German Council of Science and Humanities Issues Positive Report on University Medicine in Aachen
According to the Council's report, the RWTH Faculty of Medicine and Uniklinik RWTH Aachen are well-positioned to meet current and future demands in teaching and research. The research strategy fits perfectly with the institutional strategy of RWTH Aachen University.
In 2017, the NRW Ministry of Science commissioned the German Council of Science and Humanities to evaluate university medical institutions in North Rhine-Westphalia. In a joint press conference today, the experts drew a positive conclusion: The collaboration between the RWTH Faculty of Medicine and Uniklinik RWTH Aachen has been judged to be exemplary and constructive.
According to the report, the research profile is trend-setting, and teaching and learning innovative. Moreover, in terms of research output and transfer into practice, the Aachen institutions were said to offer ideal framework conditions. The report however notes that there is a demand for more space and calls for an increase in specialist staff.
After the last visit of the Council in November 1999, the Faculty of Medicine and Uniklinik had initiated a reform of research and teaching, seeking to integrate it closely with patient care. As Professor Stefan Uhlig, dean of the Faculty of Medicine, explains: “The previous site visit of the Council was a real wake-up call and gave rise to many changes. A decisive factor was the introduction of the Aachen model degree program in medicine, today one of the most successful medical programs in Germany, as well as the establishment of the AIXTRA Skillslab, our interdisciplinary training center for medical education.”
“Over the last 15 years, we succeeded in clearly improving the quality of our research, as is also indicated by the quality of our publications. Currently we have more than 1,200 publications per year. Other performance indicators are, for example, improved citation performance or the increase in external funding. We are very pleased with this development, and we feel encouraged by the recognition of our efforts by the German Science Council.”
Professor Ulrich Rüdiger, rector of RWTH Aachen University, adds: “The Council explicitly lauded the new, focused research profile of the Faculty, which is now much more closely aligned with the engineering and technology-oriented profile of the University, as it systematically integrates the expertise of other disciplines in addressing forward-looking research questions.”
As the report notes, due to the excellent contacts with businesses and application-oriented research institutions, Aachen offers ideal framework conditions for the translation and transfer of research into innovative technologies as well as the establishment of spin-off companies in medical engineering.
New Focal Research Areas, Innovative Teaching and Learning
It was only last year that the Faculty of Medicine had realigned and further developed its focus research areas – away from an organ-centered approach towards analysis, understanding and research into the design of complex systems.
The Organ Crosstalk section is concerned with the interaction between organs and their self-regulation in the form of research that is relevant to clinical application.
The Phase Transition in Disease focus investigates disease pathways and aims at a better understanding of the phase transition of diseases.
The Translational Neurosciences focus explores emergent phenomena such as neuronal plasticity with the help of computational neurosciences; emotion and cognition; as well as sensory and motor functions. It is also concerned with the regulation of psychotic and neurodegenerative diseases.
All focus areas either draw on the Faculty's core research area Medical Technology & Digital Life Sciences as a founding platform or establish links with it. The Council report explicitly judged this realignment of Uniklinik’s research activities to be “forward-looking.”
Furthermore, it emphasized the “successful integration” of these focus areas with the research profile of RWTH as a university of technology. “According to the report, “The integration of Uniklinik’s institutional strategy into that of the University has improved considerably, especially due to the University’s participation in the Excellence Strategy competition, where it applied for funding as a University of Excellence.”
With its model degree program, according to the reviewers, Aachen is very well prepared to meet today’s requirements for teaching and learning in medicine, thanks to a wide range of electives, a high degree of practical orientation, the integration of pre-clinical and clinical content, and the longitudinal structure of the curriculum. The reviewers also positively note the institutionalized collaboration with Forschungszentrum Jülich as part of the Jülich Aachen Research Alliance (JARA).
Complex Health Care: Digital Medicine as a Motor of Innovation
Uniklinik RWTH Aachen has also seen major developments over the last years as a maximum-care provider. This is indicated by the high proportion of severe cases treated at Uniklinik compared to the national average, as well as the increasing number of intensive care admissions.
As Professor Thomas H. Ittel, Medical Director and Chairman of the Management Board at Uniklinik, concludes: “Uniklinik RWTH Aachen stands for complex medicine. The Council of Science and Humanities has recognized the close integration of our scientific and clinical focuses as well as the need-based differentiation of our range of services. Moreover, it has acknowledged Uniklinik as an innovator and pacesetter in the field of Digital Medicine. This is highly encouraging.”
“With the Electronic Case File Plus project, the Aachen Telemedicine Center (de) and the Innovation Center for Digital Medicine (IZDM), Uniklinik has created important components for the digital interconnection of all relevant actors. We look forward to further expanding these new developments.”