And then it was December. I do not think I am alone in wondering just where January went, let alone the rest of 2021. As the first rounds of vaccination against COVID-19 began almost exactly a year ago, the momentum we all felt encountered stiff headwinds early on and blew much of the rest of the year. Some of those winds came in the form of a public slower to adopt vaccination than initially anticipated, some came in the form of the more virulent Delta variant. Other headwinds had little to do with the pandemic at all, but some of those tragedies were harder to bear in an already difficult year. I have remained grateful and honestly quite proud, as I discussed in September, for the courage and dedication that each of you have shown throughout this year, not just for your patients, but for one another. This is what community means, we give what we can when we can, and when we cannot, another does, until our strength is restored and the job gets done.

I know that there is a lot of concern about continuity right now in the department, what we will look like a year from now. As of this writing, my immediate successor is still unannounced as is the committee who will search for my permanent replacement. Here is what I know: No matter who occupies my office either temporarily or for a more permanent stretch, the continuity of this department’s greatness is already assured.

The header image that sits on top of our department’s Facebook page and on our Twitter account depicts the sixteen men who have served as Chair in our 150-year history. Some served briefly, some for decades, but all were only ever temporary holders with the same goal, whether it was 1875 or 1975. They were responsible for creating the conditions that enabled each of you to be your best. Whether it was recruiting patients for a new clinical trial, opening a clinic to treat a disease that no one else could manage, or recruiting and mentoring many who have gone on to be giants of medicine, each of these Chairs was only ever successful because they were surrounded by greatness. So I remain optimistic because of the team. My job and those of my predecessors was to clear a path for you, so that you could take care of everything else that has made us shine.

In the midst of talk of transitions, there is plenty of news breaking this week about other leadership role changes that have been decided. For decades Dr. Stephen McGowan has helped the pulmonary physicians provide the best care possible for our Veterans across the street at the Iowa City VA Health System as Section Chief. Now he is passing the torch to Dr. Lakshmi Durairaj, who will certainly continue Dr. McGowan’s tradition of advocacy. A similar torch passing has also taken place among our Division Directors. We all celebrate with Dr. Mo Milhem, who will be dropping the “interim” from his title as Director of the Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Blood & Marrow Transplantation. And in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine, we welcome Dr. David Stoltz to his new role as Division Director. I know Dr. Stoltz will build on the excellence that his predecessors have built within the Pulmonary Division, while strengthening the community of collegiality and collaboration that defines our Pulmonary faculty.

Moreover, if we are looking for reassurance of continuity in the department, we must look no further than our Vice Chair for Education Dr. Manish Suneja. He has led yet another class of residents through a fellowship match in which every single resident successfully matched in the program of their choice. It is no small feat that more than half of those who did so, including three of our phenomenal Chief Residents, are staying at the University of Iowa! I believe the percentage of residents remaining here to complete their subspecialty training represents a high-water mark. We have steadily recruited increasingly compelling candidates into our residency program who are populating our fellowships and hopefully some will remain here as distinguished faculty. Leadership and continuity defines our future and runs through the entire pipeline in our department. Congratulations to Dr. Suneja, all of the Education Leadership team, and of course the new subspecialty fellows!

Finally, in just a little preview of my final State of the Department address at the December 16 Grand Rounds, let me preview a few statistics that we can celebrate and be proud of. For the last two years, department revenue has increased by more than $12M each year due in large part to clinical activity, while the rate of expense increases has decreased. In research, our total externally funded portfolio has increased by about $18M. These two examples of successes in our research and clinical missions have less to do with me and a lot more to do with our Vice Chair for Research Dr. Isabella Grumbach and our Vice Chair for Clinical Programs Dr. Kim Staffey providing the daily support, encouragement, and strategic guidance for the individuals who did the hard work of competing for these grants and of leveraging our clinical capabilities to manage the increasing number of patients who are seeking us out for care. It is their and your collaborative efforts and collegiality that make us who we are. For this I am forever grateful. I am confident that these are the qualities that will enable us to attract the very best leaders in our department in the future.

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