A Message from Dean Sharon Anderson to the School of Medicine
April 30, 2021
Dear School of Medicine Colleagues and Learners,
We have some difficult yet necessary work ahead. This last year has shown what we are capable of; we are channeling that energy to emerge better.
Sharon Anderson, M.D.
Dean, OHSU School of Medicine
March 16, 2021
The moments when I am most struck by what we have experienced with COVID-19 over this last year is when I see the elation of people getting vaccinated. It is a palpable sense of not only relief but gratitude, a recognition of the triumph of science and a feeling of accomplishment for getting to this moment amid such a devastating period. And it is thanks to so many of you who have been staffing the clinics that tens of thousands of Oregonians are experiencing this.
It makes me think about the ways in which this past year – March 23 marks one year on modified operations – showed us what we are capable of across missions and what we needed to focus on.
From the very beginning, COVID-19 has been a referendum on hate and polarization. Time and again we were reminded that division – including deplorable xenophobic blaming and attacks that persist here and nationally and that we must each take personal responsibility for calling out and shutting down – only served to distract from the intentional, science-based, organized and aggressive measures that were needed early on to contain the virus. And we saw, in such stark relief, the cost of our history of racism that has meant the health of one’s body became correlated with racial and ethnic identity.
Yet time and again, we were also reminded of the immense power of acting together. Just a few examples that point the way:
- The work of Drs. Donna Hansel Guang Fang and team who are partnering with the nonprofit Self Enhancement Inc. and others to test asymptomatic residents of a Northeast Portland neighborhood to provide them with valuable personal health information and to study the virus’s spread to help formulate public health policy, building trust in science as a vehicle to improve people’s lives.
- Our Center for Primary Care Research and Innovation has assembled a guide – a “vaccine in a box” - for other primary care teams across the country to offer COVID-19 vaccine clinics. Developed in partnership with the OHSU Family Medicine Scappoose team and Columbia County, the guide describes the Scappoose team’s experience creating a vaccine clinic from scratch in a rural health center and aims to make the experience easier for others.
- The OHSU Northwest Native American Center of Excellence, directed by Dr. Erik Brodt, and partners has created a series of culturally specific public service announcements funded by the federal CARES Act. They are primarily focused on COVID-19, including the newest one in which tribal physicians thoughtfully and compellingly dispel myths and educate about the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Several of our students have illuminated the impacts of COVID-19 on individuals with substance use disorder and the lessons that can improve care for many people. In an article published in the journal PLOS ONE , MD/PhD student Caroline King, M.P.H. and medical students Taylor Vega and Dana Button utilize the experiences of patients with substance use disorder who were hospitalized with COVID-19 as a case study for how understanding and addressing people’s basic needs, such as for access to a computer, phone or shelter, must be incorporated into patient care. Kelsey Priest, Ph.D., M.P.H., now completing her M.D., has also been a leader in transforming our approach to substance use disorder.
And a special call out to all our students who have persevered through modified operations. That includes our Ph.D. students who defended their dissertations in the virtual space and fully 77 percent of Med21 students who bounced back from cancelled clinical rotations last spring to complete med school early, on March 19, the same day they will learn the residency programs to which they matched. Simply outstanding.
Gratitude to the COVID-19 Wellness Task Force for organizing a time for reflection, integration and healing as a community. The event, “One Year of COVID-19, Remembering and Connecting,” is Tuesday, March 30 from noon to 1 p.m.
As we continue to care for COVID-19 patients and give vaccines; inform state policy and conduct research to manage the virus; educate and learn from our students, and articulate and act to eradicate the harmful structures and practices illuminated this past year, know of our immense pride and boundless belief in your excellence.
Sharon Anderson, M.D.
Dean, OHSU School of Medicine
September 23, 2020
We suffered the loss of a gladiator for justice Sept. 18. The death of the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg – on the first evening of Rosh Hashanah - has me focusing on the progress that individuals, and all of us working together within the great institutions of our country, can make toward equity.
