Dean's Update

November 18, 2022 - Aron Sousa, MD

Image of Dean Aron Sousa with text overlay that reads "MSU College of Human Medicine - Dean's Update".


Last weekend, the Association of American Medical Colleges met in person for the first time since 2019. We had faculty presenting there and at The Generalists in Medical Education annual conference that preceded the AAMC meeting by a few days. Meeting in person was a refreshing change from virtual conferences, which, let’s be honest, most of us attend while doing our regular work as we listen in to the conference. The AAMC meeting gave me a chance to connect with old colleagues and compare notes with other deans about challenges we all face.

The most powerful session of the deans’ meetings was a series of presentations by students who discussed concerns of AAMC student representatives about mental health, financial burdens, and learning environments. Their concerns were very much the same as we hear from our own students. The stresses of the pandemic have only heightened the challenges of medical school, and these trials are not borne equally by students. We all know COVID caused more illness and death in minority and underserved communities – medical students from these communities were more likely to have seriously ill family members or to lose loved ones to the pandemic. Students with more financial and familial resources are better able to afford to take a leave of absence when struggling or to get access to childcare or other support services. Add this to existing racism and microaggressions, and it becomes easy to understand how students with fewer resources faced more financial and personal stressors than majority and well-resourced students.

A common topic at the AAMC was student debt. Our college has worked to decrease the cost of medical school by reducing semesters in the curriculum, adding curricular flexibility to reduce extensions, and choosing books that are available as electronic resources and free to students from the MSU library. Those changes are helpful, but there is no replacement for scholarships. You can help us reduce student debt by giving to a scholarship fund during our Giving Tuesday effort. Each year for the last three years, the College of Human Medicine has set records for Giving Tuesday. You can help us set another record this year by giving to the scholarship fund between now and Tuesday, November 29.

For the last several weeks, I have been writing about a pillar of our proposed strategic plan. In today’s Town Hall, I went through the whole plan, and I will do so again at the Fall Faculty Meeting on November 29. Close readers will notice that, while the first pillar of the plan is Student Success, throughout the plan there are student-focused goals for more research opportunities, including students in health equity programming.

For the benefit of our students, the strategic work of the college ranges from student debt to research opportunities, to curriculum, to improving student wellness, to reducing and addressing student mistreatment. We must address these issues for our graduate students, our MPH students, our MD students, and the baccalaureate students who take our courses. The truth is, the college has many students who will benefit from our dedication and service. The Student Success pillar begins with a very general overarching goal: Ensure that all students graduate satisfied with their education, with a lower debt burden, and prepared to enter a variety of health and medical careers. Then, we continue into more specific goals and strategies. As you read those goals and strategies, I want to be clear that these are goals and strategies for all students and programs unless they are specifically directed toward one program.

  • Goal 1: Increase the percentage of students who meet academic milestones and graduate satisfied with their education. 
    • Strategy 1: Enhance the proactivity of academic support.   
    • Strategy 2: Expand student access to non-academic and personal support.  
  • Goal 2: Lower the debt burden to students.  
    • Strategy 1: Increase student scholarships and other funding opportunities.  
    • Strategy 2: Capitalize on the medical degree’s competency-based flexibility so students can complete the MD degree requirements in less than -four  years.
  • Goal 3: Recruit, engage, and support diverse students into varied career pathways and specialties. 
    • Strategy 1: Broaden student exposure to career exploration.  
    • Strategy 2: Strengthen mentorship for students from diverse backgrounds.  
    • Strategy 3: Increase opportunities for students to engage in research and scholarship.  
    • Strategy 4: Create an academic medicine pathway program for medical students and residents.
    • Strategy 5: Advance our reputation as a premier training ground for future clinicians and graduate degree trained professionals from diverse backgrounds interested in a variety of career pathways and specialties. 

These are not the only goals or strategies we can employ in advancing student success, and no doubt there is more we will do over the years of the plan. A strategic plan has to be a living document as we implement efforts to reach our goals. Our implementation team will be working on metrics, described in today’s Town Hall, as we move from the proposed plan toward implementation.

The strategic planning committee created a clear vision for our work. Early in this update I outlined the struggles many of our students face. You will notice that the strategies under the first goal (more students meeting academic milestones and being satisfied) are not about pushing students harder or admitting different students, rather our strategies focus on better support of our students. No one can learn when they are not in a position to learn. We count on our graduates to do great work in the world, and to make that possible, we must continually work to improve their experience.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD FACP



Dean's Update  Town Halls