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The School of Medicine is poised for growth, dean tells alumni

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2013 - Spring


The size and quality of the faculty are growing, a new curriculum will transform medical education, and the clinical practice is poised for strategic growth, Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., told alumni at his annual state of the school talk in Harkness auditorium on June 1. “We are really happy with the way the school is positioned now,” he said.

Alpern began by thanking alumni at the 2013 Reunion for their support of the school. The alumni fund, he said, has raised $875,000, and alumni gifts continue to pay for a stethoscope for each incoming student. Alumni also provide service to the school through the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine, the Yale Medicine Advisory Board, reunion planning committees, and participation in the curriculum rebuild project, among other activities. The school continues to advance in each of its key missions—research, clinical care, and medical education. Each year more than 4,000 applicants vie for 100 slots at the medical school. The average debt for Yale medical students is lower than that of peer schools and the national average. By 2011 more than a third of those who graduated between 1998 and 2007 had become full-time faculty at medical centers.

A curriculum rebuild is under way and scheduled to begin in the fall of 2014. “This will be a major transformation of the curriculum,” Alpern said. The new curriculum’s key features include early clinical experience, integration of basic and clinical science teaching, flexibility to maximize student choice and career planning, and a commitment to maintaining the Yale system, including the thesis requirement.

In addition, the school has opened a Teaching and Learning Center to provide expertise and innovation in educator development, assessment, learning technologies, and curriculum design.

The school has named three new chairs: George Lister, M.D. ’73, HS ’75, in pediatrics; Peter Schulam, M.D., in the recently created department of urology; and Hugh Taylor, M.D., in obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences. The faculty has grown as well, from 979 in 2004 to 1,338 in 2012. “This is enormous growth,” Alpern said. “The majority of the growth is in the clinician-educator track.”

In March, Paul Taheri, M.D., joined Yale Medical Group (YMG) as its CEO. He comes from the University of Vermont, where he held a similar position. As the medical school builds a clinical practice that maintains its preeminence while controlling costs, YMG is working to centralize practice standards to ensure quality care, and work with Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) on strategic program development. YMG is also determining strategic priorities for outreach in medical and surgical specialties, and a key is to increase the primary care practice. “It will be hard to address a lot of the initiatives in Obamacare if you don’t have a much more robust primary care practice,” Alpern said.

Although the medical school ranks fifth in the country in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), federal funding for research is an area of concern. The NIH budget has remained essentially flat since the end of its doubling in 2003 and has actually declined when adjusted for inflation. Moreover, the federal budget sequestration will lead to further cuts. Alpern said. “The problem is that investigators are really hurting. We are getting as many grants as we’ve ever gotten, but they’re smaller.”

The School of Medicine is seeking to complement research funding with corporate alliances that support research. For 10 years Pfizer has supported the PET Center, where high-resolution scanners allow scientists to pinpoint drug action in the human body, especially in the brain. The school recently concluded an agreement with Gilead, which will provide $10 million a year for four to 10 years to identify new targets and novel drivers of oncogenesis and metastasis. In another corporate alliance the pharmaceutical company AbbVie agreed to a five-year commitment of $2.9 million per year to fund collaborative studies on the molecular, cellular, and genetic underpinnings of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

In closing, Alpern said, the school must follow certain strategic imperatives, which include recruiting the best clinical and research faculty, and supporting outstanding educational programs and mission-critical programs and departments.

“These are things we have to do. The School of Medicine will continue to strive for preeminence in education, research, and clinical care,” he concluded. “We must preserve our values. They define who we are.”