I am channeling RBG as I consider how to navigate the at-times conflicting sentiments I am hearing about our work to understand and uproot the racial and other biases inherent in our institution.
Many faculty, learners, staff, and alumni are passionately supportive of our intensified focus on anti-racism. For many it is, quite viscerally, beyond time for change. Another refrain, however, has been a concern that in boldly owning and seeking to dismantle our racism, OHSU is shutting down dissent or narrowing “the marketplace of ideas,” because to question any of these beliefs or to do or say the wrong thing is to risk being called racist.
The truth is, I also fear letting my racism - inherent in all of us – show. Saying the wrong thing or acting without seeing my own blind spots. Yet instead of viewing our commitment to anti-racism as narrowing the marketplace of ideas, I think it is the opposite. More voices are at the table now, and we need to make room.
That doesn’t mean squeezing people in. It means setting a bigger table and summoning the courage to participate in real change. It starts with creating a welcoming environment, by being thoughtful about language and willing to hear things that may make us defensive or that we struggle to believe because they are outside of our personal experience.
I am not talking about suppressing debate with a blanket of politeness. I am talking about fostering a tenor of respect in order to encourage new ideas to come forward, recognizing how the way we show up may stop others from doing so. The forces that silence people are often invisible until we are on the receiving end.
I felt those forces as a woman coming up in a male-dominated profession. But my experience was nothing like RBG’s. Aspiring to practice law, she noted the three marks against her: she was a woman; she was Jewish; and she was a mother. Yet, she persevered to reach the highest honor an attorney can achieve in our country.
As women rose in the medical profession, women’s health improved. The American Medical Association recognized the contributions of Women in Medicine during September because, while of course we were not the only drivers, the growing number of providers and researchers who could bring first-hand experience to the bench and the bedside fueled change.
We have that same kind of opportunity now. COVID-19 laid bare what we already knew but, playing out on the nightly news, could not ignore: devastating disparities in who has stayed well and who has fallen ill; who has lived and who has died. Devastating disparities directly traceable by circumstance, directly traceable to race. Then when George Floyd survived COVID only to die from another disproportionate cause – police violence - our nation could no longer look away.
Making good on our ideals
If we are ever to make good on our ideals to advance health for all people, we need to hear all voices. I applaud, for example, leaders of the OHSU Latinos Unidos Employee Resource Group and the Latino Medical Student Association for raising awareness - amid Hispanic Heritage Month - about the specific barriers faced by Latino/Latinx communities devastated by the Rogue Valley wildfires; many of these families who propel Oregon agriculture or have built up small businesses lack a path to citizenship and don’t qualify for federal disaster relief.
I challenge us all to stop resisting the discomfort of this moment. Change doesn’t happen when we’re comfortable. Rather than being afraid of misspeaking, be humble. Listen. Learn.
I also challenge those further along on their anti-racist journey to avoid being self-righteous. Instead, look for educational moments. Again, be humble.
Meanwhile I, as your leader, will avoid confusing passion with stridency in my remarks. We need everyone in this dialogue; alienating people unnecessarily is not helpful.
And that’s really my point.
I am a defender of freedom of speech; I want to expand not contract it. I believe that the solutions to our most persistent health disparities will come from those whose voices have not always been heard.
This is our work. Our patients – and our colleagues, students and state - are counting on us.
Sharon Anderson, M.D.
Dean, OHSU School of Medicine
June 1, 2020
It has been one week since George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. As a country and a community, we are experiencing a special kind of pain: We have emerged from what we hope has been the worst phase of a frightening and deadly virus only to again confront an even more ingrained and pernicious one that continues to plague our society: racism.
It is really important at this time to reach out with respect and with kindness to our colleagues, learners, friends, neighbors and family members of color who experience these events with a singular level of anguish. For them, this experience is personal. For them, the rage, the fear, the very deep frustration does not recede with the news cycle. Do not tell them how you feel. Ask them what they need.
