A new year and a new semester bring hope and reminders that we accomplished much in 2020 despite all the obstacles a pandemic brings.
As an infectious disease specialist, I’ve spent my career studying communicable disease epidemiology. I’ve been involved in vaccine development and implementation, including in response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza virus. But SARS CoV-2 is unique, and it has been unbelievable watching the devastating impact of this virus unfold with more than 88 million infections and more than 1.9 million deaths recorded across 218 countries and territories.
Within the United States as of Jan. 13, there have been more than 22 million cases and deaths have exceeded 382,000. A terrible milestone was reached twice in one week in January when more than 4,000 U.S. deaths occurred in a day. In our country, in our state and in our city, our hospitals have been challenged – we have dealt with the hard truth that at various times we have had insufficient open beds, shortages of PPE and a need for more nurses and other members of our team to care for patients. While we welcome the first ever COVID vaccines, and rejoice that more than 10 million physicians, nurses and other front line workers have received one of the vaccines, it will be well into this spring — if we launch a more effective implementation program — before we can safely say that the pandemic is under control. Still, our SOM is celebrating as vaccines have been administered to most staff and faculty at our clinical sites, while the vaccination of medical, PA and MSA students has started. That said, we continue to emphasize the critical importance of adhering with requirements for masks, social distancing and avoiding community or family gatherings that may put more people at risk.
This month, course work and clinical rotations have begun for the first group of students at our St. Joseph campus. Our partnership there with Mosaic Health System is supported by a $7 million grant from HRSA. This marks a significant expansion of our commitment to rural medicine, a pressing need in Missouri and many other states. At the Health Sciences District campus, our students have continued their education, not missing a beat as they move toward graduation. On both campuses, a careful blend of online courses and in-person clinicals promises to keep our students safe while giving them the patient interaction and docent learning that are hallmarks of our unique approach to training tomorrow’s physicians and physician assistants.
The final months of 2020 also reminded us that our commitment to research benefits us all. The School of Medicine has more than doubled the amount of awards we’ve received in the past 5 years. Most recently, Peter Koulen, Ph.D., at the Vision Research Center and Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., leading the UMKC Health Equity Institute have secured grants to further their vital work. One recent alumni, Apurva Bhatt, currently a UMKC psychiatry resident, gained national recognition for her findings on guns and suicide. And our students continue to be encouraged to conduct their own research through top national fellowships, our longstanding Sarah Morrison grants program, and student research events such as the Vijay Babu Rayudu Quality & Patient Safety Day and the Symposium of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship, which will be held virtually this year.
On Jan. 13, we bid farewell to our founding PA program director, Kathy Ervie, who is taking a fulltime clinical position with an orthopaedic group in Clinton, Missouri. After graduating from Butler University’s PA program in 1998 and receiving her master’s degree in physician assistant studies from the University of Nebraska, Kathy practiced full-time in the area of orthopedic surgery in our community before brainstorming and moving forward a plan to launch a PA program at UMKC SOM. She took a full year to build our program, which started in 2012 with Kathy as its founding PD.
With 92 graduates as of May 2020, a 100 percent certification exam pass rate and a 100 percent employment rate, the PA program has been vastly successful and is ready to expand in 2022. Even the disruption of COVID-19 did not stop the MMSPA program, as Kathy developed a contingency plan to avoid disruption of student enrollment, remain in alignment with ARC-PA accreditation standards, and continue to support student opportunities and assessment to meet program learning outcomes.
As I watched Kathy work with students over the last three years, I saw her as someone who communicated thoughtfully, asking her students to commit to their work as she willingly engaged in all aspects of their education. There are big shoes to fill indeed for the next PD!
We also mourned the passing of Dr. Louise Arnold on Dec. 17 and gave thanks for all she accomplished in 40-plus years at the school in posts that included associate dean for medical education and research. She served the school from its outset as a true pioneer and the foremost proponent in national medical education circles of our 6-year B.A./M.D. program and docent education. We deeply miss her, personally and professionally.
In light of all we accomplished in the past year despite the pandemic, we look forward to continued advances in 2021. Just as our students, faculty and staff are furthering our mission in medical education, research and service, I know that each of you continues to make a difference in people’s lives. Thank you for your continued support and your contributions to our legacy.
Mary Anne Jackson, M.D. ’78
Dean, School of Medicine