This afternoon, our incoming medical students will participate in an honorable tradition at the Carver College of Medicine, the White Coat Ceremony. At that link you can learn the history behind the event as well as learn details about who will recite the Oath of Hippocrates today. Welcome, first-years! You are entering medicine at a challenging but exciting moment, and by the time you leave here, we know that you will have grown in ways you might not have anticipated. I am confident that many of you will also excel in surprising ways. We count it a privilege to guide you through these professional and academic transitions. To the faculty in our department who will be participating in their education, thank you for your role in preparing a new cohort of learners with the skills they will need to shape the future of medicine. Thank you especially to those department members who have volunteered to take on the small-group teaching assignments. I am pleased to report that we have satisfied all our department’s teaching obligations for the 2020–2021 academic year. In contrast, during the last academic year (2019–20), it took us until the end of November to meet our quota. One thing that I have noticed this year is that many more of you have stepped up to volunteer for these sessions and we have widened the base of preceptors. Kudos to our new Vice Chair for Education Dr. Manish Suneja for spearheading the efforts that have guided us to this success a full three months sooner than last year. Below is a chart of some of our top volunteers, some of whom have taken on between 60 and 80 hours of this essential work. In our department, whether your passion is education, research, clinical care or all three, we will support you in that effort. We value each of these components of our mission equally and so helping you feel fulfilled in your work contributes to our strength as an organization.
It is our goal that every member, whether staff, faculty, or trainee, reach the fullest potential their talents and skill allow. To condone any barrier to that achievement robs us all and medicine itself of that possibility for greatness. This, in part, is what drives our continued efforts to seize this national and institutional moment for a reckoning with race. At the collegiate level, the working group organized by Dean Brooks Jackson has produced a summary report from their listening sessions and I urge each of you to read through their findings. I hope that the output of the three working groups that were recently announced will bring about longstanding change by identifying and removing barriers that limit the success and advancement of faculty, trainees, faculty, and staff, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds. I am grateful to those members who joined us recently for our departmental listening sessions organized by Dr. Nicole Nisly, one of which was held for faculty and another for residents and fellows. The results of those conversations have already produced concrete action. For example, although progress has been made increasing diversity among our faculty and our leadership over the last 30 years, much more work remains to be done. This includes the recruitment of women and underrepresented minorities and providing the mentoring and support necessary to ensure promotion and leadership roles. One of the ways we will further this growth will be the designation of an in-house resource for minority and women new hires. This support team will ensure that the promises made in recruitment are met, that Iowa measures up to the welcoming place we pride ourselves to be. Our “Iowa Nice” label is often merited, but we must also be watchful for how this mindset may prevent us from being proactive or can lead us to avoid necessary or difficult conversations. We must be deliberate in our efforts to pause in those moments, for example, when we witness a patient’s refusal to be treated by a physician of color or when an attending’s dismissiveness of a woman’s recommendation leaves those individuals suffering the indignity in silence. It is not enough to be inclusive; we should also support one another in identifying and correcting harmful or even destructive habits. I have already begun to sense a change in our environment, a new spark that can either be nurtured or, if we are complacent, quickly snuffed out. I am confident in our ability to grow this flame. The department is committed to seeing this happen.
One long-standing means by which the playing field can be leveled is by ensuring that trainees, based on merit and promise, are mentored and supported during the critical transition from trainee to faculty. For decades, the National Institutes of Health has supported training grants called T32s, which endow research programs with a dedicated number of positions that we can offer trainees. Depending on the specific support mechanism, these awards can support research by graduate students, post-docs, or fellows. We have also used T32s as support mechanisms for very early junior faculty, to bridge their fellowship training with a mentored and protected period of additional research training with the goal of ensuring that they are equipped to set up independent research programs. There are six T32 programs housed within the department and I mentioned one in a recent post in the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center. Another, led by Dr. Jack Stapleton within the Division of Infectious Diseases, was just renewed for an impressive sixth time. When one considers the dozens and dozens of researchers over the decades this program has supported and the contributions those trainees have made to science, one can see the ripples in the pond spreading farther and wider.
T32 training slots can be an effective recruitment tool when we meet with prospective candidates for our residency and fellowship programs. You may also see other recruitment tools popping up on our social media platforms and program web sites in the coming weeks. We have entered a new and different season of recruitment practices in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where all of our residency and fellowship recruitment will now be conducted virtually. Our faculty and trainees have been sitting down for interviews with a newly formed departmental video production team and leading them on virtual tours of our facilities. Examples of the results can be seen here, here, and here. Thank you for your continued participation with this team as they help to tell our story to candidates who are unable to meet us in person this year.