For those of us whose white privilege precludes visceral understanding, we can take action on our feelings of sadness by taking President Jacobs' suggestions to join conversations about race, listen to new ideas, declare an anti-racist stance with our friends, families and coworkers, and invite others to join us. I encourage you, if you have not had a chance, please read Dr. Jacobs' powerful statement from Saturday in which he also wrote:
"This crisis demands attention of us all — we cannot permit the loss of any more lives by sitting idly by and simply hoping for change. We must shatter the structural racism that perpetuates these cruel acts against people of color. The time to end racist-fueled discrimination and brutality is now."
We must look to our work as healers and to our commitment to public service as the channels for our emotion and the vehicles for change.
As a member of the medical profession:
- I SOLEMNLY PLEDGE to dedicate my life to the service of humanity;
- THE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING OF MY PATIENT will be my first consideration;
- I WILL RESPECT the autonomy and dignity of my patient;
- I WILL MAINTAIN the utmost respect for human life;
- I WILL NOT PERMIT considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient.
Take a moment to read the Oath; join us virtually on Sunday if this opportunity resonates with you or identify another reading or an activity that allows you to reflect and to make your own personal commitment to act against hate in our institution, our community and our country.
My thoughts are with you, the family of George Floyd and the families of so many before him.
Sharon Anderson, M.D.
Dean, OHSU School of Medicine
May 15, 2020
Colleagues in the School of Medicine,
This week I gained really helpful insight from listening to our OHSU Wellness Task Force leaders, most of whom are School of Medicine faculty, give Medicine Grand Rounds. They helped name what I’ve been feeling:
Fatigue and also some disillusionment.
As a leader, it’s hard to admit these feelings; sometimes I think it’s my job to focus solely on how noble, courageous and effective we’ve been. Indeed, we have been all those things; that’s why we’re fatigued. Maybe not just fatigued, maybe at times just plain exhausted. This, our faculty wellness leaders said, is normal. We just moved heaven and earth to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections in Oregon.
And that’s where disillusionment comes in, because you know what? The virus hasn’t gone away. It’s still in our community; it’s still impacting our lives, and we still need to cope. Oh, and we’re facing pay cuts and policy changes that are necessary to sustain the strength of the institution but are also really hard.
So here’s some advice from two of the task force leaders, Sydney Ey, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and associate director of the Resident and Faculty Wellness Program, and Megan Furnari, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and director of medical student wellness and leadership development:
- Allow yourself to slow down and notice the moments of connection all around us in your family and in nature. It is often the loud dissonant negative stories and narratives that play loudest. Can you hear the quieter connections and moments of joy too?
- Acknowledge the feelings of loss, frustration and worry that you may be experiencing and then try to slowly identify some new goals and regularly take steps towards them. A key part of building resilience is taking action toward goals that are important to you.
- Reflect on strengths you are discovering in yourself. Consider how to build on those strengths and look for new ways of growing and finding meaning in this experience.
- And if the first three bullet points just make you more tired, seek out a friend or schedule a tele-visit with a trained professional; options for doing that and many other resources for individuals, leaders and teams are offered on the OHSU COVID Wellness website.
I am proud of the task force, which also includes Andrea Cedfeldt, M.D., professor of medicine and assistant dean for faculty development; Abigail Lenhart, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, and M. Kai Roller, M.S.W., LCSW, social work manager, Care Management Division, OHSU Healthcare. They have marshaled an amazing array of resources including a wellness concierge service that will triage your needs from counseling to child care resources at 503-494-8800, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, staffed in part by our medical students. Talk about awesome.
There are also a lot of other awesome things going on in the school many of which are available on OHSU Now and the O2 calendar:
- Travel-Free CME: Wednesdays at noon. To help meet the needs of busy providers, the SoM Division of Continuing Professional Development has developed a series of weekly WebEx talks for primary care providers on pressing topics from PPE and testing capacity to comprehensive models for treating pain.
