The recent academic year, Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., told alumni attending reunion, began with a visit from a distinguished alumnus. Vivek Murthy, M.D. ’03, M.B.A. ’03, returned to Yale in September as the U.S. Surgeon General, the first graduate of the School of Medicine to hold that post. The end of the year saw a visit from another alumna, Lucy G. Kalanithi, M.D. ’07, the featured speaker at the school’s first community-wide read-in in May. Kalanithi read from When Breath Becomes Air, the memoir written by her late husband, Paul Kalanithi, M.D. ’07. The bestselling book describes his last years as he faced terminal lung cancer.
In between these bookmark events, another alumnus, Gary Desir, M.D. ’80, was named chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. In his annual State of the School speech, Alpern also cited new alumni programs launched during this latest academic year, including a netcast series, grand rounds by alumni, and an alumnae-student mentoring program. Among other positive developments mentioned by the dean were the medical school’s new curriculum that brings students into the clinical realm much earlier in their training, and the school’s reaccreditation for another eight years by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.
The annual reunion, Alpern said, “is a chance where I get to brag. This is an audience where modesty is not required.”
The school’s accomplishments over the past year are reflected in all three of its missions‒education, research, and clinical care. “To be a preeminent medical school, you have to be outstanding in all three missions,” said Alpern, Ensign Professor of Medicine.
In education, he said, the school continues to attract top students. More than 4,000 apply each year for a coveted spot among the 104 who matriculate. Last year’s entering class (55 men and 49 women) had an average GPA of 3.87 and an average MCAT score of 35.89. “Every one of these students is absolutely spectacular,” Alpern said. “Most of the faculty wonder whether we could get into Yale today.”
Other notable developments in education include the expansion over the past few years of the M.D./Ph.D. program (“one of the great jewels of Yale”) from 10 students to 20, and increased support for educators through the Teaching and Learning Center.
“There is a need in this country right now to turn out more physicians,” he said. “Unfortunately, this has placed us at risk of medical schools becoming trade schools. There is a change in emphasis away from scholarship, but there are a number of schools that are committed to the idea that the physician is a scholar. Yale is definitely committed to that vision.”
In research the school maintains its preeminence in several areas, he said. Interdisciplinary centers in cellular neuroscience and neurodegeneration, human immunology, stem cell biology, and vascular biology are growing. The school has maintained its lead in clinical research with the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation and the new National Clinical Scholars Program, in collaboration with UCLA, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan.
“We are getting better at clinical research,” he said, adding that the school has seen a growth in clinical trials, from $5 million in 2006 to more than $30 million in the current fiscal year.
For many years, Yale was an outlier when it came to funding sources. “Yale was an unusual medical school in that it had more grant revenue than clinical revenue,” he said. “That’s all changed.” In recent years, clinical revenues have outpaced grants from the National Institutes of Health. Along with growth in the clinical practice comes growth in the clinical faculty‒50 new positions each year.
Alpern also noted a concern about demands on the faculty‒physicians are under enormous pressure to generate revenues, scientists worry that flat NIH funding has made it harder to secure research grants, and educators find it hard to make time for teaching. “Most of this is national, but our faculty are also subject to this,” he said. Women across the country, he said, have unique hardships in the workplace, particularly in the STEM fields and clinical medicine. And issues of diversity and social justice that have roiled campuses around the country have also affected Yale. “A lot of minorities feel a lack of inclusion in aspects of society. Many of us thought that liberal academic institutions like Yale were an exception to this. We learned from our community that we are not,” he said.
The medical school’s excellence, he continued, must rest on solid ground. “Members of our community must feel that we are committed to their excellence,” he said. “We can’t separate the success of Yale from the individual success of each of our faculty. We need to be all one.”