A seismic shift in premedical education awaits future applicants to the School of Medicine, Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, told alumni at their annual reunion in June.

“The scientific knowledge needed for a medical education has been growing and changing, but science education has not changed—it is pretty much the same as when you were here,” Alpern said as he described the state of the school in Harkness Auditorium. Alpern, who co-chaired a joint committee of the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that examined premedical education, recently co-authored an editorial on the topic that appeared in the journal Science in June. The committee found a need for incoming medical students to possess a solid understanding of the biological sciences and their relationship to the physical sciences and math. Alpern also stressed the need to include courses like statistics and biochemistry, which allow a baseline familiarity with key concepts in medical education.

Richard Belitsky, M.D., deputy dean for education and the Harold W. Jockers Associate Professor of Medical Education, is spearheading an effort to examine curriculum design, pedagogy, and assessment of medical students, to maintain the quality of medical education at Yale.

Despite a shortage of doctors in the country, the School of Medicine has chosen not to expand class size, Alpern said. While the school recognizes there is a physician shortage, he added, it sees its mission as training leaders in medicine and the current class size as the best setting for accomplishing that aim.

On the research side, Alpern noted that the school ranked fifth among medical schools receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health, and first for research grants per faculty member. Several interdisciplinary initiatives, including the Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair and the Yale Stem Cell Center, are involved in projects linking research and clinical practice. Thomas J. Lynch Jr., M.D., the former chief of hematology/oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Cancer Center, was recruited this year as the director of Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of the Smilow Cancer Hospital, scheduled to open in October.

Financially, the School of Medicine “has been blessed during the past few years by tremendous returns in the endowment: we had the fourth largest endowment of any medical school in the United States,” Alpern said. Although this year’s endowment saw a significant decrease in projected income, most of the medical school’s revenues come from grants and clinical practice, and the school should continue to do well during the economic downturn. The development campaign remains on target as well, having crossed the $100 million mark during the 2008-2009 fiscal year. The medical school was able to continue investing in research and faculty recruitment while maintaining its commitment to financial aid and other key programs.

The Yale system, said Alpern, “is alive and well.” Alpern spoke of the balance between tradition and innovation: “Yale has an incredible tradition of excellence, signified by the historical library. You can’t buy that. But if you think that you can live off that tradition, you are wrong, and the other medical schools will eat you alive. You need a vision for preeminence, to focus on that vision and work toward it.”

Lunch and a tour of West Campus
Alumni also toured the Center for High Throughput Cell Biology, the first center established on the 136-acre West Campus. Lars J. Brandén, Ph.D., director of the center, and his staff demonstrated the capabilities of the lab’s automated liquid and plate-handling platforms to create assays and high-content images of cells. The center’s staff will specialize in genome-wide siRNA screening.

Modeled on the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, West Campus will be a space where faculty from both the medical school and the college can come together to share ideas, creativity, and innovation.