Recruiting, educating and graduating the students at our medical school are occurring in a time like no other. In the year 2020, as we confront the global COVID-19 pandemic, we also stand united in fighting the injustices and inequities that are emblematic of racism in America.
In our country, in our state, and in our city, hospitals have been overwhelmed and have dealt with the hard truth that we have insufficient beds, continued critical shortages of personal protective equipment, and too few nurses and other members of our team to care for patients. The physical and mental health tolls have required specific efforts to address and care for those who are suffering burnout and compassion fatigue. While we welcome the first ever COVID vaccines, it is likely that it will be well into spring of 2021 before we can safely say that the pandemic is under control. This stark fact underscores the importance of all members of our community adhering to requirements for masks, socially distancing and avoiding community or family gatherings that may place you at risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19.
The pandemic has amplified the racial and ethnic health care inequities that over the years have been rooted in systemic racism. As a people, as physicians, as health care professionals, we oppose racist ideas and behaviors and stand as advocates for racial justice, promoting open dialogue and active educational policies. We have consistently seen an over-representation of Black, Hispanic and Native American patients who suffer and die from COVID-19. This health inequity spans the age groups as we see Hispanic and Black children diagnosed and hospitalized at rates that far exceed those of White children.
Embracing a comprehensive approach to create and sustain a diverse and culturally responsive workforce that works toward eliminating health inequities is our mission. We have expanded our leadership within the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with our associate dean, Dr. Tyler Smith, and the addition of an assistant dean, Doris Agwu. We have engaged Professor Mikah Thompson, a critical-race scholar who has been instrumental in launching our first ever anti-racism curriculum. Dr. Diana Dark, associate dean in the Office of Learning Environment, has worked to assure that we meet the students’ educational needs within a culture of care, inclusiveness and belonging. Dr. Dark leads the Expect Respect Committee, working to reduce mistreatment at all levels. She has introduced the student ombudsperson, and is developing a faculty professionalism statement. Dr. Liset Olarte has created the Latinos in Medicine physician group to mentor our Latinx students. Dr. Melissa Lewis, a member of the Cherokee nation, will advance our recruitment of tribal students, and we hope to add curricular content she has developed that addresses the history of and solutions to health inequities that continue to affect indigenous peoples in our society.
We proudly will expand our campus to St. Joseph, Missouri, in affiliation with Mosaic Health System to recruit, prepare and encourage a workforce that will address the shortage of providers in rural areas. This effort, backed by an award of $7 million issued by HRSA, supports our commitment to train those who will focus on rural health care. The first student cohort begins in January, and all curriculum will be delivered where they will live and train. With leadership from Drs. Steve Waldman, Davin Turner and Kristen Kleffner in collaboration with support from our senior associate dean of curriculum, Dr. Nurry Pirani, we are confident that our pre-clinical curriculum will be seamlessly delivered on both the Health Sciences District and the St. Joseph campuses. Since the onset of the pandemic, Drs. Mike Wacker and Darla McCarthy and all of our faculty have been instrumental in ensuring that our students receive this content using a virtual format that is inclusive of what they require in the biomedical sciences. The St. Joseph campus will maintain the docent system and the early introduction of clinical experience for these students. As these students advance to their clinical curriculum, we look forward to their engagement with Mosaic physician leaders to guide them, similar to the expertise provided by faculty at our anchoring partners: TMC, Children’s Mercy, St. Luke’s, the Center for Behavioral Medicine, Research Medical Center and the VA in Kansas City.
We celebrate the growth of research fueled by the talents of Drs. Jannette Berkley-Patton, Peter Koulen, Gary Sutkin, Paula Monaghan-Nichols, Jared Bruce and Nihar Nayak. They along with many others have allowed us to more than double the amount of awards we’ve received in the last 5 years. We recognized this past month distinguished faculty and celebrated the promotion of 73. Thank you to the work of Dr. Christine Sullivan, associate dean of professional development, and her committee, who selected the awardees after a SOM-wide competition. Those honored included Dr. Molly Uhlenhake for her contributions to Excellence in Diversity and Health Equity in Medicine, Dr. Gary Sutkin for Excellence in Medical Education and Research, Drs. Fariha Shafi and Peter Koulen for Excellence in Mentorship, Drs. Emily Hillman and Darla McCarthy for Excellence in Teaching, and Dr. John Wang for Excellence in Research. University awards were presented to Dr. Jennifer Quaintance for Excellence in Teaching and to Dr. Peter Koulen, who received the Trustees Faculty Fellow Award.
At this moment in time, I ask that each one of you know that you make a difference in people’s lives. The road ahead will continue to be challenging. Our students are our future health care leaders, and it is our privilege as the faculty and staff at UMKC SOM, to be part of that future. I believe we are in good hands.
Mary Anne Jackson, M.D. ’78
Dean, School of Medicine