September Letter from the Dean

September 3, 2014

Dear Colleagues,

The start of an academic year is always an exciting time when fresh energy and new faces give us a renewed sense of commitment to the calling that has brought us here.

Stanford Medicine's calling is fulfilled every day, both in the care we provide to our patients and in the ways we stretch beyond the walls of a typical academic medical center. Our impact is greatly accentuated by the confluence and diversity of talents represented in our faculty, students, residents, fellows, and staff. From elucidating the structure of complex proteins to developing new treatments for cancer to unlocking information embedded within massive quantities of data to improving systems of care delivery, the areas of inquiry pursued by our investigators are enormous. These areas are increasingly related, and innovations in one field frequently lead to unanticipated benefits in others. The depth of interactions and collaborations that exist at Stanford make ours the ideal environment for producing transformative advances.     

Advancing our ambitious vision of improving human health and leading the biomedical revolution requires that Stanford Medicine become a more integrated organization. This spring, we concluded a very exciting and productive series of joint strategy meetings that incorporated departmental leaders and hospital CEOs, Amir Rubin and Christopher Dawes.  Collectively, we have elevated our commitment to patient-centered care that is effective, efficient, and equitable to become one of our highest priorities. And our growing unity also shows in a refreshed, coordinated brand identity.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the white coat and stethoscope ceremony for our incoming class of 90 MD students. Selected from among more than 7,000 applicants, this remarkable group includes Rhodes scholars, PhDs, and NCAA varsity athletes. They are a diverse group, and I am proud that for the first time we have been able to offer financial aid to our international students and full-tuition scholarships to our most financially needy students, demonstrating our strong commitment to diversity and excellence.

In giving my welcome to these students, I recalled the remarks made by the Dean of Medicine when I entered medical school. He began by telling us that though we were accustomed to success, we would soon become accustomed to failure. We would sometimes not be able to prevent our patients from experiencing poor outcomes. And if that weren’t failure enough, the final outcome, he assured us, was always death.

It was a sobering reminder of the sacred responsibility of a physician, and the importance of cultivating a sense of humility, of awe, and of respect for this responsibility. Through conversations and examinations, physicians learn the most intimate details about their patients’ lives and bodies. Patients trust their physicians, and physicians must always work to earn and sustain that trust.

My point in these welcoming remarks to our students was not to remind them of the frailty of humanity but of the possibilities of human imagination and compassion. It’s hard to be gloomy in a place filled with so much opportunity. Students come to Stanford believing they can change the world—and they do.

There is much to be optimistic about here at Stanford Medicine. Here is where the great minds in biomedicine gather to dream up a better future, as they did at the big data conference last May. Here is where the nation’s brightest young minds come to learn to be leaders, as they did on July 1 when Stanford Medicine welcomed 371 new residents and fellows. And here is where the most innovative minds come to make discoveries and translate cures, like Maria Grazia Roncarolo who joined us this summer to lead a new Division of Pediatric Translational and Regenerative Medicine.

I will have the pleasure later this month of meeting another group of outstanding students at the lab coat ceremony for the 135 incoming Biosciences PhD students. With a record number of admitted students accepting their offers to Stanford—an unprecedented 64 percent—this PhD cohort is our largest yet. Among them are 24 members of underrepresented minority groups, another record. As I greet these remarkable students, I will again be filled with optimism and excitement. Their time here will change the way they think and see the world. There is a transformative power to this place.

The students in this group will engage in a broad range of research activities. During their careers they will uncover fundamental mysteries of biology, develop new technologies, and advance the treatment and prevention of disease. We will encourage their high-risk, high-reward ideas by giving them what they need to be innovative: time to succeed over the long term and freedom to go where the research leads. Here at Stanford we are drawn to the most difficult problems, and the advances we seek are not incremental but paradigm shifting.

In my role as dean, I am often asked to give presentations about leadership. I welcome the opportunity to share my passion for diversity, my experience that vision is the result of listening and learning, and my conviction that an integrated organization is greater than the sum of its parts. Among these observations about leadership is my belief in the importance of cultivating future leaders, something we do every day in our educational programs and is an area of increased focus at the faculty level.

With this in mind, we have enhanced our faculty development programs and this summer launched the Stanford Medicine Leadership Academy with a diverse set of 15 individuals from all faculty lines. The program is designed to give them the experiences they need to develop that potential. Expect to hear more about faculty leadership development in my future letters.

It was a pleasure to see so many members of our community at our “reverse” town hall last June and to answer your questions on a broad range of subjects, including the cost of housing, organizational transparency, strategies to recruit and retain women and minority faculty, and postdoc benefits. I look forward to continuing to answer your questions during future town halls, the next of which will be on September 24 in Berg Hall from 11 a.m. to noon. Please mark your calendars. Until then, I wish you a restful end to the summer and an exciting start to the academic year. Thank you for all that you do to make Stanford Medicine such a collaborative, diverse, and innovative place.

With warmest wishes and deepest appreciation,

Lloyd Minor

Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the School of Medicine
Professor of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery
Professor of Bioengineering and of Neurobiology, by courtesy