Thoughts from the Dean

Progress & Possibilities

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September 5, 2012
Progress & Possibilities

As we enter a new academic year, I would like to share with you just a few of the many accomplishments of this remarkable Harvard Medical School community in the areas of education, research, innovation and philanthropy. 


I am delighted to report that, after a comprehensive two-year process that included self-study and an external review, HMS has been reaccredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. The LCME report lauded our recent clinical educational reforms and praised the Principal Clinical Experience. In addition, our consideration of the review recommendations has accelerated our plans to construct a new clinical skills center, an exciting new environment for our evolving curriculum.

To maintain our acknowledged position of educational leadership during a period of rapid change in both pedagogy and biomedicine, we cannot rest on our laurels, but must respond to the many new challenges and opportunities that we face. We are therefore initiating a comprehensive assessment of our preclinical curriculum aiming, in part, to better align our students’ preclinical medical education with the dynamic changes occurring in medical practice and educational technologies.

As we conduct this new review, we continue to implement important initiatives from prior curricular revisions that are designed to inspire educational excellence. Our Scholars in Medicine program, in its second year, is providing students and faculty with new opportunities for collaboration and mentorship through 160 faculty-mentored scholarly projects on topics ranging from basic and translational research to global health.

Our PhD programs—which include bioinformatics and integrative genomicsbiological and biomedical sciencesbiophysicschemical biologyimmunologyneurosciencespeech and hearing bioscience and technologyvirology and systems biology—continue to rank among the best in the country. This spring, an intensive external review of the MD-PhD program concluded, “The [program] is clearly a national leader in training MD-PhD students, having a long track record of exceptional success. … In many cases, students in the [program] are the engines of change through cutting edge research that is at the interface of science, medicine, global health, and health policy.”

To address a major need, we are developing a new therapeutics track for students in the life-science PhD programs at Harvard University. This will provide an integrated curriculum in therapeutics and related fields, including systems approaches. Graduate education at HMS also offers four master of medical science programs, including two in clinical investigation (SCSP and CITP), one in biomedical informatics, and the newest, in global health delivery, which launched in July. I expect the number of new HMS masters programs to increase in the coming years.

The continuing education of physicians is another core responsibility of the School. Our extensive offerings reach tens of thousands of professionals throughout the world, helping them hone their skills in the rapidly changing landscape of medicine. This past year we launched an ambitious and comprehensive review of our CME programs to ensure their future excellence and to consider some entirely new educational efforts. I look forward to sharing with you the recommendations of the HMS-wide task force later this fall.


From the search for an effective HIV vaccine to the development of a method for using synthetic DNA as a drug-delivery device, discoveries made by HMS faculty across the Quad and affiliated institutions continue to generate striking advances in science and medicine. To enhance our ability to spur future discoveries, we will foster novel interdisciplinary collaborations, such as the HMS Initiative in Systems Pharmacology, announced last October, which aims to connect basic scientists and clinicians with computer scientists, physicists and mathematicians to transform drug discovery and redefine how we develop safe and effective new therapeutics.

Similarly, our clinical translational science center, Harvard Catalyst, increasingly serves as a unifying mechanism for the cross-Harvard clinical and translational research community. In May, Catalyst awarded pilot grants to seven teams for interdisciplinary research on a variety of child-health issues. A summit on childhood obesity this past spring provided an unprecedented opportunity for physicians, researchers, leaders in public policy and lawmakers to unite around this critical issue. The competitive renewal of the Catalyst grant is being prepared for January submission to the NIH.

The reach of HMS expertise continues to expand around the world through important collaborative relationships. In its third year, the HMS-Portugal Program in Translational Research and Information provides a global model for enriching clinical and translational research and education in a country working to develop its own programs. The Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering is a partnership with Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne to create a robust bi-institutional research and educational collaboration in neuroscience. HMS is currently in discussions with academic leaders in several countries to create additional alliances with the potential to leverage the diverse resources and skills of HMS faculty while advancing joint academic goals.

Leadership and Innovation

Each year, without exception, the outstanding members of our faculty receive prestigious awards and honors recognizing their outstanding exemplary leadership, expertise and accomplishments. To retain and recruit the finest educators, physicians and scientists, we will continue to aggressively implement a variety of faculty development and diversity initiatives introduced by our Task Force on Faculty Development and Diversity. Important among these initiatives is the successful streamlining of the senior promotions process. I am delighted to report that more than 100 faculty members were promoted to professor last year—a record number—with average approval time for these promotions reduced from 16 months to just nine.

This year we made progress in addressing one of the nation’s most critical needs, as our newly established Center for Primary Care, supported by a generous $30 million anonymous gift, began efforts to strengthen and transform the discipline of primary care. Led by its inaugural director, Russell S. Phillips, professor of medicine, and co-director Andrew L. Ellner, instructor in medicine, the young Center recently launched the Academic Innovations Collaborative, designed to spur innovation through targeted investments in nine HMS hospital-based primary care teaching practices and eight community-health practices. The Innovation Fellows Program, now in its second year, supports faculty who mentor students while implementing exciting projects in health centers.

I salute the achievements of the Harvard Medical School community—students, faculty and staff—for the work that they do every day to shape the future of medical education, biomedical research and patient care.