Robert J. Alpern, M.D., who has led the School of Medicine through a period of sustained growth and increased stature since coming to Yale in 2004, has been reappointed to a second five-year term as dean, effective July 1.
Yale President Richard C. Levin cited the dean for his leadership, his rapport with the medical school and hospital communities, and his achievements in the areas of recruitment and program development.
“Faculty and staff expressed enthusiastic support for Dean Alpern’s reappointment, noting his accessibility and willingness to listen, his clear vision, and the school’s upward trajectory,” Levin said in a message to the Yale community. “He is valued for his pursuit and recruitment of faculty and staff leadership of the highest quality, and for his excellent judgment in deciding among scientific priorities. Dean Alpern has transformed the school’s relationship with Yale-New Haven Hospital, a profound change that will have a lasting impact on the school’s clinical mission. He cares deeply about the school and is ambitious for its future success.”
Alpern, a nephrologist and researcher who is also the Ensign Professor of Medicine, came to Yale from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, where he served as dean and, before that, chief of the division of nephrology. In his time at Yale, Alpern has overseen an expansion of the medical school’s research and clinical operations, the establishment of several key multidisciplinary programs and a large number of faculty recruitments.
Alpern notes that he focused early in his term on expanding the facilities available for research. A building at 10 Amistad St., originally planned as office space, was converted to a research facility that opened its doors in 2007. The medical school also leased a large amount of space at 300 George St. that had already been converted for laboratory use by biotechnology companies, and Alpern has participated in the development of Yale’s West Campus, which will be home to a number of new research institutes and core facilities.
The additional space has supported formation of the Yale Stem Cell Center, the Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair and the Human and Translational Immunology Program. Likewise, it has supported continued growth in areas in which the School of Medicine is already known for its excellence, such as genetics, immunobiology, and internal medicine.
One of the results of these investments has been a steady increase in grants and contracts to the school from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Since 2004, Yale has moved from eighth place to fifth place in the ranking of total annual NIH grants to medical schools. “NIH dollars are not the endpoint,” Alpern says, “but they do indicate the quality of the research and they indicate what your peers think about its value.”
Alpern says he is most proud of the administrative team he has built and credits them for the school’s continued success. Deputy Deans Richard Belitsky, M.D., David J. Leffell, M.D., Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., Cynthia Walker, M.B.A., and her predecessor, Jaclyne W. Boyden, all provided extraordinary leadership during his first term, Alpern says, as have Jancy L. Houck, M.A., director of medical development and alumni affairs, and Mary J. Hu, M.B.A., director of institutional planning and communications.
He also cites the “outstanding” work of the department chairs and faculty, and points to several key external recruitments to leadership positions—notably, James E. Rothman, Ph.D., as chair of the Department of Cell Biology; Haifan Lin, Ph.D., as director of the Yale Stem Cell Center; and Paul D. Cleary, Ph.D., as dean of the Yale School of Public Health—as well as nearly a dozen major internal recruitments for department and program leaders.
An equally important focus of his first term, says Alpern, was expansion of the clinical practice and the creation of centers of excellence and interdisciplinary programs. “The key thing for a school like Yale is to tie these efforts to the excellent science here through translational research,” he notes. In 2006, the school competed successfully for a landmark grant under the first round of the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program. The $57 million CTSA grant—Yale’s largest ever—has been critical in building infrastructure linking the School of Medicine’s research base to the clinical practice, notes the dean.
One of the clinical initiatives is a new transplant program, with renowned liver and kidney specialists, headed by Sukru H. Emre, M.D. A new chief of cardiology, Michael Simons, M.D., arrived last summer and is building the section’s strengths in interventional cardiology, treatment of heart failure, electrophysiology, and basic research. The 14-story Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) is set to open this fall, and in February Alpern announced the appointment of Thomas J. Lynch Jr., M.D., as director of Yale Cancer Center (see related story). With this progress and the addition of a cancer biology institute planned for West Campus, Alpern says, Yale is poised to be a world leader in cancer research and treatment.
“All of this progress has benefited from close collaboration with YNHH,” says Alpern, who has worked very closely with Marna P. Borgstrom, M.P.H., president and CEO of YNHH. “We’ve improved the relationship between the medical school and hospital in a way that makes both institutions better,” he notes.
The medical school’s educational program remains extraordinarily strong, Alpern says, and has been bolstered by the 2006 appointments of Belitsky as deputy dean for education and Laura R. Ment, M.D., as associate dean for admissions. The school launched a strategic planning process for medical education in 2008, focusing on innovation in teaching as well as reinforcement of the Yale system, the unique philosophy of medical education adopted by the School of Medicine in the 1920s. Yale School of Medicine, which will celebrate its bicentennial in 2010, continues to be one of the most selective medical schools in the nation, with 4,081 applications for the 100 places in the Class of 2013.
Just as closer collaboration with YNHH has strengthened the entire clinical enterprise, excellent relations with the university leadership have paid major dividends across the entire Yale campus, Alpern says. “[President] Rick Levin made a commitment to science and medicine, which inspired me to come here, and he delivered. To take a school as good as Yale and make it better is exciting, and we’ve come a long way. The reason I’ve signed on for another five years is to continue that ascent.”