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The road back to New Haven

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

Just weeks into her tenure as the 19th dean of Yale School of Medicine, Nancy J. Brown, MD, found herself thrust into the center of a global pandemic. She shared her thoughts with Yale School of Medicine recently on the state of the school, and its efforts to help turn the tide against COVID-19.

How have Yale School of Medicine doctors responded to the influx of patients with COVID-19? Our response to COVID-19 has brought out the caring, collegiality, and creativity of our people. Clinical leaders are working hard to ensure that we have personal protective equipment, sufficient capacity in the hospital, and enough clinicians. Clinical Virology Laboratory developed testing for COVID-19 in-house, and this has made rapid testing available for health care workers.

Our critical care physicians have stood up and equipped hospital floors dedicated to the care of COVID-19 patients, with more space on the way. To decrease the number of ambulatory patients, our faculty have greatly expanded telehealth services. Clinical leaders have conferred with colleagues throughout the world to learn from their experience and strengthen our response.

What research is taking place around the virus? Epidemiologists across the health science schools have been modeling the pandemic to allow us to focus resources where and when they are needed. Our world-class immunologists have shifted their programs to understand how COVID-19 infects cells, the immune system’s response, and how to interrupt that process. Our geneticists are exploring how patient factors determine outcome. Data scientists study outcomes in patients using electronic health records. We are sharing these methods with other institutions to facilitate effective research, and are leveraging the infrastructure of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation to quickly initiate clinical studies of new therapies.

Other than moving to online classes, what is the effect on medical students? We had to interrupt the clinical clerkship training, which provides medical students with clinical experience. Students are valuable members of the care team, but with the decrease in ambulatory visits and elective surgeries, clerkships didn’t make sense. Students are working with their advisors to develop individually tailored plans. Many have volunteered to conduct literature searches for our teams, just as they would on the wards. The students also suggested creating an elective on COVID-19 and pandemics. This is a trying time, but challenge can also mean opportunity.