From the dean: Speaking up when you have something to say

Dr. Sharon AndersonDecember 5, 2017


I've been thinking this month about what it means to find your voice, how important storytelling is and how the ability to speak up and speak out is core to the university culture.

OHSU President Joe Robertson has become the teller of OHSU's story through his Directlines. In his latest last week, he reflected on the collegial culture of OHSU and the importance of preserving that. Faculty voice is a crucial part of that culture. I want to thank our faculty for all you do to share your views and create a dialogue with leadership when a dialogue is needed.

Speaking of Joe's Directline, I want to congratulate Dr. John Hunter on his new role as executive vice president and CEO of OHSU Health System. I know it might feel like we need more leadership change like a hole in the head, but let's step back a minute. OHSU is expanding. We are in the process of finalizing an agreement with Adventist Health Portland to integrate our clinical activities and services in the Portland metro area. We will be expanding our residency slots in communities across the state. We need our leadership structure to evolve to meet these challenges. Standing still is not an option. Joe's appointment of John in this position is clear affirmation of our collective recognition of the importance of having a faculty-led organization, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with John in his new role.

In the last week, we've also seen our graduate students find – and use – their voices. We have 227 Ph.D. students in the School of Medicine. Because many of them are toiling away in labs, they sometimes feel invisible. Yet when the federal tax bill took aim at their (and our) way of life – jeopardizing the graduate student tuition tax waiver that would render staying in school unaffordable for many – they stepped into the spotlight with a Graduate Student Organization-sponsored letter-writing campaign and on Dec. 6, in the Research Courtyard, the noontime #SaveGradEd rally.

While the U.S. Senate passed its version of the tax bill in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Dec. 2 Eastern Time, it's still possible that the graduate school tuition tax waiver could be reinstated during the reconciliation process with the House bill. OHSU is working with Oregon's Congressional delegation, the AAMC and institutions around the state to apply pressure on this and other aspects of the legislation. If the tax waiver is in fact repealed, OHSU will look at how to cushion the blow. But our students have made it clear: that waiver won't go down without a fight.

On Saturday morning, not many hours after the Senate vote, I attended an event called Strength Through Stories, led by the OHSU chapter of the American Medical Women's Association. It was a networking and mentoring workshop intended to help address the attrition of women in STEM fields as they progress in their careers. The focus was on reclaiming the stories that underlie every aspect of science and medicine, yet tend to get lost in our focus on data.

I was invited to share the story of my career path. I advised attendees to figure out their passions and then seek opportunities, being open to possibilities not previously considered; there is no GPS in life. My circuitous route from political science major to physician scientist is a testament to that. It wasn't until I suffered a traumatic injury while attempting to find my way after college that I realized I wanted to be a doctor. Lying in a hospital bed for a period of many weeks gave ample pause for reflection. After you get past the pain part, being a patient in the hospital is really boring. I was struck by the kinetic energy of my medical team, how much they seemed to thrive on what they do and were happy learning and serving their patients, despite working all hours of the day and night.

My story is not unlike that of some of the women who organized Saturday's event. Mollie Marr is an M.D./Ph.D. student who started out as a theater arts major. And it's no accident that she was also an organizer of the Graduate Student Organization's letter-writing campaign to Congress last week. She took on a lot of tasks to support that campaign, but perhaps the most powerful was sharing her story: without the tax waiver, she estimates she would have $500 a month to live on.

"I am more than willing to sleep on couches and find a way to make it work," she told our School of Medicine communications team, "but I would not be able to cover the cost of my asthma medications and still have money remaining for food."

OHSU is at a crucial moment in its story. As Dr. Robertson hands the reins to a new president, each of us plays a role in making that a story not only of continued, strategic growth, but of continued focus on, and stewardship of, who we are as Oregon's only academic health center. So use your voice. Not just to hear yourself speak, but to contribute when you have something to say.

This holiday season, I am feeling inspired by our students, faculty and staff. It is an honor and a privilege to serve alongside you.

Sharon Anderson, M.D. 

OHSU School of Medicine