Dean's Update

October 1, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


MSU is celebrating Homecoming this week. After 18 months of pandemic COVID-19 and several months of endemic COVID-19, every time I return to one of our workplaces, it feels like a homecoming.

On the East Lansing campus, baccalaureate students are so happy to be back. Most days I am in East Lansing, I walk to the local coffee shop at some point in the day, and in the first couple of weeks of the semester, I had a few, random, MSU students greet me with a smiling “Hi, professor!” They had no idea who I was, other than a grey-haired guy with an MSU lanyard. That had never happened before in my time here, and now that we are a few weeks into the semester, they have figured out that a guy in a necktie is probably not a person doing a lot of teaching.

In a variation of homecoming, I made my first trip to the Division of Public Health in Flint since President Stanley’s visit last May. It was nice to be in the same room with faculty and staff to talk about their great work, what they need as we come into endemic COVID, and to discuss short- and long-term opportunities. Their work has continued or increased during the pandemic. The people of the division have been working to decrease COVID-19 disparities and expand public health training.

Our public health colleagues are doing great work in difficult circumstances across the state and country. I was saddened to read that the contract for the long-standing medical director of the Grand Traverse County Health Department was not renewed shortly after criticizing the county Board of Commissioners/County Health Board (in Traverse City one committee does both roles) for preventing the health department from requiring COVID-19 vaccination or testing for health department workers.

This continues the political pressure and sometimes physical threats faced by our public health officials. We’ve come to a place where supporting vaccine mandates, which have an American history dating to General George Washington, can get a public health worker removed from their post. (I’ll note that Washington actually ordered inoculation with smallpox, which is genuinely dangerous compared to vaccination with one of the remarkably safe COVID-19 vaccines.)

In truth, the threats and harassment of health care workers started increasing well before the pandemic. In the seven years leading up to 2018, workplace violence against health care workers increased by about 30%. Health care workers are five times as likely as other workers to be the victims of workplace violence.

In the time of the pandemic and in the era of social media, these threats and harassment have become worse. In surveys of physicians, 23% report being personally attacked online. Harassment and threats of health care staff worldwide may have increased 50% during the pandemic.

In a 2020 survey, 20% of US nurses reported an increase in violence on the job related to the pandemic. As most of you know, I make visits to clinics, and in a visit this summer to a clinic, all the front office staff reported a nearly daily problem with patients angry and abusive about masking rules.

I am just saddened to my core by these events. From my brief brushes with this phenomenon in responses to updates and in hospitals, I think this is more pervasive and more painful than the surveys reveal. This is a dreadful comment on our times, and all most of us can do is offer support and back-up. The deans of the state’s medical schools have offered their own support in an opinion piece in the Detroit Free Press published online today. The point of the deans’ writing was to support all of those who stand up for the health of the public. It is noble work, and our colleagues in public health, nursing, and at the front desk all deserve our appreciation and gratitude.

Please wear your mask, support vaccination, and be good to each other.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

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