The Association of Academic Health Centers (AAHC) recently celebrated 50 years of convening thought leaders, sharing best practices, and catalyzing the diffusion of innovation. Inspirational leadership and effective management of academic health centers have been the central concerns of AAHC throughout its first half-century. The organization’s programs, initiatives, and publications are testimony to the important work of AAHC and its members in advancing healthcare, accelerating biomedical research, and cultivating the next generation of health professionals.
Academic health centers in the United States began a period of significant growth after World War II. By the mid-1950s, leaders at these institutions recognized that they were working in a new model of health professions education, biomedical research, and patient care, and that management of the whole was more encompassing and more complex than the sum of managing each of the parts.
The leaders of these broad-based institutions recognized the need to form an organization to foster deliberation on the high-level issues and challenges facing academic health centers, to share concerns, and to define solutions. In 1956, a group of 17 visionary leaders convened as the University Medical Administrative Group. The group met on a regular, but informal, basis until 1969, when it was formally incorporated as The Organization of University Health Center Administrators, Inc. The organization soon changed its name to the Association of Academic Health Centers and established an office in Washington, DC.
Fifty years hence, AAHC, and its 11-year old international division, the Association of Academic Health Centers International (AAHCI), offer premier programming for the executive leadership of academic health centers worldwide. As found on the pages of our Annual Report, AAHC/I supports leaders in academic health with key publications, formal and informal consultation, information resources, and advocacy on selected issues, and regularly introduces new initiatives to increase the capacity of those leaders to respond to urgent priorities, including large-scale crisis management.
As the Association enters its second 50 years, it will continue to focus on the fundamental and unique value of academic health centers – that is, the ability to harness the power at the nexus of research, education, and healthcare in service to the human condition. Catalyzing thought leadership, with a special emphasis on horizon scanning, will be a core guiding value as AAHC works with its members. The Association will continually hone its ability to detect the emergence of novel ideas, looming challenges, and new opportunities.
Academic health centers are more important today than ever before. Collectively, in the last decade alone, they have generated advances in biomedical science that have revealed more about the human body than has been learned in all of history theretofore. And that has enabled a broad range of healthcare professionals, educated at these distinguished institutions, to do more for patients today than ever before, in every area of medicine. Progress has been nothing short of astounding and there never has been a better time to pursue a career in the health sciences or the health professions.
Of course, this remarkable progress comes with daunting challenges that, in turn, reveal new opportunities. There is no institution anywhere in the world that is better organized and better equipped than an academic health center to confront these challenges and pursue these opportunities. Joining patient care with research and education creates remarkably fertile ground that has the potential to yield the next scientific insight, the next paradigm shift, or the next disruptive innovation.
Furthermore, when academic health centers act collectively, there is an exponential increase in their power to improve the human condition. That is why AAHC will continue to be a catalyst for thought leadership, a forum for confidential peer-to-peer networking and discourse, and a venue for forward-thinking, progressive, and solution-focused ideas.
Fifty years ago, united by the belief that academic health centers can do more together than any one of them can do alone, a small group of visionary leaders created AAHC. That belief drives our work today.
Steven L. Kanter, MD