le Bonheur has created a Childhood Obesity Center, among other such research-focused centers, to directly combat the problem. Patients are coming from places with zero or very little primary care, and research teams are working to intervene at that basic level, before children get sick. To be a top-10 hospital, he explains, we have to maintain a community focus.

Now that the hospital tower and Research Center projects are complete — Le Bonheur’s campus encompasses nearly a million square feet — McCullers is ready to expand his faculty by adding researchers, clinicians, and physicians. “We have added about 25 in the last 18 months, and we hope to hire 30 or 40 more physicians over the next three years.”

But hiring is easy. Once they get to Le Bonheur, young specialists have to be trained. The Research Center is also the site of such training. A mentoring program has been established, and small groups of six to eight doctors from all specialty areas, including ER, surgery, radiology, and pediatrics, are matched with a senior-level physician. The groups meet regularly to provide support to one another, to practice balancing time spent working directly with patients along with time spent researching, as well as maintaining healthy personal lives at home.

“If they aren’t trained, [the physicians] will work with patients all day. We have to help them learn to balance their time evenly between patients and research and home.” This takes plenty of funding, most of which comes from the Children’s Foundation of Memphis and Le Bonheur.

The mentoring program is part of a larger team approach that is working well at Le Bonheur. All over the hospital, groups of doctors, surgeons, and nurses huddle in groups discussing their patients’ conditions. They meet with parents together at the bedside, working to heal. The same is true of the Research Center. It is McCullers’ hope, that over the next five years, existing partnerships across town between Le Bonheur, St. Jude, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center will allow for more solid alignment of research, rehabilitation, nutrition, and palliative care. With all three institutions contributing funds, manpower, and facilities, the Children’s Foundation Research Institute is primed to be a leader in pediatric research.

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