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Q&A with Dean Brown

Dean Nancy Brown talks with Yale Medicine Magazine about how virtual medicine is deployed and practiced at Yale School of Medicine.

Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Dean Nancy J. Brown, MD

Technology is transforming how physicians and scientists approach clinical challenges and research through imaging, virtual reality, and interventions that no longer require human eyes and hands. Dean Nancy J. Brown, MD, discusses YSM’s ability to build on a longstanding advantage in the fields most affected by this revolution, and how these capabilities help insulate Yale School of Medicine (YSM) from the worst effects of COVID-19.

Yale Medicine Magazine : What’s a virtual capability the school has deployed over the past year that stands out as an unexpected success?
Dean Brown: Our virtual subinternships are very impressive, and during social distancing we were able to host trainees from different regions. This [capability] has enabled us to continue to attract the best and most diverse group of residents and fellows. First-year students have been able to observe surgeries virtually when we have not had enough capacity in operating rooms.

The virtual experience of YSM has also given potential residents opportunities to share meaningful interactions with faculty. Our current students lead candidates on virtual tours of New Haven and YSM. This [option] enables us to create a sense of the place before people commit to coming here as students or residents. That lowers financial and time barriers that could be keeping qualified applicants from visiting and considering New Haven.

Another benefit of virtual programming has been the ability to capitalize on the expertise of physicians who aren’t located directly at YSM. Geographical co-location can be as much of a constraint for faculty as it is for applicants. Telecommuting capabilities have broken down some of those barriers.

Similarly, programs and events of national or international interest have been able to expand beyond traditional limitations. We’ve seen events that might draw 300 attendees attract far larger crowds, including one that was over 1,700. Our deans’ workshops have been extremely popular from this perspective.

YMM : What are some of the other areas of strength when it comes to virtual technologies?
Brown: We were perfecting virtual medicine even before the pandemic rendered it necessary. Physicians who were using those technologies effectively have improved protocols for virtual visits, while those who had yet to adopt the technology have now done so fully. Overall, YSM has become more accessible to patients. Robotics and the ability to deploy advanced surgical procedures also stand out as an area of strength. YSM has a very strong imaging program, which gives researchers here the ability to “see” systems using top-of-the-line microscopy or fMRI, for example. Finally, artificial intelligence will enable new diagnostic tools, enabling precise recognition and interpretation of findings on tissue slides or images.

Science is progressing rapidly. Keeping pace with advances means keeping pace with technology, and when it comes to virtual medicine, Yale’s near the front of the pack.