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Giving Thanks

November 24, 2020

To the YSM and Alumni Communities:

As the days grow shorter and we face an increase in the number of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)-positive patients in the hospital, our patience with this pandemic grows thin. Those who come to campus every day to care for patients, teach students, or conduct research may find some solace in human contact and witness progress in the environment around them. For our staff and faculty who are working remotely, however, it may be hard to appreciate how your efforts are contributing to the ongoing evolution of our school.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I feel compelled to share a few examples of how we continue to move forward despite the pandemic and to express my gratitude for all you are doing to make this possible.

The history of our school will record the extraordinary efforts of our clinicians and the health system to move whole wards to create capacity and to care for over 5,000 COVID-19 patients to date. The “front line” included not only physicians and nurses, but also clinic, hospital, laboratory, facilities, and security staff who facilitated our ability to provide care for these patients. A team of IT and clinical staff rapidly developed and implemented new Telehealth platforms so that patients could safely receive care in their homes. The Phyllis Bodel Childcare Center kept its doors open, enabling parents to come to work. Our virologists developed the first test for COVID-19 approved in an academic medical center, setting the stage for the later development of SalivaDirect as an economical screening test. Creative innovators manufactured and tested personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilator valves. I learned recently that one of our senior leaders (with the initials FB) rendezvoused with a supplier at a rest stop on I95 to purchase PPE. Our community partners advised us on how best to keep our patients informed. Teams of volunteers from psychiatry, psychology, and social work tended to the emotional needs of our caregivers.

Behind the scenes, YSM Communications stood up the website in record time to provide a platform for people across the university and the world to collaborate in understanding and fighting the virus. Clinical trial staff from many departments supported COVID trials and became the backbone of these efforts. The IRB worked rapidly to vet and approve protocols. The development team adapted quickly to a virtual platform and pivoted to raise much needed funds to support COVID-19 research, as well as needs for PPE. Our colleagues in Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) worked tirelessly to enable labs to reopen safely in June. Staff of the Yale Animal Resources Center (YARC) maintained animal colonies so that work could progress. Our custodial team has kept the school spotless. The Office of Faculty Affairs staff converted processes to an electronic system to expedite critical hires, moved Appointment and Promotion and Board of Permanent Officers meetings to a virtual format, and collectively facilitated the promotion of over 175 faculty.

This summer we brought medical students back to campus for clinical clerkships and electives, as well as hybrid education during the first and second years. While many schools held virtual White Coat ceremonies, we convened in person to welcome our first-year students to the profession. This was all made possible through the diligent work of medical education staff and members of the Yale Office of Facilities. Over the last 11 weeks I have learned so much from the Class of 2024 as we met in small groups—that we could attract this extraordinary class speaks to the creativity of those who orchestrated our virtual Second Look weekend. Many of our pre-clinical students have come to campus every day throughout the fall and have appreciated the ability to study in the Cushing Whitney Medical Library, thanks to the commitment of library staff to keep it open and available to students. I am grateful to the leaders in medical education who have met oftentimes daily to troubleshoot everything from training our faculty to use virtual platforms for medical education, to ensuring adequate supplies of PPE, to navigating travel policy; to our clinical department leadership who have worked creatively to make preceptorships and shadowing opportunities available to physician associate and medical students; and to the staff in medical education who have arranged for rooms and meals and kept the wheels turning.

Today our physicians and nurses are caring for COVID-19 patients while maintaining the pace of care of non-COVID-19 patients. Our clinical staff have worked tirelessly to facilitate patient testing and scheduling to enable this. Our Coordination, Appointment, Referral & Engagement (CARE) team has adapted to new protocols after moving their operation off site. These efforts are not limited to New Haven. In the last few months, I have had the honor of visiting and witnessing extraordinary work at Greenwich, Bridgeport, and Lawrence + Memorial hospitals, as well as at the West Haven Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital.

Throughout the summer and fall, we rewrote the mission statement of our school. Over 1,500 of you contributed to this process led by Ayaska Fernando, Mary Hu, and Cynthia Dwyer. In January, Dr. Jessica Illuzzi will succeed Dr. Richard Belitsky as deputy dean for education, and I am grateful to the search committee and numerous interviewers who invested so much time in identifying the right person for this important role. No search would be possible without the administrative prowess of Rowan McWade and our administrative team in the dean’s office.

As the inaugural associate dean for health equity research, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith is already making an impact as a co-leader of President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board. I am grateful for our faculty, led by Drs. Michael Schwartz, Nancy Angoff, Beverly Sheares, and Douglas Shenson, who have transformed the Introduction to the Profession course and in October convened an annual curriculum retreat focusing on “Approaching racism through science, knowledge, and pedagogy.” With input from students, faculty, and experts from within and outside YSM, the Health Equity Thread will provide a longitudinal curriculum that extends across all years of medical training. At the same time, faculty, staff, and students throughout the school have gathered to engage in honest dialogue about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, led by Dr. Darin Latimore, has worked tirelessly to advance the conversation and provide resources.

YSM scientists continue to make important contributions throughout the pandemic. This includes not only high impact publications related to immunobiology and COVID-19, but also seminal papers regarding novel cancer therapies, neurosciences, behavioral health, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, and the microbiome, to name a few. Grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has increased approximately 8% in the last year. To date, our faculty have garnered $20.2M in COVID-19 related funding from the NIH. None of this could have happened without the dedication of our laboratory staff and the support of our pre-award and post-award teams. Joe Vellali and the stockroom staff reworked their business model and creatively sourced materials to keep labs supplied. Construction of a new vivarium at 300 George and on the renovation of laboratories continues, and work will soon begin at 100 College. Approximately 115 research-focused faculty members have applied for and received COVID-19 gap funding to date to support their nascent research programs. I am grateful to the departments for contributing to this funding and to mentorship committees for advising faculty. By finding efficiencies, our lead administrators have enabled us to continue to invest in faculty and research. Drs. Jonathan Grauer and Sam Ball, associate deans for faculty affairs, are developing resources to support the careers of our clinician educators. Effective December 1, Dr. Keith Choate will assume the position of associate dean for physician-scientist development.

While the sight of the food trucks this summer on Cedar Street conveyed some return to normalcy, other changes to our physical environment convey a departure from the status quo. The hall outside the Dean’s office glistens with a new coat of paint. The portraits on the I corridor have been put in storage or distributed to departments, and those of the former deans cleaned and hung in their place. A team of graduate students in the History of Science and Medicine program and the History department, working under the leadership of Professor Naomi Rogers and in partnership with the YSM Program for Art in Public Spaces, has created two exhibits for the C corridor with the intent of making our school feel inclusive. One will feature the history of the HIV epidemic in New Haven and the role of YSM faculty. The second will celebrate the accolades of YSM faculty.

Much work remains to be done but pausing to reflect on all you have done over these last months reminds me how truly fortunate we are. This reflection is far from complete and I ask your forgiveness for the inevitable omissions. Understanding that it is impossible to recount the multitude of contributions, I encourage each of you pass this forward and find a way to share your gratitude for the people who contribute to your experience of our YSM community. Please enjoy a well-deserved and fulfilling Thanksgiving.


Nancy J. Brown, MD
Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine
C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine