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The Warsaw Voice » Regional Voice » November 25, 2011
The Wrocław Voice
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Not the Biggest But One of the Best
November 25, 2011   
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Prof. Marek Ziętek, MD, rector of Wrocław Medical University, talks to Barbara Deręgowska.

It is six months since you took over as rector of one of Wrocław’s leading universities. Was your first job to tidy things up?
Exactly. I began my term in office in rather unusual circumstances, as the previous rector had to leave suddenly. I found the university with lots of ongoing matters, projects and tasks. The problem is, funding has not been secured for all the planned undertakings. We will try to find the funds wherever we can so as not to delete anything from the plans. Also waiting for me were pending resolutions that the Senate had to pass quickly, regarding the rules of enrollment for the 2012/2013 academic year and matters related to the social councils of research hospitals. Various current university matters were also a mess. I began a systematic cleanup.

What is Wrocław Medical University’s position among medical schools in Poland and around the world?
I won’t rely on league tables because the criteria can be so different that they are not completely reliable. Let us focus on the facts. If we consider the number of publications per employee, our university is top in Poland, and not only among medical schools. We have a very decent Hirsch index per staff member; this is the correlation between publications and citations in international literature.

Furthermore, we are the medical university with the highest marks in Central and Eastern Europe. This is the result of the quality of our education and publications and the volume of the latter, as well as the number of parametric points in the impact factor (IF). In Poland we have a good, high position among medical schools. Of course it’s hard for us to compete with much bigger schools like those in Cracow, Warsaw and Poznań.

What areas does the university not focus on?
We focus on practically the full range of medical science and education. This is a necessity resulting from curricula and research programs. Of course we are a very strong university in some fields and slightly weaker in others. It’s the same anywhere in the world, that some fields are better developed at universities and some less so. Our pathological anatomy, genetics and immunology work is highly appreciated. In clinical sciences, our strong areas are cardiology, vascular surgery, gastroenterology, neurosurgery and ophthalmology. Our dentistry also represents a high scientific standard in Poland. We really have plenty to be proud of.

What spectacular scientific achievements can the university boast of?
Particularly research conducted at the Neurosurgery Unit headed by Prof. Włodzimierz Jarmundowicz. The research involves implanting stem cells taken from the olfactory membrane with the aim of regenerating nerve cells in the spinal cord. The unit cooperates with the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy in Wrocław. In research and clinical terms we are a leading center in the world for such experiments.

Another major achievement is a patent developed at the university and later sold; it now has a life of its own. It involved multiplying stem cells from deer antlers and using them in the regeneration of all kinds of tissue. We have ongoing research on animal cells right now. The Pharmacy Department also has patents involving applications for many medical products, including in gynecology, laryngology and dentistry. We are currently preparing a feasibility study for a patent that has already been approved and involves obtaining cystatins from chicken eggs. These are compounds with anti-inflammatory properties.

For over four years the university has had one of the biggest and best equipped hospitals in the country. How has this affected the effectiveness of treatment for patients?
Before this, we had an excellently educated medical staff that often performed miracles working within the old, 19th-century campus, often treating patients in extremely tough conditions. Today the same staff has advanced hospital premises at its disposal, with world-class equipment. More new buildings should be available soon, actually. Obviously this has had a positive impact on treatment results. For example, the move of our heart surgery unit, headed for many years by Prof. Wojciech Kustrzycki, to the new hospital has enabled the unit to perform almost all the procedures available in heart surgery around the world. The only thing we don’t do is heart transplants. The hospital’s capacity is still only 65 percent utilized.

Even though the hospital is not fully using its capacity, you are planning to build new premises?
Of course. Not all our clinics have moved to the new hospital, there just isn’t enough room. More than 10 wards are still working in the old conditions that do not meet EU hospital standards. Depending on what source of funding we will use, we plan to convert the old campus into a modern hospital or add new wings to the new hospital building. We have to finish the whole project by 2016, this is the deadline imposed by the EU.

Does the university often take advantage of EU funds?
Yes, very often in fact. Planning the hospital’s expansion now, we are also counting mainly on these funds. However, this also has an impact on the university’s current financial condition which is not the best. Each of these projects has to involve the university’s own contribution. We have applied for substantial funds for the new Pharmacy Department building, for the renovation of the theoretical research premises in the old campus, for setting up the Silesian Pharmacist House in a restored tenement in the center of Wrocław and many projects related to research and staff development. We will soon be applying for more EU funds to finish the new Scientific Information Center. We hope to make money on the sale of some beautiful historical buildings remaining in the old campus as well as other attractively located real estate around the city, to pay off our EU debt. All these properties are multi-purpose premises and an investor can house anything in them.

What are the university’s international contacts like?
We have a great many foreign contacts and several dozen signed agreements with medical schools. The most active contacts are those with the universities in Lille in France, Dresden in Germany, Uppsala and Stockholm in Sweden, Lviv, Zaporozhe and Donetsk in Ukraine and Saskatoon in Canada. These are scientific agreements on mutual research and those on student and faculty exchanges. This cooperation often yields joint scientific publications in renowned international medical journals and the opportunity to work on state-of-the-art equipment. We also get lectures by leading professors. Our visiting professors include Grzegorz Sawicki from Canada who comes to the pharmacy department every year to give lectures. Professors Nikolaus Blin and Tomasz Gedrange from Germany teach genetics and dentistry. Our students and students from other countries take advantage of six-month foreign traineeships. We also have a group of about 500 foreign students at our English Division. For six years now we have been holding lectures and practical classes that are almost exclusively in English; from this year these are also available to Polish students who are interested. Teaching is based on European and American standards that fulfill the EU’s accreditation criteria. The international curricula of these courses are accredited by the Polish State Accreditation Committee, which in turn gets them accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. Our students have no problems with nostrification exams in other countries or with obtaining degrees at foreign universities.

Marek ZiĘtek, 60, married, two children. After graduating from the dentistry section of the medical faculty at Wrocław Medical University in 1974 he began working at the university. In 1974-1978 he was a junior lecturer at the Materials Science Unit of the Institute of Dentistry, and in 1978-1995 a junior lecturer and then lecturer at the Conservative Dentistry Unit. He completed level 2 specialist training in dental prosthetics in 1979, and level 2 specialist training in periodontology in 1995. In 1996-2008 he was a national consultant for periodontology. He obtained his doctoral degree in 1980 and his postdoctoral degree in 1991. He received the academic title of professor in 1999 and became a full professor in 2004. In 2000-2005 he was dean of the Medical-Dentistry Department and then deputy rector for science at the university. In 2002-2010 he was president of the Polish Dental Society. He was elected rector of Wrocław Medical University in 2011.
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