Dean's Update

July 16, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


It’s time to talk about teaching. I did some regular, olde tyme teaching in a real classroom this week at the hospital during in-person didactics for internal medicine residents. And, on my last day of service, a Middle Clinical Experience student joined our team, which meant I got to help someone hear some of their first heart murmurs. As you all likely know, I like teaching, and it makes a very nice change from administrative…how should I say this…opportunities to excel.

The good folks in Student Affairs and the Shared Discovery Curriculum are putting the finishing touches on orientation for the new Early Clinical Experience (first-year) students who come for orientation on August 9. We will be meeting with students in-person, in classrooms, unlike last year’s virtual orientation. They will have in-person small and large group and, in order to be assigned to clinics, students will have to be vaccinated or have a medical contraindication to vaccination.

The second-year Middle Clinical Experience students are already back in simulation and on their rotations this month. (I need to finish this update, so I can read my prep materials for sim on Friday.) Although we will be returning to small group seminar rooms and large group classrooms, we never really left the simulation rooms during the pandemic.

Putting on simulation for 400 students a week is a little like staging a new musical each week. It is a huge effort for our folks. For the staff and faculty who run simulation, there is no returning to the office, because they never left in the first place. Our college runs the largest simulation program in the university and almost certainly in the state, if you measure by student hours per week, or cases, or student assessments. There are few medical schools in the country with simulation programs that can match the scope and intellectual sophistication of our program across Grand Rapids and East Lansing. It is extraordinary, and I want to say a very profound thank you to Matt Emery and his top-notch team who make this work every week, week after week.

Last week, I wrote a bit about the medical challenges that have resurfaced or come into better focus as COVID-19 cases have decreased this summer. As a case in point, the CDC released data on opioid overdose deaths this Wednesday. Last year, an astonishing 93,000 people in this country died of opioid overdose, and if you look at the trend line in the data release, 2020 was about 30% worse than 2019. Social isolation, reduced rehab opportunities, unemployment, and the overall challenges of the pandemic appear to be important contributors to the increase. In addition, deadly and illicitly produced fentanyl cut into other drugs appears to have spread to more parts of the country.

In Michigan, where fentanyl was already common in the drug supply, the increase in deaths was 16%. You can hear more about this subject, including interviews with those affected and addressing the opioid crisis in rural Michigan, in one of Julia Terhune’s This Rural Mission podcasts, “People Are People No Matter…” (It’s a great series, and we will miss you, Julia!) Each addiction, overdose, or death leaves a wake of trauma and damage across our communities. A second episode focuses on the impact of the opioid crisis on children, foster parents, and CPS workers who help them. The college has more scholars working on opioid issues than I can list here, and as a society we are going to need all of the science, health care, and love we can muster to solve this crisis.

Take care of yourself and those around you. Struggle abounds.

Wash your hands, and by all means, get vaccinated.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

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