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VCU, VCU Health leaders unveil Quest 2028: One VCU Together We Transform

Newly calibrated strategic plan builds on VCU’s culture of unmatched commitment to students and patients with a One VCU approach that aligns the university’s and health system’s goals for the first time.

Quest 2028: One VCU Together We Transform — the newly recalibrated strategic plan for VCU and VCU Health for 2022 to 2028 — features shared goals that will help build a culture of care, excellence and innovation. (University Marketing)
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Quest 2028: One VCU Together We Transform — the newly recalibrated strategic plan for Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health for 2022 to 2028 — has officially launched and will guide the institution in its mission to support the changing needs of students, patients and the community.

“At VCU, the needs of students and patients come first and they’re the center of our mission and they’re the center of our work,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health. “They’re the reason that we are here and it’s why we are committed to this focus, this strategic focus on meeting their needs. What we’re doing is really in so many ways modeling what a truly public research university and health system should be.

“We’re focused on being nimble and adaptable and finding ways to support the changing needs of students and patients. We know that through the pandemic a lot of things changed, and a lot of people’s needs changed. That really accelerated the need for us to be much more nimble and adaptable.”

Quest 2028, he said, builds on the foundation of VCU’s culture of unmatched commitment to students and patients.

“I think what really separates VCU from so many other organizations is that we see potential everywhere. And more importantly, we see potential in everyone. Every human being,” Rao said. “VCU’s unique mix of high-performing research and educational programs, health care, all paired together with one of the most diverse populations of students or patients that you’ll ever see, really put us in this nation in a very special category.”

‘One VCU’

Rao and the Quest 2028 co-chairs introduced the plan’s goals and themes and answered questions in a virtual forum on Tuesday.

The plan is unique in that it takes a “One VCU” approach that aligns the university’s and health system’s goal for the first time in the organization’s history, said Marcelle Davis, Ph.D., vice president of diversity equity and inclusion for VCU Health System, who moderated the event.

“One VCU is the ideology that while our academic campus serves students and our health system serves patients, together we serve our community by being dedicated to the success and well-being of our students, patients, team members, faculty, staff and community, and in so doing, we will preserve and restore the health for all people of Virginia and beyond through innovation in service, research and education,” Davis said.

Rao outlined a variety of shared goals under Quest 2028 that will help build “a culture of care, excellence and innovation.” Among them:

  • Increasing the number and diversity of students at VCU, including first-generation students, underrepresented minorities and nontraditional students.
  • Enrolling and graduating students in timely ways so they can enter the workforce or continue their education.
  • Increasing access to VCU hospitals and clinics for all communities and the people they serve, and providing them with the best and safest care.
  • Focusing on impactful research that tackles society’s greatest challenges, lifts the lives of all people, and invents the future of medicine and clinical care. Research that only VCU is willing and able to do — research that matters to the public, research that the public will support and fund. 

A shared commitment

Woven throughout the goals is a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, Davis said.

“There is no one-size-fits-all plan when you are educating students or treating patients,” Davis said. “Each student is unique with different goals and dreams, and our faculty and staff who work with our students take the time to get to know them to ensure they have what they need to succeed. Each patient is also unique. When they walk in to one of our facilities, we should never assume we know their gender, race, culture, religion or sexual orientation; instead, we must learn about each patient’s needs to provide optimum care.”

Davis described how Quest 2028 commits to a culture of wellness that is respectful, inclusive and equitable. It will ignite student success through curricular innovation and ensure patient-centered care is consistently safe, skilled and kind. It commits to solving social and health inequities in partnership with the community. And it promises to address societal changes to improve the health of communities through exceptional and innovative discovery, training and patient care.

“These goals represent One VCU,” Davis said.

The One VCU plan was influenced by feedback from leaders, team members, faculty, staff, and student shared governance groups, alumni and external community stakeholders. Engagement was through town hall meetings and surveys beginning in November 2021. The process was initiated following the disruption of the pandemic in 2020, leading the institution to recalibrate its strategic plans to focus on serving the needs of Virginia, applying the lessons learned over the past three years.

In Tuesday’s forum, VCU and VCU Health leaders answered questions about Quest 2028.

One question — posed to Art Kellermann, M.D., CEO of VCU Health System and senior vice president for health sciences at VCU, and Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs at VCU — asked why the strategic plans for the university and health system were joined.

Kellermann said the pandemic proved VCU is stronger together and elevated opportunities to collaborate, so it made sense for this strategic plan to be built with aligned goals and shared values.

“While we may have two major campuses, just a little more than a mile apart, we’re one VCU,” Kellermann said. “We have two legs, and we stand stronger on two legs than we do on one. What the pandemic showed us — because it forced us to think differently and to act differently — is that when we are challenged, we respond. And we don’t just push back, we push beyond.”

The One VCU approach, Sotiropoulos said, will bolster the university and health system’s national prominence and success through diversity, equity and inclusion, transformative innovation in patient care through cutting-edge research, philanthropy and respect for each other.

What will the goals mean for VCU students and patients?

Tomikia LeGrande, Ph.D., vice president for strategy, enrollment management and student success at VCU, said the goals clearly define the institution’s expectations and aspirations for what it can become.

“It highlights that student success, particularly for VCU, is our top priority. It is our North Star,” she said. “These goals are a blueprint to ensure that we are creating an environment that fosters the spirit of inquiry, discovery of new knowledge, provides transformative learning and builds a culture of care that will support our students’ growth and development.”

Sotiropoulos added that the goals reflect a commitment to educate VCU students in preparation for the “future of work” and to ensure that all VCU graduates are proficient in computational, cultural and entrepreneurial thinking, as well critical thinking, problem-solving and compassion.

“These goals ensure that we are in a unique position to educate the missing millions … the historically underrepresented and underserved students whom other universities often leave behind,” he said. “What we do here at VCU, we are uniquely positioned in engaging as many of these wonderful human brains into the future of innovation, of entrepreneurship, of taking on through research the world’s biggest challenges. And as we do this, we have the opportunity to change the face of the entrepreneurs of the future, to change the face of the STEM researchers of the future, to change the face of university professors of the future.”

For patients, Kellerman said, the goals will ultimately mean better outcomes, improved experiences, more access, and healthier lifestyles.

What are the next steps? Nina Hobcroft, chief strategy officer of VCU Health System, said Quest 2028 maps out high-level strategies, while schools, divisions and departments will be encouraged to develop plans that achieve the institution’s goals.

Quest 2028, Rao said, responds to a rapidly changing landscape for higher education and health care. It will guide the institution as it adapts to those changes to serve the community.

For students, he said, it will focus the university on providing access to high-quality, transformative professionally-centered experiences that will provide them with the knowledge and skills that enable them to succeed after graduation. For patients, it’s about providing access, great care and getting them healthy and back to their lives. It also will focus VCU research on the discoveries that matters most. And it commits to supporting the employees of VCU and VCU Health.

“One VCU really is about being an inclusive public research university and health care system committed to the changing needs of the people we serve. This is a rapidly changing landscape, and we will support all of you in every way that we possibly can,” Rao said. “I’m looking forward to the future. It’s going to be tough at times, but it’s going to be a lot of fun because we’re going to get that satisfaction of being able to do the things I just described with students, with our patients, with research and with our teams.