Homegrown Leadership at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center

With three of the 18 clinical department chairs at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center having graduated from Penn State College of Medicine, the college and medical center are benefitting significantly from homegrown leadership.

Although they graduated in different decades, Robert Harbaugh, M.D. '78, chair of the Neurosurgery Department, Thomas Terndrup, M.D. '81, chair of the Emergency Medicine Department, and David Quillen, M.D. '90, chair of the Ophthalmology Department, each has similar reasons for returning to Hershey. They have an appreciation for the excellent education they received combined with the opportunity to elevate the academic, clinical and research missions of their departments. And elevate their departments they have.

After graduation, Harbaugh spent nearly 18 years at the Dartmouth Medical School – from completing his residency to directing its neurosurgery laboratory – and fully expected to end his career there. However, in 2002 he returned to Hershey for a few days as a consultant to review the Penn State neurosurgery program, which then was part of the Surgery Department. His recommendation to launch a national search for a neurosurgeon to lead a new department swiftly led to his appointment as the department's first and only chair.

"I saw a huge potential for neurosurgery here and I always had terrific feelings about the education and opportunities that Penn State had given me," says Harbaugh, one of the nation's leading cerebral vascular surgeons and researchers. "So when I was offered the chance to come back as the chair of the new department, I knew I had to take it."

Since his arrival in 2003 the department's faculty has grown five-fold, to 17 clinicians and eight researchers, and the number of annual procedures has increased from less than 900 to more than 3,000. Part of that increase is due to a significant rise in the types of procedures offered, as well as the fact that the department also practices in State College and Wilkes-Barre. In addition, 10 of the 14 neurosurgeons in Hershey are listed in Best Doctors in America. "I think we have as good a group of faculty as any place in the country," says Harbaugh.

In the future, Harbaugh hopes to establish a neurosurgery and neuroscience referral network that makes the Penn State Hershey Medical Center the preferred provider of such services throughout central Pennsylvania.

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After directing the Pediatric Emergency Department at SUNY-Syracuse and founding the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Terndrup returned to Hershey in 2006 to head and revitalize the Emergency Department. "As a 1981 graduate I knew of the need to develop emergency medicine as an academic discipline at the college and medical center and I believed I had the skill set to make that happen for our students," says Terndrup, who grew up on a Cambria County sheep farm. Terndrup is responsible for managing over 200 employees in Emergency Medicine, Pediatric Emergency, and Life Lion.

The department that annually treats 64,000 patients per year continues to experience annual increases of 5 to 7 percent – a pace that is projected to result in 100,000 patients a year by 2020. Some of that will be fueled by next year's opening of the new Penn State Children's Hospital.

Adds Terndrup: "Clinically we're more patient-centric, and educationally, we have better students with a better understanding of the discipline, with more of them applying to emergency medicine training programs.

"Also our multi-disciplinary research – funded mostly by outside entities such as the National Institutes of Health and clinical societies – has grown enormously to nearly $1 million a year."

A founder and current advisor of UAB's Center for Emerging Infections & Emergency Preparedness, Terndrup was at a meeting in Brooklyn the day of 9/11 and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to treat policemen, fire fighters and paramedics. "It was a fundamental experience in my life, one that helped me understand our risk as a nation and our need for hospital preparedness," he says. Four years ago the bioterrorism and weapons of mass destruction expert won a $2.5 million federal grant to create a coalition amongst central Pennsylvania hospitals to enhance surge capacity in the event of a significant public health incident.

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With the exception of his internship and fellowship, Quillen, has been at the Medical Center and College of Medicine since 1986 as a medical student, resident, and physician/faculty member.

"I've been blessed with the opportunity to learn from so many wonderful teachers and mentors, many of whom I continue to work with today," says Quillen, who became the interim chair in 2002 and has been professor and chair of the department the past six years. "I am so thankful for my medical school and residency experiences at Penn State—not only for the knowledge and skills I learned but for the exceptional quality of the relationships I developed with my teachers, classmates, and patients."

Under Quillen's leadership, during the past decade, the once struggling department has experienced tremendous growth. Patient visits have increased more than 60 percent, to nearly 45,000 a year. The faculty has expanded to 16 full-time clinicians and scientists, with over 20 more researchers from 13 different departments participating in eye and vision research under the umbrella of the Penn State Hersey Eye Center, which Quillen directs. Currently 400 patients are enrolled in 11 clinical trials funded by the National Eye Institute, foundations and industry. Community outreach programs to educate the public and provide care to the underserved continue to expand.

The department also has received more than $3 million from generous donors to create the Blankenship and Turner professorships, the Morrison Endowment for vision rehabilitation, and two named lectures, as well as funding the Faculty and Alumni Library and clinical research program.

According to Quillen, the goals of the Penn State Hershey Eye Center are to provide patients the highest quality eye care possible and improve this care through education, research, and service: "We want to create an environment where all members of the Penn State Hershey Eye Center team—faculty, residents, students, and staff—feel like they can contribute and grow professionally."

Click here to read additional stories on the Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Update.