As I write this, we have now put 2020 behind us and have entered a new year. Although we remain in the midst of a pandemic, and a return to normalcy (or at least, a new normal) is still not in our grasp, the two recently-released mRNA vaccines are providing greatly needed hope as we begin 2021. I have missed having the opportunity to walk the halls and interact with colleagues, hold meetings in person, and get to know people outside of the two dimensions of a virtual meeting. And I long for the time when students will once again crowd White Hall, when student activities, interest groups and community service initiatives can rev back up, and joyful occasions like Match Day and Commencement can happen live.
Many people use this time of the year to reflect on the past and set personal goals for themselves, so called “New Year’s resolutions.” Most often, these focus on physical activity and healthy eating. Approximately 40% of Americans make resolutions each year, but 80% of them have broken their resolutions by February 1 and ultimately, only 9% are successful. That’s why I’ve always felt it makes more sense to set goals, rather than resolutions. Goals, after all, provide a direction to follow a desired outcome, and involve setting intention, planning, preparing, and taking realistic action.
I started my journey as Dean at BSOM by meeting with many of you, both individually and in groups, and by eliciting opinions about the strengths and opportunities at BSOM from surveys of students, faculty and staff. All of this information is helping me to set goals for my work as your Dean, and for us as a community, in the coming year. Later in 2021, once (hopefully) some of the urgencies and limitations of the pandemic have become less acute, we will engage in a more formalized planning process to set goals and strategies for the coming five year period.
Last month, I shared my goals for the coming year with faculty in staff in my second town hall. In the next few weeks, I will be meeting with the students to discuss these further and to review their specific feedback. To reiterate here, the following are my immediate areas of focus as we enter a new year:
- First, BSOM must continue to persevere during the challenge of COVID. Although there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel still feels long. We must focus on the wellness of the members of our community, deliver clear and frequent communication to minimize uncertainty, and expedite as much as possible the availability of vaccines. We are COVID testing our student body at the start of their return from winter break, and are continuing to minimize in person activities. I have asked our Office of Student Affairs to improve transparency (while maintaining confidentiality, of course) about rates of COVID in our student body (which have, thankfully, been quite low). Our faculty and students are to be commended for their ongoing dedication and flexibility in response to the demands of the pandemic.
- It is clear from my conversations with students that there is the need to become a more student-centered institution. Strengthening communication with our student body and ensuring that adequate feedback loops exist, so that students know we hear their concerns and are acting on them, or if not, explaining why not, is key. We should be constantly reminding ourselves that our students are the most important residents of our community, and the reason that we are all here. I want our students to feel that they are full partners in their educational experience.
- Focus on the Fundamentals. I would like to use the first part of 2021 to do external reviews of three foundational areas of the school: the MD curriculum, the admissions process, and the research enterprise. As we start the journey to make BSOM even more impactful, it’s important that we ensure our fundamentals are sound. In a few short years, we will once again need to prepare for our next LCME accreditation survey visit, so any work we do now will set us up for success later.
- Increased attention to diversity, equity and inclusion. 2020 was notable not only for the impact of the pandemic, but for the painful events surrounding society’s prolonged struggle for racial equality and social justice. At medical schools across the country, including at BSOM, we heard from students how, despite good intentions, we were falling short at creating an atmosphere free from systemic racism. I’m committed to making BSOM a more inclusive and just place for our many diverse students. I’m pleased that an anti-racism task force has recently started its work, led by Drs. David Dhanraj and Erica Taylor. Our students’ courageous leadership around this issue is to be commended, and I look forward to working with them to create a more inclusive environment at BSOM.
So here we are, at the threshold of a new year. Thank you so much for your commitment, dedication and courage as we welcome together a new year, another chapter.
Valerie D. Weber, MD, MS
Dean, Boonshoft School of Medicine