Dean's Update

November 4, 2022 - Aron Sousa, MD


Today, President Stanley turned over the keys of the university to Interim President Woodruff. We all welcome Dr. Woodruff to the role and look forward to her leadership, but we will miss Sam. As I have written before, I deeply respect his dedication to higher education and thoughtful approach to leading the university. He was committed to leadership with integrity as he served, and he demonstrated just as much integrity as he stepped away.

If you have not had the chance to meet Interim President Woodruff, you will be impressed when you do. She is engaging and friendly with a straightforward manner, even while she leads during difficult times. Dr. Woodruff is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and, as you might imagine, her science is outstanding. Her dedication to the place of scholarship, and particularly medical science, in society and as a path to improving people’s lives is core to her work and the values she uses to guide her formidable energies. Considering the limitations of COVID, she has been deeply engaged with our communities and has made visiting MSU’s collaborators around the state a priority. Her focus and priorities are a natural match with the college’s history and future.

We can continue our ongoing work because of the engagement and support of our EVP for Health Sciences, Norman Beauchamp Jr., MD (CHM ’90). Norm’s performance as dean and his sponsorship of the health colleges as EVP in the highest parts of the university have made a world of difference to us over the last six years. You can see his work in the new buildings and programs in Grand Rapids and the partnership with Henry Ford Health. His sponsorship has been required for our work in Flint and with the new programs we are developing in Detroit. I am convinced we are in good hands.

Just a reminder that the election is next week, and it is excruciatingly important for people to vote! You can still go to your city, village, or township clerk’s office to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, and vote early. In Michigan you do not need an excuse to vote absentee.

And, not to say that our political process has become stressful, but the college does have regular mindfulness sessions, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9 a.m. By all means attend if you have the inclination.

Our mindfulness programming is an attempt to be useful to our colleagues. Part of supporting our people is recognizing their dedication and excellence. To that end, the Dean’s Support Staff Advisory Committee created a set of awards for support staff in the college. So much of the work and engagement of the college depends on the talent and commitment of people in these support staff roles. I would like to take this opportunity to announce the recipients of this year's inaugural Exceptional Support Staff Award. There were a number of quality nomination packets, which shows how many dedicated and hard-working people support our units, college, and the university. Please take a moment to congratulate the two winners and four honorable mention recipients below:

  • Exceptional Support Staff Award winners: Christy Knickerbocker and Mindy Nienhouse
  • Honorable Mention: Kimberly Anderson, Tiffany Ceja, Lori Dunivon, and Amy Nienhouse

Congratulations and thank you!

Over the next few weeks, we will complete the last draft of the college’s new strategic plan. I will review the plan in detail during the November 18 Town Hall and discuss it again at the Fall Faculty Meeting on November 29. In brief, the plan has nine strategic goals across four main areas: Student Success, Faculty and Staff Success, Healthy Communities, and Research and Scholarship. Those nine goals also create two main themes across the four main areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and Improving Health Equity. Over the next few weeks, I will write about those main themes, but today I want to focus on our opportunity to issue a grand challenge to the college.

Our strategic plan proposal will include bundling some of the nine goals as a grand challenge to the college to improve health equity. The strategic planning task force had a series of conversations about whether the college should have a grand challenge at all, and, if so, what that challenge should be. In the end, the struggle to improve health equity was felt to be at the core of what a health college should do, especially one engaged in improving health in communities around the state. We could have had another goal or area of focus, but the grand challenge was felt to be a larger calling and more likely to focus our efforts.

The challenge is constituted by a significant number of the goals and strategies within the plan. Some of the nine goals, like attracting diverse students in our degree programs, and some goal strategies for supporting students, like strengthening mentorship of students from a diverse background, are long-term efforts to improve the clinical, scientific, and public health workforce that will bring about more equitable care. Other goals, like the one challenging us to make health equity research a specialization of the college, are focused on improving the science directing the work of public health and health care.

Finally, one goal in our Health Communities area will push the college to advance clinical and public health efforts that reduce health disparities more directly for people now struggling to be healthy. The advancing health equity grand challenge will direct our long-term and short-term attempts to improve health equity across communities and populations.

Importantly, this grand challenge will force us to integrate the biomedical sciences, clinical care, and public health. The biomedical sciences have been advancing discovery at an astonishing rate, and the health care community has been deeply focused on quality of care for two decades. And there are successes – quality focused initiatives can reduce line infections to near zero, and the COVID-19 vaccines surely saved millions of lives across the world. And yet, life expectancy for Americans has been essentially flat since 2010 and down since 2019, due mostly to COVID-19. There are many reasons life expectancy is not improving, beyond the pandemic, and I think we must better integrate public health with all of the biomedical and clinical sciences to help the people around us have healthier, better lives. We are on that path, and the college is well placed to help lead the work.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD FACP


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