From the dean: We work with amazing people, doing amazing things

November 8, 2017


Dr. Sharon Anderson

We teach our medical students to get to know their patients as people but, too often, we fail to do that in our working relationships. I was reminded of that last month when I read the memorial message and attended the service for Doug Weeks, M.D., professor and former chair of pathology, who died Oct. 16 of complications from familial hemochromatosis.

I knew Doug from academic administrative interactions and later as a fellow department chair. He was a kind and thoughtful man. But I never knew he was an enthusiastic amateur astronomer and eclipse chaser. With his wife and fellow faculty member Richelle Malott, M.D., he regularly watched the skies when Oregon weather permitted. They got up early or stayed up late to see conjunctions and interesting alignments of planets and stars, and tracked several fly-bys of the International Space Station (a couple of times when the shuttle was attached). They viewed the skies from the Concorde and watched a total eclipse from a cruise with their then-six-week old daughter. A photo of this youngest eclipse watchers was even published in Sky and Telescope magazine. On Aug. 21 this year, Doug viewed the (almost) total eclipse from his hospital bed.

Doug was also a fellow Star Trek fan, and autumn was his favorite season. On the morning of Oct. 16, when Richelle saw that it would be a beautiful autumn day and that the days to follow would be rainy and dreary, she texted their daughters with a quote from Worf, Star Trek Next Generation: "Today is a good day to die."

She and Doug had often laughed about Worf's quote in various permutations. Richelle told their daughters that she thought Dad would stop breathing that day. He died at 1:41pm. He would have appreciated the reference and been glad that his family could deal with the immediate shock and mourning of his passing on a day with a clear blue sky and golden leaves.

So: get to know your colleagues; we work with amazing people.

Staying connected

Knowing our colleagues is partly about listening. And that's something I will be doing more of as we both solidify our focus and priorities for the school for this academic year and beyond and begin to contemplate a transition to a new university president. Whenever possible during chairs' and other regular meetings, we will set aside time for open discussion so that I stay connected with what is on your mind. I will also be organizing listening sessions in coming months to learn the challenges and opportunities in the school that you see from your vantage point. You can also always share these insights with me via email.

I want to recognize our basic science chairs for already engaging me. In the October Basic Science Council, they shared their concern that few women and no basic science chairs were on the search committee for Chief Scientific Officer/Vice Dean for Research. I have now appointed Bita Moghaddam, Ph.D., chair of behavioral neuroscience, and Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., chair of cell, developmental and cancer biology, to the search committee. No, I won't always snap my fingers and do what you ask. But where I can and believe I should, I will.

Celebrating our victories

Knowing our colleagues is also about celebrating our victories. We have so many great people and so much great work being recognized. To mention just a few examples, the Oregon Medical Association named our own Don Girard, M.D., professor emeritus, Doctor-Citizen of the Year. Norman Cohen, M.D., professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine, received the 2017 Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Anesthesiology. "The Doctor Fix: A New Era of Modern Medicine" documentary aired last week on PBS, featuring our transformed M.D. curriculum, including a cameo by our late Dean Mark Richardson. And students across OHSU, including our M.D. students, brought free care to the community during Health Equity Week, garnering great TV coverage.

Our clinical enterprise is also doing some important work. I joined John Hunter, Mitch Wasden and Anthony Masciotra to roll out the strategic plan for the clinical mission at the first quarterly leadership meeting Oct. 27.

Our OHSU Practice Plan and the hospital have come up with core goals, strategies and metrics that make sense and provide a clear focus. And I applaud the concrete behaviors around engagement, accountability and dedication to our mission embedded in the culture vision that Mitch and the team laid out.

Serving those who served our country

A final recognition before I close. Saturday, Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.

Increasingly, the Veterans Affairs Health Care System is investing in "grow your own" initiatives to ensure health care providers for those who have served our country. The School of Medicine's Physician Assistant Program is a part of this effort.Photograph of a Naval officer

The physician assistant profession dates to the 1960s when medics returning from Vietnam wanted a way to use their skills to continue in the medical profession. Now one of our P.A. students, Rick Sander, a former Navy Corpsman/medic, has become our first to receive a VA scholarship that pays for his schooling in exchange for his commitment to practice with the VA. Welcome and congratulations, Rick! 

I also want to thank our 90 faculty members who have joint appointments with OHSU and the VA Portland Health Care System. They, like I, care for patients or conduct research in the VA. My work includes continuing to drive to Roseburg monthly to care for patients in the VA renal clinic there as I've done for the past 19 years. As any of us can tell you, it is immensely rewarding to give back to those who gave to our country. (I'll share more in an OHSU News Hub Viewpoint piece later this week.)

Thanks for all you do.

Sharon Anderson, M.D.

OHSU School of Medicine