First offering his heartfelt thanks to the dedicated, selfless frontline health care workers, researchers, educators, and medical students for their “heroic contributions” during the global COVID-19 pandemic, Dean Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., celebrated a year of remarkable accomplishments at his second annual State of the Miller School of Medicine Address on Sept. 15.
University of Miami President Julio Frenk opened the live virtual event, introducing Dean Ford and welcoming participants to learn of the Miller School’s “trajectory toward becoming a pre-eminent medical school.”
Central to that trajectory, Dean Ford said, was the recognition of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center as the only NCI-designated cancer center in South Florida, and only the second one in the state of Florida. He also paid tribute to the Miller School’s continued rise in the rankings of NIH research funding, to Number 39 nationally and Number One in Florida.
Other highlights of the year included a new John G. Clarkson White Coat and Pinning Ceremony for first-year students, a Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, and national and international awards for many faculty members. The Dean, who is also Chief Academic Officer, and other leaders described important progress on the research and education strategic plan for the Miller School, “created to enable us to reach our fullest potential, by leveraging the strength and complementary expertise of other UM schools and affiliated hospitals, to solve complex medical problems, to improve the health of humanity, and solidify our national pre-eminence.”
The first pillar of the strategic plan is to “promote a culture that creates and supports outstanding learners, educators, clinicians, and scientists.” The School’s C-Change initiative is working to transform the institutional culture, better support researchers, achieve more equitable faculty compensation, and promote faculty wellness, development, and vitality.
Joan St. Onge, M.D., M.P.H., senior associate dean for faculty affairs, emphasized a focus on “the recruitment, retention and promotion of a more diverse faculty.” Professional development events, mentoring, and celebrating faculty accomplishments are priorities. “As we come out of the pandemic, we need a place to convene, to engage, and to know one another better,” Dr. St. Onge said. “For now, the Office of Faculty Affairs can serve as that place.”
A new name – the Office of Faculty Affairs and Professional Development – reflects a new emphasis on expanded services.
New department chairs and deans
In describing the second pillar of the strategic plan, to recruit and retain learners, educators, clinicians and scientists who will lead scientific and social change, Dean Ford reported on five new department chairs and six new deans “to better position the Miller School for success.”
Barbara J. Coffey, M.D., M.S., is the new chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences; Mercé Jordà, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., is chair of pathology and laboratory medicine; David Lee, Ph.D., was named interim chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences; and Alex McKinney, M.D., is the new chair of radiology.
Latha Chandran, M.D., M.P.H., is the founding chair of the new Department of Medical Education, as well as executive dean.
The other new deans are Dr. St. Onge; Edmund Wong, associate dean for medical finance; Yvonne M. Diaz, M.D., associate dean for graduate medical education; Daniel F. Armstrong, Ph.D., senior associate dean for child health; and Roderick King, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for diversity, inclusion and community engagement.
In discussing the third pillar of the strategic plan – to design education, research and clinical programs to support the next generation of physicians and interdisciplinary team-based scientists – Dr. Chandran described the launch of the innovative NextGenMD curriculum.
“We plan to produce transformational leaders who will shape the future of medicine, direct health systems and champion discovery and its translation into clinical interventions,” Dr. Chandran said. One important element is individualized attention, through learning communities that have a faculty mentor who guides eight students for their entire four years.
The Miller School is attracting strong, diverse applicants and matching its graduates into top residency programs. Students are exceptionally active in service to the community, through the Wolfson Department of Community Service (DOCS) and other programs.
Dean Ford celebrated some of the top research grants of the past year, and publications in important journals including The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology.
Carl I. Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., executive dean for research, highlighted the departments with the top NIH award funding, led by the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics and the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, along with neurology, public health sciences, medicine, the Center for AIDS Research, and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The research strategic plan has brought new programs and support for existing research training programs. The new DREAM program, the Dean’s Research Excellence in Academic Medicine Scholarship, will give 10 medical students the opportunity to spend a year doing research.
Researchers are working relentlessly on interventions to end the global pandemic. Three teams at the Miller School have been working on solutions for rapid testing for COVID-19, and diverse local cohorts will be enrolled in efficacy trials for COVID vaccines. Sharing the findings from early research studies has helped reduce the case fatality rate, Dr. Schulman said. “This highlights how academic medical centers and basic and clinical research are essential to overcoming this devastating pandemic.”
Diversity and inclusion
The Dean introduced Dr. King, the senior associate dean for diversity, inclusion and community engagement, to talk about the fourth pillar, creating an optimal environment for all at the Miller School.
“In the wake of recent violence against people of color in our nation and the gross health inequities for people of color during this pandemic, Dean Ford has gathered us to create and lead the Racial Justice Task Force,” Dr. King said.
The task force is focusing on seven key areas: admissions, student affairs, curriculum, faculty affairs, residents/fellows, research, and community engagement. Ensuring diversity in the student body, among residents and fellows, and in the research workforce is critical, Dr. King said, as is eliminating racism in the medical curriculum and among educators and students.
“The strategies and actions of the Task Force for Racial Justice will move us to a more robust and sustainable culture of diversity and inclusion that supports students, faculty, and staff, and is representative of the values of the U,” Dr. King said.
He also discussed the Dean’s Diversity Council, which consists of appointed diversity champions from departments, divisions, and offices across the medical campus, and the newly launched Restorative Justice Framework, which prepares students to build healthy communities, increase social capital, repair harm, and restore relationships.
The Miller School’s Women in Academic Medicine organization received an Insight into Diversity Award for 2020, recognizing its work supporting the career development of women faculty and increasing their representation on campus.
Dean Ford closed the State of the School event with a promise “to continue to work tirelessly to be a more effective servant leader, and create an optimal learning environment for our Miller School and UHealth family.”
“To continue our inexorable march into the pantheon of great research medical schools, we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “And with your continued support, we will get there.”