- Ramadan 101: Monday, May 18 at noon. This important webinar is put on by a medical student, Tajwar Taher, Med21, and dental student, Syed Umer, SOD21, with special guest neurosurgery resident Dr. Nasser Yaghi, offering all of us insight on the meaning and practices of Ramadan and how we can support our observant colleagues and patients.
- AMA Tribute to the M.D. Class of 2020, May 20, 4 pm PT: OHSU's own Dr. Esther Choo joins the likes of Dr. Anthony Fauci and current and former surgeon generals in this special American Medical Association tribute on their Facebook and YouTube channels. Don't miss this!
- OHSU Convocation and Hooding Ceremonies: The virtual OHSU Convocation is Sunday, June 7 at 10 a.m. The M.D. program will hold its virtual hooding ceremony at 11 a.m. In Graduate Studies, individual programs are planning their own ceremonies and celebrations.
- School of Medicine Honors & Awards: While we are unable to hold this special event this year, the school will announce all of the honorees in the M.D. and Graduate Studies programs in an OHSU Now story with an online PDF program in early June. Having had a sneak peek, I can say that we have really fantastic students and faculty receiving honors!
- State of the School: Please join me Wednesday, June 24, 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm for my virtual address, "Equity, Innovation and Service: Shaping Our New Normal around Positive Change." My address will also serve as our annual all-faculty meeting. I plan to make the hour worth your while, including honoring a faculty member with the first Dean's Award I've given since taking this role in 2017. I'm disappointed that we can't enjoy some in-person camaraderie afterward, but feel free to bring your own snacks and beverages; next year I hope they will again be on me.
Transitioning from modified operations
I also want to make sure that people are seeing and following the updates around our phased transition from modified operations, posted every Thursday on OHSU Now. OHSU Strategic Communications is now evaluating how to increase connection and updates in the coming weeks.
I know that there is anxiety, pent up frustration, eagerness and the whole gamut of emotion around these next steps. I thank you for your patience during this time and for abiding by the processes and requirements we are putting in place for the protection of ourselves, our patients, and our community. Transitioning from modified operations can only happen if we all follow the rules.
Racism has no place here
I want to leave you with what I view as one of the most important reminders and clarifiers of our work ahead that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic: the glaring, disparate impact of the virus on communities of color, and the racism and xenophobia that our colleagues and so many other community members continue to experience.
Thank you to a faculty member who brought to my attention the experience of two Asian American staff members who were openly disparaged in a Center for Health & Healing elevator this month by patients angry about having to wear masks in the building.
To those staff members: This racist behavior has no place at OHSU. I am sorry that this happened to you. Thank you for the care and service that you give to all patients and to OHSU every day.
Thank you to our medical students, who are honoring Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month by delivering care packages to elders in the community, many of whom have quarantined since the outbreak in China.
Thank you also to the OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion staff who continue to offer Unconscious Bias Training via WebEx and will soon offer Bystander Training OHSU-wide to educate how to appropriately intervene when racist incidents occur. Both of these trainings remain extremely important and timely.
And congratulations to Erik Brodt, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine, and the faculty, staff and students in the OHSU Northwest Native American Center of Excellence and partner organizations for creating an extremely compelling culturally specific public service announcement intended to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in Indian Country, which has been devastatingly hard hit by the virus.
Empowering all of our communities to thrive is the beginning of positive change.
Take time out for yourself this weekend. Stay safe. Be well.
Sharon Anderson, M.D.
Dean, OHSU School of Medicine
Apr 23, 2020
School of Medicine Colleagues and Students,
This week President Danny Jacobs shared some hard news about the budget actions we will need to take to maintain the stability of our workforce, and our ability to continue to lead and serve our state across all of our missions at this unprecedented time. Maintaining our workforce to the greatest extent possible is at the heart of this financial response plan to best position OHSU to continue supporting the health and well-being of Oregonians, and to remain a strong university post-recession.
