Thoughts from the Dean

Farewell, But Not Goodbye

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June 29, 2016
Farewell, But Not Goodbye

"We can all be proud of what we have jointly accomplished on behalf of HMS over the past nine years, sometimes against great odds."

It has been an overwhelming honor and privilege to have served for the past nine years as dean of Harvard Medical School, the world’s leading medical school, within the world’s leading university. At an event on campus on June 23, I bid farewell to faculty, staff and students in the atrium of TMEC.

It seems like only yesterday that I stood there, in the same venue, on July 11, 2007, when President Faust presented me to the assembled crowd as the 21st dean of HMS.

At that point, my entire academic career had been as an HMS faculty member—all 29 years at what is now Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—and although I had taken on various leadership roles, including some at HMS, and had considered some other deanships, I never imagined that I might become this School’s dean, until I read my name as a finalist for the job in the Boston Globe on May 24. I was offered the position by President Faust six weeks later, on July 7.

The past nine years diverged in many ways from what might have been the script, but this experience has been the most important part of my professional life, deeply rewarding in so many ways.

I have often said that while people around the world have a concept of what HMS is, only the dean of HMS can fully comprehend what the term “the Harvard medical community” actually means. I thought I had a good idea when I stood here in 2007, but I quickly learned that HMS is far more complex, and far more remarkable, than even I had understood.

One of the privileges of being dean is the unique perspective and understanding of all the components that make the School tick, and make it so great.

These components include the institutions—of course the core Longwood campus—the “Quad”—which is the center for much of our education and research, the many affiliated hospitals and institutes without which the School could not function as a medical school, and the other schools of Harvard.

But more directly, and immediately, it means the people with whom I have had the honor to work, day in and day out, as dean. These are the innumerable people who bring glory to the School and account for its peerless reputation. These are the people I’d like to thank.

First, President Faust, who appointed me, and Provost Garber, with whom I closely worked, and who we are proud to claim as an HMS faculty member.

To the HMS faculty and departmental leaders, both those in Quad basic and social science departments and hospital-based departments, I extend my gratitude. Taken together, there is no comparable group of biomedical academics and practitioners on the planet. And I surely can attest to the truth of that statement more knowledgeably than anyone else.

I’d like to thank the leaders of our affiliated institutions, such as Sandi Fenwick of Boston Children’s Hospital. Each of these institutions is a national treasure, and when combined, they are truly beyond compare.

And thanks to our medical students, graduate students and, increasingly, students around the world, who are the core reason we exist as a school. They inspire us and make us proud, both for what they do when they are here, during the course of their careers and as alumni of this great institution.

I must also thank my remarkable team of HMS academic and administrative leaders, my dean’s cabinet, without whom nothing would be accomplished.

These people are all consummate experts and leaders in their own rights, and our friendships will persist long after I leave this office.

I owe a great debt to my office staff, Susan Dale, my chief of staff, Judi Geier and Lorien Hecht—they represent me, and the School, at the highest level.

Finally, I must thank my family, and especially my wife, Terry Maratos-Flier. There are now six of us on the HMS faculty, if you include our younger daughter, Lydia,and her husband, David, who today start HMS-associated internships. The Flier family has certainly voted with its feet in support of HMS.

Terry, in addition to being my wife of 40 years, is an HMS professor of medicine, a longstanding contributor to the Program in Medical Education, and a longstanding key collaborator in several areas of common interest. She has shown great judgment as an advisor, when, as is almost unavoidable, I brought HMS home with me. Thank you, Terry, for everything.

Running a school like HMS requires a shared vision and teamwork across all of the many dimensions that make up the School.

That shared vision cannot be evident at every moment—that would be beyond the realm of the possible in this wildly complex and competitive ecosystem.

But periodically, when it really matters, we need to come together for the good of us all. And we have repeatedly done that.

I think we can all be proud of what we have jointly accomplished on behalf of HMS over the past nine years, sometimes against great odds.

I treasure the friendships I have made along the way, and I expect to continue them during the next phase of my career, as I return to the faculty from which I arose, and for which I have such respect. 

I wish Barbara McNeil the best of luck in her second stint as acting dean, to begin on August 1. And I can assure that my permanent successor, whoever it is, will have the opportunity, as I did, to lead the greatest medical school in the world.




Photo Gallery 


Family, friends, students and faculty celebrated and shared memories of Dean Jeffrey Flier's nine years as the 21st dean of Harvard Medical School. View Slideshow>>