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Keeping our eyes on the future

Posted by Jeff Balser, MD, PhD on Friday, March 19, 2021 in From the Dean, Spring 2021 .

Photo by David Bailey

The COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us many lessons in health care. Among them, we are learning the importance of adapting to change as well as leading change in how we discover, train and heal as we plan for the future.

The hesitancy about the two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines is but one example — a technology that’s been in development for years through government-sponsored research at many of our institutions, waiting in the wings to be deployed. Because of those efforts, the time required to safely produce and test these vaccines once a COVID-19 sequence was available was remarkably short and will save millions. It’s a prime example of why all of us in health care — and particularly in academic medicine as physicians, scientists, educators and leaders — need to become more and more adept at managing change in all its forms.

The revolution in biomedical science is now more than ever fully on display with the vaccine and other COVID-19 treatments we’ve seen produced with breathtaking speed (where Vanderbilt programs have played a vital and visible role), remarkable new developments in data science that are vastly changing clinical research (see story here), and transformative new approaches to tackling a host of other life-threatening conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (see story here) that have been resistant to treatment for decades.

This issue of Vanderbilt Medicine provides insight into why our commitment to training a new generation of clinicians and scientists capable of adapting, envisioning and leading change for our nation and the world is mission critical.

Fortunately, in spite of COVID-19, our training pipeline has never been more robust. The number of applicants into our School of Medicine is up 26% over the year prior — a volume that significantly outpaces the growth of applications at medical schools nationwide. Like the many new care needs uncovered during the pandemic, future colleagues will be increasingly called to serve in a multitude of new settings and to work arm-in-arm with a broader array of professional backgrounds and experiences. Experiences that expand our reach across medicine and science are a source of inspiration, such as the collaboration with the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell (see story here).

The benefits of training health care professionals in new interdisciplinary models, using approaches like those explored through the Vanderbilt Program in Interdisciplinary Learning, promise to fundamentally change our effectiveness as we increasingly work in larger and more complex teams to care for patients (see story here). And as we train and practice in these more challenging professional settings, difficulties that professionals have always encountered surrounding self-confidence and a sense of belonging are only amplified. Yet it is only recently that academic medicine has begun to confront these issues head-on.

Looking ahead and envisioning the needs of the future is what Vanderbilt has done for centuries. I hope that like me, you will find inspiration when peering into the exciting programs in this issue of Vanderbilt Medicine, as these and many programs like them help us continue to reshape our vision to meet the needs of the future.

Jeff Balser, MD, PhD
President and CEO, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Dean, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine