Dean's Update

February 9, 2024 - Aron Sousa, MD


Aron taking a photo of his shadow.
Last Friday Aron saw his shadow and was delighted!


About this time of year, the academic medicine world anticipates the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research rankings, which use National Institutes of Health (NIH) data to list schools, departments, and PIs by the monetary size of their NIH portfolio. Many units do great academic medicine scholarship with funding from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Heath Services Resources Administration (HRSA), Department of Defense (DOD), and VA, all of which is missed in these lists. Further, some of the most important work our people do starts with no external funding at all (see the Flint Water Crisis). That said, NIH funding can tell you a good deal about the size and scope of a school or department’s scientific program. My thanks to Walt Esselman for his dogged work to make sure our work was counted.

In the Blue Ridge rankings this year, our Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology department ranks #1 in the country, up from number four last year. The department has been in the top five for many years. The public health team moved from #22 to #12 among departments of public health. The college itself moved up more than 10 spots to #69, which is a significant accomplishment, and importantly, reflects the promise of our partnership with Henry Ford. Through that partnership, a growing number of Henry Ford faculty collaborate with our faculty and are included as MSU faculty in the lists, and that has driven the change in most of our rankings.

Time for some truth telling, which is not fashionable when you have rankings you want to celebrate. I mentioned earlier that these lists do not count many important sources of funding, but the Blue Ridge rankings have a simplicity and clarity I really like – it’s just NIH numbers. There are no weird reputation scores, no need to push standardized test scores, and no disadvantage to being accepting rather than highly rejective of applicants, as favored by some more problematic school rankings. That said, counting is the administrator’s most simplistic tool, and there can be both good and weird quirks to the data. At Michigan State, several of our departments are shared between colleges. For the Biochem, Micro, Pharm Tox, and Physiology departments, only the faculty assigned to the College of Human Medicine are counted in the rankings, so the strengths of those departments are completely missed in this system. Continuing the complication, I was careful to describe our public health rankings as “the public health team” because both the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health code as “public health” for Blue Ridge. But, if you do public health studies in the OB-GYN department, then you code as OB-GYN and not public health. (If we were a school of public health, we’d rank #21 – just above NYU.)

There are also some data about individual PIs, so let me call out Christine Johnson, PhD, MPH, of Henry Ford who has the highest NIH funding of any faculty member in an OB-GYN department in the country. If she were coded into public health, she’d be the highest in the country there, too. Jennifer Johnson, PhD, of the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health is #6 in the country for public health. Cris Meghea, PhD, in OB-GYN is #12 and Jean Kerver, PhD, of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and based in Traverse City, is #16 in the public health list. So many of our folks are impressive!

Next week will be difficult. The 13th is the one-year remembrance of the targeted shooting of students on campus. Five students were injured, and we lost Arielle Anderson, Alexandria Verner, and Brian Fraser to gun violence. The university will hold a series of remembrance events on campus and our SAFE students wrote a remembrance commentary on firearm violence prevention. Last spring, our college sent a team of students and faculty to the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences of the University at Buffalo for the one-year remembrance of the Tops Supermarket shooting in Buffalo. Next week, we will gather with our colleagues from Buffalo and other medical schools in remembrance, and I will share more about those events next Friday.

Next week will also be wonderful. On Valentine’s Day, Rx Kids has its celebratory Launch Bash, complete with events at the Flint Children’s Museum, a concert, and meetings with funders. The Bash is free and at the Capitol Theatre, across the street from our Flint building. It will be a great way to celebrate a remarkable program and community.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD, FACP
Dean, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

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