Dean's Update

May 24, 2024 - Aron Sousa, MD


60th Anniversary banner with the words "Deans Update" on it.Friends,

On Monday, I went to the Michigan Health Policy Forum, hosted by our Institute for Health Policy. The speakers included Catherine Frank, MD (’85), of Henry Ford (and MSU), and Jennifer Johnson, PhD doing fascinating presentations. Cathy’s talk was on Zero Suicide and Jennifer spoke on the National Center for Health and Justice Integration for Suicide Prevention (NCHATS). Jennifer is our inaugural chair of the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health, and she co-leads this NIH center with Brian Ahmedani, PhD, LMSW, of Henry Ford and MSU, as well as Lauren Weinstock, PhD, of Brown.

Zero Suicide is a one of the most audacious and successful programs I know. The folks at Henry Ford realized that if you really want to address suicide, then you need to think about it as one of those events that should never happen, like nuclear accidents and central line infections. No one should be unrealistic about their expectations, but if you really want to end all preventable suicides, you have to set your goal to zero.

The NCHATS team is working to address suicide in people touched by the criminal legal system. About a fifth of all people who commit suicide have been involved in the criminal legal system in the year before their death. These are not people in prison or even convicted of some crime. They are mostly our neighbors and family members whose lives have taken a turn deep into struggle. They may have been stopped for DUI or some altercation. They are not committing suicide out of guilt, but their contacts with the police and courts are a symptom of and contribute to their stressful circumstances.

The NCHATS team has four remarkable projects. One of them uses machine learning (a kind of AI) to help health systems (like Henry Ford) use publicly available data, like the police blotter, to find people at risk of suicide among their own patients, so the health system can provide resources and help. Jails cannot look at protected health data to see if the people arrested are at risk of suicide, but health systems can look at the police blotter to see which of their patients and members might be at risk. It’s pretty clever.

Just a day later, Tuesday, for those of you keeping score at home, the Office of Medical Education Research and Development (OMERAD) and the college’s education team hosted the “Medical Education Scholarship Showcase” including OMERAD’s Maatsch Scholar, Rachel Yudkowsky, MD, MHPE, from the University of Illinois – Chicago, as well as a poster session. It was a well-attended event, and Dr. Yudkowsky gave a thought-provoking and important talk about what we need to do to better prepare students for clinical competence (and excellence). The posters were a great collection of work our people have done, and it was good to see the talent and impact of our students and faculty.

Both of this week’s events had interesting discussions on AI. At the Health Policy Forum, Jim McEvoy of Health Management Associates hosted a session on AI and did a lovely job with that ever-changing topic. During the Maatsch Lecture, one of Dr. Yudkowsky’s main points was to encourage us to give our students the best possible practice with differentiating complex disorders using history and physicals. With the extensive work-up that now happens in emergency departments, it is getting harder and harder for students to see undifferentiated patients where the work-up is still to be determined. Generative AI, like ChatGPT, is getting better and better at creating these kinds of “mental practice” cases with just a few prompts. And, we learned in the educational showcase and from the questions after the lecture, that our faculty and students are working to create just those kinds of AI learning tools at the college.

The steel is going up for the expansion of our Flint Campus. We expect to be in the building in about a year!

I am sad to inform you that we have lost Dr. E. Hill De Loney, who was an innovator of community-based participatory research for us and for the country.  Her leadership changed the direction of public health as a field, as well as how it is organized at a national level.  Her mentee, Ms. Ella Greene-Moton from the Flint community, is currently President of the American Public Health Association. Dr. De Loney’s leadership in the Flint community encompassed Community Based Organization Partners (CBOP), which was an early partner in our public health expansion. Dr. De Loney and her team – including Dr. Kent Key, who is now faculty in the college – met with Jeff Dwyer and Jerry Kooiman as they led our early community engagement. From there she helped us design our research, search for scholars, and recruit faculty. She was wonderful.

Over the years, I sat and listened with Dr. De Loney many times. She served as a mentor, sponsor, and colleague for so many of us, and she called on all of us to do the same for others. Perhaps the best way to learn more about her is for you to listen to her. She did a MSU Rx talk with Jennifer Johnson in 2015, and from that talk you learn about her calling, her drive, her intellect, her wisdom, and why she was such a remarkable leader and collaborator. She was tireless in her efforts to bring people together to learn from each other and make the world a better place. She would say, “The universe in me calls out to the universe in you – we are one.” Dr. De Loney, in the call and response that is down deep in the heart of this work, I hope we have responded with love and our own call, weaker and less eloquent than yours, but just as urgent: we are one.

Serving the people with you, Dr. De Loney,


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

60th Anniversary logo.


Dean's Update  Town Halls