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Dr. Etta Pisano, Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the College of Medicine MUSC

Dr. Etta Pisano

Dr. Etta Pisano

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Be sure to see a short video interview with Dr. Pisano at the bottom of this page. Or, click here to view the video.


LowcountryBizSC:
Where were you born and raised?

Dr. Etta Pisano
I was born in New York City and was raised in the Philadelphia area.  My father was a physician.  I met my husband at Dartmouth College where we were both undergraduates, and we attended medical school at Duke University.  My husband and I both completed our medical residencies at Harvard University and subsequently moved from Boston to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to join the faculty as academic physicians.  

LowcountryBizSC:
How did you get to Charleston, South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)?

Dr. Etta Pisano
My position at Chapel Hill was Vice Dean for Academic Affairs of the medical school.  I was happy in that role and greatly enjoyed my time at UNC, but thought that I would one day like to be a Dean.  My husband and I had visited friends in Charleston over the years and thought that if we ever did make a move, Charleston and MUSC would be a perfect fit.  

LowcountryBizSC:
What is your job description?

Dr. Etta Pisano
I have a dual role.  As Vice President for Medical Affairs, I am in charge of our clinical mission, ensuring that patients receive quality care.  In this role, I report to the President, Ray Greenberg. 

As Dean of the College of Medicine, I am tasked with training the future workforce in healthcare in South Carolina and beyond – the education of our medical students, fellows, and residents.  I am also responsible for guiding the research mission – it is necessary that we make wise and well-informed decisions about allocating resources to our research efforts, and that our research seeks to improve the health of the citizens of South Carolina and beyond.  Just as important in this role, I am tasked with faculty development, the important job of making sure that faculty are engaged, supported and challenged as professionals.  In this role, I report to the Provost.  

LowcountryBizSC:
Describe MUSC, its role and its mission.

Dr. Etta Pisano
MUSC is the premier academic healthcare system in the state of South Carolina.  We have the biggest practice plan and the highest numbers of research dollars from National Institutes of Health (NIH), and we are charged with educating most of the doctors who will set up practice in South Carolina.  No other hospital system in the state can offer the range of services that we do.  As a public institution, we serve all South Carolinians.  

The biggest effect we have on people's lives is through providing excellent patient care and conducting research that better allows us to treat and cure diseases.  We are also a major driver of economic development in this region and for South Carolina as a whole.  Some of our physicians and researchers develop their own intellectual property and form start-up companies.  This is very important in terms of the future economic prosperity of the state.  Similar to Boeing, MUSC has an economic impact on the state in excess of $2B per year.  

LowcountryBizSC:
What are some of the challenges that you face in 2011?

Dr. Etta Pisano
In terms of funding from the state, we currently receive the same dollar amounts that we did back in 1971. To be clear, that does NOT mean 1971 dollars adjusted for inflation, but actual 1971 dollars!  One of our greatest challenges is financial - finding ways to expand our mission in an era of declining state support. 

LowcountryBizSC:
Talk about NextRay, your entrepreneurial venture.  

Dr. Etta Pisano
Despite the incredible progress that has been made, too many women are still dying of breast cancer.  Early detection is the key to cancer survival. As a radiologist, I have long been interested in breast imaging and I conducted a study of over 50,000 women on the subject.  We discovered that digital mammography was superior to film mammography in young women and that this type of imaging was needed in doctor's offices.  In the last seven years, I've also been working on a new type of X ray imaging – Diffraction Enhanced Imaging.  We believe this machine will produce higher quality mammograms at a much lower radiation dose.  I convinced a graduate student to help me build a prototype machine as part of his dissertation.  Together, we are now trying to commercialize that product in our company, NextRay.  

LowcountryBizSC:
How did you fund your company?

Dr. Etta Pisano
We raised $500,000 from angel groups of private investors in January of 2010 and we are now looking for an additional round of funding.

LowcountryBizSC:
What are some of the challenges that you faced in setting up your own venture?  Are these hurdles similar to ones faced by other entrepreneurial physicians and researchers?  

Dr. Etta Pisano
Faculty face many challenges in attempting to commercialize their intellectual property, not the least of which is that they are trained in science, not business. You need to raise money outside of the normal channels such as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the NIH.  You need to learn to write a business plan and to speak the language of the investors so that they are convinced they will earn a satisfactory return on their investment.  It takes time to arrange the financing.  To top it all off, as a faculty member, you need to do all of this in your free time, and generally, you have no free time.

People need to be aware that investing in these types of start-up companies may take 8-10 years before it can become self-sustaining. Whether it's a new drug or, as in our case, a capital intensive product, your product first needs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

LowcountryBizSC:
Can an institution like MUSC do anything to teach doctors the necessary business skills during their training?

Dr. Etta Pisano
At MUSC, we already have a mechanism in place called the Foundation for Research Development that is designed to assist in the commercialization of intellectual property.  Our mission is to provide quality care and quality education and to perform high quality research.  I don't think we need to teach entrepreneurship directly to our medical students, but we do need to find ways of embedding resources inside the university setting to make it easier for faculty, doctors, and scientists to go down this path of starting their own businesses. Our faculty are very bright individuals.  If you give them access to experts in the business world and bring resources to them, they will take advantage and can be successful.