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For the new dean, a welcome to Yale

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1998 - Winter/Spring


Symposium stresses crucial links between science and health

Four of Yale's leading research scientists and physicians presented findings and an overview of their work at an October symposium welcoming David A. Kessler, M.D., to the school as dean. On a day focused on the application of research to clinical medicine, their reports were followed by a discussion among leaders of several of the world's top private-sector research operations.

Advancing the Public's Health Through Research included presentations by Marie E. Egan, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics (respiratory); Erol Fikrig, M.D., associate professor of medicine (rheumatology); David B. Simon, M.D., assistant professor of medicine (nephrology); and Tian Xu, Ph.D., assistant professor of genetics and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It was moderated by Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, genetics and molecular biophysics and biochemistry, and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The presentations—on work related to cystic fibrosis, Lyme disease, hypertension and cancer—were followed by a roundtable discussion by senior research executives at five major pharmaceutical and technology companies. The speakers—Michael J. Berendt, Ph.D., of Bayer Corp.; George M. Milne, Ph.D., of Pfizer; Peter Mueller, Ph.D., of Boehringer-Ingelheim, Inc.; Mark C. Rogers, Ph.D., of Perkin Elmer; and Peter S. Ringrose, Ph.D., of Bristol-Myers Squibb-discussed Creating a Positive Relationship Between Academia and Industry: Promise and Challenges. The discussion was moderated by Gregory E. Gardiner, Ph.D., director of the Yale Office of Cooperative Research.

At the end of the day, Dr. Kessler shared some of his thoughts about what it means to be dean at this juncture in the school's history, and what it means to pursue scientific discovery at an academic health center. His remarks follow.

Remarks by David A. Kessler, M.D.

It gives me enormous pleasure to stand before you as the 15th dean of the Yale School of Medicine. It is an honor to have been chosen to lead this institution into the next century. There is no better place I'd rather be than here at Yale. I am particularly honored to stand here tonight among two of our former distinguished deans, Jerry Burrow and Bob Berliner. I accept the responsibility of continuing their stewardship. It is a source of satisfaction to know that I have come to a place that has maintained its standards of excellence in a world of ever-changing perspectives. But it is also an exciting challenge to contemplate the work that lies ahead. For excellence is elastic, it knows no limits, and it is maintained not only by the preservation of the best of the past, but by the need to dare, and the willingness to embrace both innovation and experimentation.

Excellence is a reflection of spiritual wealth, and the conservation of that wealth is a notion that is cherished at Yale. This Yale idea of excellence is composed of two impulses that are interwoven. The first is the diversity of our institution, our schools and the departments within them, each intellectually independent and protective of that independence. The second is the universal purpose of the institution as a whole, which binds together the various parts and makes them greater than each would be standing alone.

Aristotle said that man is by nature a social animal. We go to schools, we marry, have families, join churches and clubs together in discrete bundles that are stabilized, for the most part, by a morality of our own making. This morality, this moral glue that binds us together, comes from diverse sources. It comes from within us, from family teaching, from our religious institutions and our centers of learning. But it also comes from a central purpose, a shared goal that can be achieved when the parts of the whole are meshed together and working toward that end.

In a great university, there must be a sense of union between the diverse parts and the whole. But this union is something that we are inclined to distrust. We tend to fear that a common identity or a common cause might conceal important differences between us, might repress our particular interests and principles. We are tempted to withdraw behind parochial barricades, preferring a smaller loyalty to that of a larger and seemingly impersonal power. And when this happens, when the privileges of the parts become more important than the larger structure of the institution, then the glow of our excellence is dimmed, and we are all the losers. Without in any way diminishing the independent methods of any school, department or individual, we must bind ourselves together.

In short, we must be one. For the days are gone when any one aspect of a great university could successfully exist without a passionate interaction of all the parts with the whole.

The basic science departments and the clinical departments.

The health system, the hospital, and the medical school.

The community physicians and the full-time faculty.

The School of Public Health and the School of Medicine.

The School of Management and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

And the medical school within the University.

All of these parts of the whole must share a united vision of the future that focuses on what we want to accomplish. Without that communal outlook, we will never attain our highest goals. With it, there are no limits.

I have come to Yale from the public sector. I always have been, and will continue to be, a staunch supporter of public service. But I must tell you that the transition from the public sector to the private has presented me with fewer problems than I would have thought, for I see no difference in the goals that occupied me there, and the commitments that will occupy me here. I am speaking about the commitment to preserve and strengthen the health of the public through discovery, through the care of patients, and through the education of our future physicians.

But none of these commitments is attainable without a strong team to strive toward the common goal. My thanks go out the deputy deans, Joe Warshaw and Carolyn Slayman, for their strong support and dedication during the transition period and for their willingness to continue in their most important capacities; to the chairs, faculty and students who made me feel at home from the very first day; to our provost, Alison Richard; to our deputy provost, Stephanie Spangler.

I learned in Washington that an agency head could get things done. But I also learned that when an agency head linked up with the president, you could tackle the impossible. And I believe it is the same way at Yale.

It is no secret that I came to Yale in major part because of Rick Levin. Any one dean can accomplish only so much. A dean and a president, working together, is something all together different; working together to sustain the greatness of what is Yale.

The highest of our goals resides in the position of the Yale School of Medicine as a truly great research institution. Science exists in a continuing state of revision and progression, and it is this quest for new knowledge that drives us toward goals of excellence in our basic and clinical research endeavors.

At the scientific symposium this afternoon, we learned from several of our junior faculty about the broad range of their research pursuits—from the role of a regulatory protein in cystic fibrosis, to new treatments for Lyme disease, to insights into the pathophysiology, diagnostics, and therapeutics of high and low blood pressure, to discoveries in the genetics of tumor suppression.

Decades ago, we did not have the tools to study the underlying mechanisms of human disease. So we drew lines between basic sciences and clinical research. Those lines are being erased by advances of scientific understanding.

To truly erase the lines between basic and clinical science, we must include a vision of expanded clinical excellence. We must advance the clinical agenda of the medical school across a broad front to fulfill our mission of providing exemplary models of care to the public and of educating our students at every level. To that end, I am committed to continuing to build the most outstanding clinical faculty who are focused on the study of human disease. I am committed to working with our partners in the hospital and health system to advance jointly an agenda of clinical excellence at the medical center.

During this year's White Coat Ceremony, I told the first-year class that, as we all know, a doctor does not become a healer by virtue of a medical degree. I told them that each one of them will be a healer if the identifiable purposes of their lives are forever bound up with the relief of suffering, with the forestalling of death, and the creation of conditions that are conducive to a more flourishing existence for their patients.

I am committed to making the name of the Yale School of Medicine synonymous with clinical innovation and exemplary clinical practice. I will work with the clinical leadership to support that vision-not at the expense of our basic sciences, but in support of them. In short, excellence across the board; excellence in every endeavor, in everything we do. The excellence of the Yale commitment to the educational process is of great comfort to me, mainly because we have an outstanding faculty, and outstanding students are attracted to such men and women.

I want our young doctors to be devoted forever to a life in medicine. I want them to shine in a reflection of the excellence that is Yale.