Thoughts from the Dean

Past as Prologue?

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January 10, 2013
Past as Prologue?

Lessons from the NIH "golden era" may benefit medical education and research

Despite the many discoveries that continue to emerge from our basic, translational and clinical research endeavors, this is a difficult time for those involved in biomedical research.  Traditional funding sources are being compromised by the national financial crisis, threatening our core research budgets. At such times, it is valuable for leaders to reflect upon how previous, more optimistic years may provide useful lessons to help us navigate the current challenging environment.

In a recent Perspective article in Science, Michael Brown, MD, and Joseph Goldstein, MD, did just that. Their article celebrated a golden era at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1964 and 1972 when they and seven other young physicians trained in basic research labs at the NIH, and then went on to win Nobel Prizes for their important discoveries. Brown and Goldstein used their review of this golden period to frame lessons that might benefit medical education and biomedical research today.

I have enormous respect and admiration for these two individuals, both personally and professionally, and I take their perspective seriously⎯Brown and Goldstein are among the most important leaders in modern biomedical science. Indeed, I join them in celebrating the role that NIH has played in shaping the careers of so many scientific leaders, and I agree with many of the points that they make in their Science article. I think they have sparked a much-needed national debate about the scientific foundations of medical education and the future of physician-led research. I do, however, have a different view on several of the issues they raise, and these issues are important to HMS, and more broadly, to medical education and research. I have presented my reactions to their article in a letter published in Science on January 11, 2013.

There is, of course, much more to be said about these critical issues and I welcome your thoughts.