When Robert Alpern was appointed dean in 2004, his vision for the School of Medicine was to build programs in education, research and clinical care to rival the best in the world. “Yale already has many outstanding programs in these three arenas that are likely among the best, but no medical school is perfect in all aspects,” he said in an interview from Dallas, where he was then dean of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. “We will identify our priorities for program improvement and then move forward.”
Coming to Yale with a reputation for being at once easygoing and ambitious, the new dean rallied faculty, set priorities and vowed to build an already formidable institution into something even greater. In the dozen years preceding his arrival, the medical school had slipped from third to 11th in the annual U.S. News and World Report survey and from third to eighth in funding by the National Institutes of Health. By March 2009, however, it had moved back up several rungs on both lists.
While Alpern discounts rankings as often-flawed indicators of quality, he recognizes that they reflect how the school is perceived. Much more important are the real accomplishments of the faculty; by that yardstick, he said, the school is “soaring.” He credits his leadership team and says that the real proof of quality can be seen in the creation of new programs that lift Yale above its peers. Among them are multidisciplinary groups focused on cellular neuroscience, neurodegeneration and repair, stem cell biology, human and translational immunology, and cell biology. The school has also seen continued growth in areas where it already excelled, such as genetics, immunobiology and internal medicine.
Alpern has also expanded the clinical practice and the school’s capacity to conduct clinical research. In 2006, the School of Medicine won a landmark grant under the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program. The $57 million grant—Yale’s largest ever—has been critical in building infrastructure linking the school’s research base to the clinical practice.
One of the clinical initiatives is a new transplant program with outstanding liver and kidney components. A new chief of cardiology arrived last summer and is building the section’s strength in interventional cardiology, heart failure, electrophysiology and basic research. The Smilow Cancer Hospital is set to open in the fall, and in February Alpern named a new director for Yale Cancer Center. Five biomedical institutes and three new core facilities are planned for the West Campus.
In announcing Alpern’s second term in February, Yale President Richard C. Levin said that faculty and staff are enthusiastic in their support for the dean. Levin went on to say that Alpern had “transformed the school’s relationship with Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH), a profound change that will have a lasting impact on the school’s clinical mission.”
“To take a school as good as Yale and make it better is exciting, and we’ve come a long way,” Alpern said. “The reason I’ve signed on for another five years is to continue that ascent.”