These budget actions reflect careful thought, deliberation and collaboration with leaders across the institution, including my Dean’s Office leadership team and all of our department chairs. I not only stand by these actions, I am proud of and I appreciate the inclusive process that President Jacobs and Chief Financial Officer Lawrence Furnstahl led.
I also want you to consider that we will get through this time the same way we got to where we are now: together.
Achieving an incredible goal
Because of OHSU’s swift, definitive and comprehensive action to shift all of our focus and resources to prepare to care for patients with COVID-19, while also locking arms with state leaders to promote aggressive stay at home policies, we have achieved an incredible goal: we have flattened the curve. Untold lives have been spared.
This outstanding outcome comes at a deep financial cost. Yet at no time have we more powerfully demonstrated our commitment to our mission to advance the health of all Oregonians than now. We did it by banding together around a shared purpose, buoyed by President Jacobs’ pledge of full compensation through June 30, come what may.
Now we must go forward with that same shared resolve, even as we make sacrifices.
As Dr. Jacobs has stated, OHSU must and will navigate the pandemic and economic recession and then be prepared to succeed in a new world. I know we will do our part in the School of Medicine, because I have seen what you are made of.
Rocketing into tele-health
I have seen OHSU Practice Plan leaders and our clinical departments flip a switch and go from 1,100 tele-visits in February to 13,000 in March, far outpacing in-person visits for the first time ever, while partnering with nurses and healthcare team members to stand up a Connected Care Center now handling calls from patients, other providers, and residents across Oregon.
I have seen the Knight Cardiovascular Institute successfully complete the first heart transplant since reactivating our program, providing the patient safe and effective care even amid COVID-19.
I have seen Native American faculty leaders tell of the disparate impact of COVID-19 in Indian Country, just one part of a larger story - told in part by President Jacobs - about sharp, racial disparities starkly evident in this pandemic.
I have seen the Department of Pathology, led by Chair Donna Hansel, collaborating departments and institutes and the hospital lab staff, stand up a microbiology lab from scratch in 14 days to process COVID-19 tests, shortening the turnaround time from many days to 36 hours.
I have seen researchers and graduate students suspend their life’s work and temporarily shut down their labs to ensure the safety of our researchers, laser focus our support services on the clinical enterprise and repurpose their personal protective equipment, reagents and other supplies to the hospital.
I have seen educators set the pace nationally for removing medical students from clinical rotations while also shifting to virtual instruction across our programs, addressing the impacts on graduate students displaced from labs, attending to the needs of residents and fellows caring for patients, and graduating two-thirds of the M.D. Class of 2020, thanks to the new curriculum, while supporting a half dozen of them to help out by starting their residencies at OHSU immediately. (Check out the TIME magazine article!)
Meanwhile, I have seen the Continuing Professional Development Division and the Oregon Rural Practice-based Research Network (ORPRN) provide the information and counsel so crucially needed by primary care providers across the state, using the ECHO network to hold weekly COVID-19 calls attended by as many as 950 clinicians. Questions raised there are now fed into the FAQ used by the Connected Care Center and the public.
Students set the bar
And I have watched with admiration as our medical students, sidelined by the pandemic, offered child care for front-line healthcare workers, wrangled resources for individuals dealing with substance use disorder, and sewed hundreds of masks for vulnerable community members, while our physician assistant students leapt into community volunteering and advocacy for students and others experiencing impacts from the pandemic.
And on Wednesday, Administrative Professionals Day, I took a moment to consider how professionally and selflessly our administrative team members have transitioned to working from home, holding all of us up so that every accomplishment I’ve mentioned became possible. If you haven’t thanked your admin team, please do.
Kindness is a part of wellness; so is reflecting on your lessons learned. Thank you to those who have offered your reflections during this extraordinary time through the new OHSU Now feature called RISE; I encourage you to share your insights and stories. It feels good.
As we navigate the coming months and look to come out of modified operations in a safe manner across missions, know that at no time have I felt more proud than I do today to be at OHSU and to be among you in the School of Medicine.
