Thoughts from the Dean

A Transformative Year

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September 14, 2015
A Transformative Year

New initiatives changing pace of HMS education, research

As always, each September I look forward to another year of discovery, service and achievement at HMS, even as I reflect on the accomplishments of the past year. In doing so, I invite you to view this one-minute video, HMS Matters, which expresses my enthusiasm for the important work every member of the HMS community does to advance our shared mission. It was inspired by the outstanding Science Matters and Education Matters video series. 

After two years of comprehensive planning by hundreds of dedicated faculty, staff and students, the entering Class of 2019 is the first group of HMS students to be enrolled in our newly redesigned Pathways curriculum. Pathways will provide optimal preparation for Principal Clinical Experience clerkships, which will now take place in the second year. Years three and four will be devoted to more advanced, specialized courses and electives, and basic science courses will be more closely aligned with clinical work.

Health Sciences and Technology (HST) students also will soon have a new curriculum, and these innovative pedagogical approaches for our medical and graduate students require new learning spaces. We undertook a rapid renovation of several areas in the medical education center in the spring, resulting in four new learning suites that feature new classrooms, studios, labs and collaborative learning areas that will benefit all our students.

The HMS Center for Primary Care this year also worked closely with the Program in Medical Education to develop a foundational curriculum for the development of clinical skills. For the first time, this will include a longitudinal primary care practicum.

Along with these new curriculums, I am proud to have inaugurated our new academic Department of Biomedical Informatics, launched with six core faculty members. The new department addresses a pressing need to train future scientists in the acquisition and interpretation of massive amounts of big data, preparing for a bold new era in biomedical research and human health.

Our Office for External Education, launched just last year, is now providing greater learning opportunities to a rapidly expanding number of students worldwide. Several new programs have been added to our global programming portfolio, which now encompasses courses in clinical research methodology, clinical informatics, patient safety, leadership, and preventive and therapeutic approaches to cancer. Soon, other individuals pursuing health-related careers will have access to the transformative HMX experience, an engaging online program teaching fundamental concepts. Initial offerings will include immunology and physiology. This HMX preview trailer provides an early look at the exciting material being created.

Meanwhile, our Program in Graduate Education offers five Master of Medical Sciences degree programs. A sixth master’s program, the new Master of Bioethics degree program, starts this fall. It will explore the challenging ethical questions now arising in clinical and research settings. Our wide range of PhD programs welcomed 139 new students last year, bringing total graduate student enrollment to nearly 800.

I am also proud to report that our stellar HMS faculty continues to accomplish pioneering feats of discovery in both basic and translational biomedical research. We were fortunate this year to be honored with awards and recognitions too numerous to mention here, the most recent being last week’s thrilling announcement that Stephen Elledge, the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and of Medicine at HMS, and professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is co-recipient of the 2015 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for his work in elucidating how eukaryotic cells sense and respond to DNA damage.

Of course, this kind of biomedical research is a core mission at HMS. From rapidly increasing the power of CRISPR⎯a gene-editing tool that is transforming research and which has profound clinical promise⎯to revealing how cancer cells hijack other cells and turn off the immune system, to reinventing the science of drug discovery, Harvard Medical School’s biomedical research enterprise is a national treasure. Our faculty is advancing the HMS mission, leading to better understanding, prevention and treatment of disease.

I am also proud to report the successful launch of the School’s Campaign for Harvard Medicine, which has already achieved 60 percent of its $750 million fundraising goal.

In order to maintain the excellence of our research mission and to ensure a stable and productive future, this year I asked a committee of esteemed scientists to conduct an external review of our Quad basic science departments in an effort to further strengthen our role as a world leader in bioscience research. In parallel, Harvard University is reviewing bioscience research across the University. I look forward to the recommendations of both review committees later this year.

In the meantime, I want to express my appreciation to every member of the HMS community whose remarkable contributions make the School such an extraordinary institution. I look forward with confidence and zeal to the start of this new academic year and, as always, I am enormously inspired by your passion and commitment and deeply grateful for your outstanding efforts.