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Starting 2020 with an historic first

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2019 - Autumn


Yale School of Medicine is getting a new dean, and for the first time in its 209-year history, she will be a woman. Nancy J. Brown, MD, a graduate of Yale College (where she majored in molecular biophysics & biochemistry) in the Class of 1981, comes to YSM from Vanderbilt University. There, she is the Hugh Jackson Morgan Professor and chair of the Department of Medicine. She is expected to join Yale on February 1, 2020.

The latest in a long and storied line of deans, Brown comes to the position as successor to Robert J. Alpern, MD, dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine, having already established a standout reputation as an investigator, clinician, and leader.

“I am grateful to the search advisory committee and President Salovey for this opportunity,” said Brown. “Dean Alpern has already been very generous in ensuring a smooth transition. I very much look forward to meeting with and learning from the members of YSM and the broader Yale and New Haven communities as we chart our course.”

Alpern was enthusiastic about the incoming dean, and the future of YSM. “Dr. Brown has a record of outstanding academic accomplishments and leadership. I am confident that she will have great success in furthering our efforts in research, education, patient care, and creating a diverse and inclusive environment.”

The universal enthusiasm on social media was clear as colleagues and past trainees chimed in with dozens of notes of congratulations, noting that Brown is also respected as an inclusive and inspiring mentor and colleague. From the outpouring of responses on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, the following testimonials stood out:

“While we will miss her extraordinary contributions, I am excited for Nancy to assume this leadership role and wish her the very best on this exciting new stage in her career,” tweeted Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, dean of Vanderbilt University’s medical school.

“Congratulations to Nancy, who taught me a huge fraction of what I know about clinical investigation & about hypertension,” tweeted J. Brian Byrd, MD, MS, from the University of Michigan.

“I have personally witnessed Dr. Brown’s personal, deep, and unwavering commitment to trainees of all levels as a [member of Vanderbilt University’s medical community]. I will be forever grateful for her leadership, mentoring, and kindness. [YSM] is very lucky!” tweeted Brian Grieb, MD, PhD, chief resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Internal Medicine.

After finishing her studies at Yale, Brown graduated from Harvard Medical School, completed an internship and a residency program at Vanderbilt University, and has been a part of its faculty ever since.

Brown’s specialty and interests revolve around cardiovascular pharmacology, pharmacogenomics, and using drugs to understand pathophysiology. She has led National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research since 1993 and has defined the molecular mechanisms by which drugs for blood pressure and diabetes affect kidney or cardiovascular disease. Brown commented that the strength of discovery and science at Yale, as well as the opportunity to collaborate across campus, was one of the attractions that led to her return. Meanwhile, she remains dedicated to providing care for patients with resistant and secondary forms of hypertension.

The positive and immediate public testimonials on Brown’s behalf speak to another of her passions: helping faculty, students, and trainees flourish in a diverse and balanced work environment. Her sterling leadership of Vanderbilt’s Department of Medicine, which began in 2010, corresponded with increases in women and underrepresented groups in medicine in faculty and other positions of authority. The team of doctors, staff, and students assembled by Brown has been remarkably effective. Research funding was boosted by 56%, including a 47% boost in grant funding from NIH. Citations increased, and people working in her department were more likely to be recognized by national professional medical organizations and associations.

Brown was recommended to Yale University President Peter Salovey, PhD, by a search advisory committee chaired by Lynn Cooley, PhD, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, who said of the committee’s work: “In 14 listening sessions and numerous informal meetings, they carefully collected feedback, suggestions, and viewpoints about the current state and future of the school.” President Salovey also expressed gratitude for Alpern’s longtime service and successful efforts to strengthen Yale School of Medicine’s research, clinical, and educational potential.