Dean's Update

November 12, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


By and large, I try to keep our in memoriam news in the obituary section of the college’s website, but this last week, we lost Ralph Watson, MD, and I am going to make use of the interim dean’s prerogative to say a few words about Ralph.

Dr. Watson was a mentor to me and so many others, a great colleague, and a friend. He graduated from the College of Human Medicine in 1975 and, while here, he helped the national organization Student National Medical Association (SNMA) become independent of the National Medical Association, as well as helping found our local SNMA chapter. Dr. Watson also helped found the Mid-Michigan Medical Society, which was focused on advancing the work and opportunities of African American physicians in the Mid-Michigan area.

For most of my career, I don’t think I knew much about Dr. Watson’s activism. I knew him as an incredibly good and thorough internist and specialist in hypertension. As I recall, Ralph came to MSU to be a chemistry graduate student but was convinced by the College of Human Medicine dean to become a physician, and then our college specifically recruited him back after he finished his residency at the University of Cincinnati. There are key lessons in his career about mentoring, sponsorship, and recruiting that we should remember and repeat more often.

I always enjoyed talking about chemistry with Ralph, and I know he missed the lab when his career took him more deeply into the clinic. He wanted to get back to the lab, and when the college invested in a hypertension group in the mid aughts, he got the chance. I did not get the opportunity to spend as much time with Ralph as I would have liked, but he was clearly so delighted and proud of the science and grants he got in the third act of his career. Even when he retired, he was still doing some lab work. I delight in his work, and I appreciate that the college and department found a way for Ralph to get back to the lab. While I will miss him, I will always appreciate him and his remarkable career.

A part of systematically supporting faculty who do research and who want to do research is providing internal grants to fund early investigations. This week the Henry Ford + MSU partnership announced a new internal granting program, the “2022 Cancer Funding Opportunity” with pilot grants and larger integration grants available. Each two-page letter of intent has to include at least one Henry Ford investigator and one MSU investigator as co-leads.

We have a similar program with Spectrum Health, which began last year at the MSU-Spectrum Alliance. This program has the same purpose and format, although the grants have been larger. To submit an Alliance grant, teams must include both an MSU and a Spectrum co-lead among other potential collaborators. For more information on the MSU-Spectrum or HFHS+MSU grant opportunities, please contact Jeff MacKeigan.

In each of these cases, the program goal is to advance work toward useful discoveries and external support, particularly NIH and/or NCI grants. To help facilitate this progress, these internal grants are reviewed with a process people will recognize from the NIH and the NCI. Please contact the College of Human Medicine research office for guidance and more information.

Veterans Day was this week, and I want to take a moment to thank all veterans for their service to our country – and especially thank those veterans among our students, staff, faculty, and alumni. One of the most powerful and special parts of our commencement is the promotion ceremony, when our armed forces graduates enter their branch of the service as an O3. Beyond my appreciation for our veterans, it is shocking to me that veterans often have so many struggles getting health care. And, it is worth noting that health disparities and veteran status are complicated by intersectionality for which there is a meaningful, fascinating literature.

A quick look at the Kent County Health Department COVID-19 dashboard demonstrates a remarkable westside COVID surge. Ingham County and the state as a whole are only in marginally better shape. Vaccination and masking are our path out of this prolonged, pathetic mess. Last month, I took care of people younger than 50, who were hospitalized with COVID-19 – it was sobering. The virus is just a little bit of chemistry; it really does not care whether you think you are healthy or not. If you have questions, we have people who can answer them. Check out the town hall on vaccines, including boosters and vaccines for kids.

Please be sure you and yours are vaccinated, wear your mask, and be careful.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

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