Dean's Update

November 10, 2023 - Aron Sousa, MD


I begin close to the college. In the last two weeks, a patient threatened one of our students (he said, “Do I need to get my guns?”) in an overt episode of Islamophobia, and a man who threatened to bomb and shoot up the Shaarey Zedek Congregation, a synagogue in East Lansing, pled guilty in federal court. Our faculty in the clinic, Dr. Yalldo, protected our student and his staff and fired the patient from the clinic; our faculty and students at the local synagogue are also safe now.

Both of these examples of violent targeting threats come from the same extremist fringes of American society, but persecution, doxing, and discrimination can find a foothold across the political spectrum. These challenges are real, and I understand why our people are scared and feel threatened in our culture. Clinics and places of worship have security plans, but plans are only so reassuring when we are confronted with the threat of targeted violence. In our imperfect world, we need to find ways to keep moving forward with our education, patient care, and discovery. If you need help, we have support resources for you. I know these resources are not enough to provide safety or to address what an affected faculty member described as the need, “to address the fear, the dehumanization, and the trauma most of us have been experiencing.” This week students met with faculty from Student Affairs, and I know we need more opportunities to talk. Do not be an idle bystander, say something, provide support, tell someone.

I was at the AAMC national meeting last week, and the liveliest sessions focused on the role of college, university, and health system leaders issuing messages about social, world, and traumatic events. Frankly, there is no consensus about when deans and other leaders should comment on outside events that make it harder for us to study, learn, and provide service. I am well aware we have many staff, faculty, and especially students from Palestine and Israel. They and their families have faced fear and trauma stretching back generations that have expanded exponentially with the events of October 7 and the month since. Personally, I have watched in horror as civilians have been killed and injured. The toll on the thousands of children is particularly brutal and contrary to any civil purpose. As a physician, I imagine the desperation, trauma, and anger of my colleagues working in Gaza and any number of war-torn countries.

The college does not take cultural, scientific, or political positions, but our people do. My own opinions can tell you something about me as a person, but as the dean of the College of Human Medicine, I am here for all our staff, faculty, students, patients, research subjects, and community partners even, or especially, if they disagree with me or others in the college. All I ask is that we be good to each other. It is easy enough to be nice to people when you agree, but I especially ask that we be good to each other when we do not agree. Our main role in the world is to help others through the astonishing power of medicine, science, education, and advocacy; we need to start by looking out for each other, regardless of our differences.

As we have work to do in supporting our community in many ways, we also have work to do ‘at home’ in the college. Accreditation makes us look hard at ourselves as an institution, and the good news is, our MD program is accredited again!  This comes with some meaningful issues to address with medical student financial aid and student mistreatment before the LCME checks our MD program’s progress with a limited, virtual site visit in the Spring of 2025.

Some of our issues are simple to address. For example, our Health Access Partner program, which we set up before the 2006 site visit, ensures that medical students can get access to health care in their community and that they do not see someone who will grade them. This has worked for the last two site visits, but this time, the LCME wants us to have a policy document to that effect. So, we have written the policy document. We have several citations or areas of monitoring that involve similar and relatively simple work.

We also have some elements for which we must do real work or add resources to our effort:

  • Last year, we started the Early Mentors in Research Program (EMR-P) to provide research mentors for our ECE and MCE medical students. Each College of Human Medicine medical student is guaranteed two scholarly projects for their CV through the MD curriculum, but our students still struggle with finding extracurricular research mentors. The LCME site visit team acknowledged that this program was promising but wanted more data demonstrating its success. To that end, we are again seeking faculty mentors and will provide funding for projects.
  • Our medical students experience more sexist, racist, and demeaning events during their training than the national average. And, they feel we are not effectively dealing with those events. The MD program has robust reporting systems, and we track down, investigate, and address each report we can. We do significant training (and retraining) of faculty, staff, and students. Despite this, our students still have negative experiences, and we need to do a better job with our training and communication.
  • We need to be more responsive to medical student feedback about the MD curriculum and medical student experiences. We have a variety of surveys and committees that collect medical student feedback,. but there is room for us to put that feedback to more effective use. We also need to better communicate when curricular or clerkship changes are in response to medical student feedback, as curricular changes do not often happen in real time and subsequent classes are not aware of improvements.
  • Our medical student debt and financial aid issues are complex. The university did address the system failures that screwed up disbursements to professional students for three semesters in a row, but for many, those solutions came too late. Our medical student debt is quite high, although Dr. Beauchamp and others have successfully advocated for freezing tuition for medical students for the last several years. We need to address our debt management curriculum and financial services.
  • The LCME sees our medical student wellness and mental health support as inadequate, so we will work with students to add programs to better address these issues. We are also excited that Dr. Kelly Armstrong has joined our medical student affairs team to provide additional support for career mentoring and advising.

No one wants more accreditation work to do, but functionally, these are all issues that we will successfully address. We are extremely excited that Dr. Heather Laird-Fick has accepted the job of Assistant Dean for Accreditation and Program Evaluation, as she brings decades of evaluation and assessment experience—as well as new ideas and positive energy—to the role. I am certain that the LCME work we will do together will continue to make the college stronger and, in turn, will better support our community.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD, FACP


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