We got this.
Sharon Anderson, M.D.
Dean, OHSU School of Medicine
Dec. 19, 2018
Kindness promotes wellness, and that’s why we wrapped up the calendar year with the Gratitude Tree Project in the School of Medicine.
The holiday season is also just a great time to reflect on the people and the values that make being at OHSU so rewarding and to spread that warm feeling we all get when we recognize and appreciate others.
The Gratitude Tree Project involved inviting colleagues to post messages of appreciation for each other in their departments or offices.
Many departments and programs responded and got really creative including Neurology, Neurological Surgery, several divisions of the Department of Medicine, the Dean’s office, the M.D. program and many more.
I especially love these:
- The OHSU Spine Center taped stars on a wall and called it “Spine Shout Outs!”
- Dermatology created a Snowflake Gratitude Wall in the CHH patient lobby
- The Division of Hospital Medicine decorated a beautiful Christmas tree
- The Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics created an “Espresso your Gratitude” display with little coffee cups for the messages
“I love you all”
The appreciation messages tell a story about what makes a workplace a community. Recognition of our administrative and support teams was a major theme.
Here are two from Dean’s office colleagues:
- “We are grateful for Sulma Ramos from the OHSU Housekeeping staff who keeps the Dean’s office so clean and nice.”
- “So grateful for the OHSU Catering Team! Always smiling, working hard to ensure all goes smoothly. You all Rock!”
I need to insert my own gratitude here: thank you to the Dean’s office admin team. Your professionalism and dedication allow us to provide the support that our faculty and departments deserve.
Targol Saedi, M.D., associate professor of medicine (hospital medicine), wrote several messages including this one that recognized Environmental Services: “The commitment to their work is inspiring and they do it with a smile.”
Linda Strahm, human resources director in the School of Medicine, recognized her team: “Thank you for your hardworking, customer-focused, great spirit!”
In the M.D. Program, Administrative Manager Emily Larson wrote: “I’m grateful for my caring, kind, funny, smart, hard-working co-workers. They make coming to work feel meaningful and fun!”
A Dermatology team member expressed gratitude for “having a job, a home and food.”
Among the Spine Shout Outs was a message to Elbert Mondaine, a medical assistant in the Spine Center whom his colleagues call “Elbs.” This shout out exemplifies so many of our coworkers especially in the health care mission:
“Thank you for all your help in clinic today and for all of the fires you put out daily; I couldn’t imagine anyone else in your role!”
Here’s one that was powerful in its simplicity: a Neurology colleague recognized fourth-year resident Victor Tseng, M.D., “for being an awesome doctor.”
Another Spine Shout Out was equally short and compelling: “I love you all!”
Grateful for opportunity to serve
Strong yet compassionate leadership was another theme. An especially moving tribute, that I feel describes all of our leaders who bring their best selves to work, was written by Arthur Vandenbark, Ph.D., professor of neurology, about Dennis Bourdette, M.D., professor and chair of neurology:
“Dennis has become a trusted friend and long-time collaborator who has given much to promote new therapies for MS. His guidance and enthusiastic support have helped to develop a great clinical and research department that is one of the best in the nation.”
But the theme that most distinguishes OHSU is our gratitude for the chance to make a difference in people’s lives. This one, written by James Clements, M.D., assistant professor of medicine (hospital medicine) and paraphrased here, really summed it up for me:
I’m grateful for the people at OHSU. Across the board, the values shown by the people I work with resonate with me. We find joy by connecting to our purpose of providing compassionate health care, teaching others to do this well, and researching new solutions to decrease suffering. I am energized by this place every day.
Allow me to add my appreciation for your work across missions and my special thanks to those who go above and beyond during the holiday season to take care of each other and to maintain our dedication to our patients, our research and our students. Please be sure to also carve out some time outside work for the things that bring you joy and restore your spirit for the new year.
Sharon Anderson, M.D.
OHSU School of Medicine