Dean's Weekly Message

December 7, 2020

Dear colleague:

As we face another surge in COVID-19 cases, our resolve continues to be tested and our resources will again be stretched. “The reality is that December, January, and February are going to be rough times,” Robert Redfield, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a livestream presentation hosted last week by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

Despite this grim outlook, we are in a better position today than we were in the spring to address these challenges. First of all, through the initial phase of this pandemic, you have already demonstrated an exceptional commitment to providing care, conducting research, maintaining operations, and helping one another. Many of you have made significant sacrifices, but by sharing the burdens, we have lightened the load for one another. The coordination of our efforts has been a major source of strength. Another factor that has changed since the spring: Experience. This coronavirus is less novel than it was 10 months ago. We are not as surprised by the path it takes when patients are infected. While we are still working to find the best treatments, some forms of treatment seem to offer relief, the proportion of patients in intensive care is reduced, and vaccines to prevent infection are on the way.

Our clinical settings are adapting too. In the spring, the uncertainty about the disease and the shortages of supplies disrupted hospitals and closed clinics. We and our hospital partners are striving to avoid the extremes that we faced in the spring. I want to commend our fourth-year medical students for responding to a call to serve in team-support roles in critical care and floor units at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. Shortly before Thanksgiving, Senior Associate Dean for Education Shanta Zimmer, MD, asked for volunteers from the class. By Thanksgiving morning, all shifts were filled and the list of times to cover was expanded through January. Those shifts were soon filled too. Allowing students to remain in the hospital is a major change from the spring when shortages of personal protective gear led to restrictions.

Our residents and fellows, similarly, deserve recognition for their contributions during this current surge. Just as in the spring, residents and fellows have been called to expanded roles. In late November, we provided a declaration of pandemic emergency status to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. That status allows for assigning residents and fellows to clinical care responsibilities where they are most needed. So far, this status has been less disruptive to our residents and fellows than it was in the spring. For now, most have been able to work in their core specialty and stand ready to assist as case numbers are expected to rise.

This coronavirus is highly infectious and remains uncommonly deadly, so we cannot lapse in our efforts to minimize the risks of exposure. All previous guidance still applies: Wear a mask, avoid gatherings, wash your hands often. You have shown great determination throughout the pandemic. Keep it up. We are doing everything possible to maintain safe spaces to work and learn. Our research laboratories are working a reduced capacity, and they serve as a model for how to reopen with low risk. The University’s COVID-19 Resources webpage has a host of resources posted. Use it. Ask for help when you need it.

The White Coat 4 Black Lives student group annually leads a die-in on campus to commemorate the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and to honor previous generations for the sacrifices made and adversities faced, and to acknowledge the racial discrimination and social injustice in our communities and in the lives of the people we care for. This year, December 6, the anniversary of the ratification, falls on a Sunday and at a time when gathering in groups should be discouraged to avoid risks related to spreading COVID-19. Instead of organizing an in-person campus gathering, our students and their allies paused at 1 p.m. for 13 minutes yesterday to call attention to the cause. Social media posts document their call to action. If you did not participate yesterday, it is not too late to do your part. The cause of justice and equality must be engaged every day and the time is always right to do what is right.

The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education last month reaffirmed the accreditation of the CU Physical Therapy Program. The decennial re-accreditation process is a major task in usual times. That the program successfully completed the process during a program leadership transition, global pandemic, and a period of social unrest is a significant accomplishment. Congratulations to Michael Harris-Love, PT, MPT, DSc, director of the program, and all members of the team.

The Colorado Hospital Association and the Eugene S. Farley, Jr. Health Policy Center last week released Re-imagining Leadership: A Pathway for Rural Health to Thrive in a COVID-19 World, a playbook for providing health care in rural communities during the pandemic and beyond. The 134-page guide is based on dozens of personal interviews, extensive literature review, and an analysis of rural health care data. It is designed so that it can be tailored to the strengths, challenges, and identities of specific rural communities. Several faculty helped write the book, with Lauren S. Hughes, MD, MPH, associate professor of family medicine and state policy director for the Farley Center, serving as the point person. Thanks to Lauren, Mark Deutchman, MD, professor of family medicine and associate dean for rural health, and many others who contributed to the creation of this guide of best practices.

Ong Moua has been named the recipient of the 11th annual Steven Fadul Award, which is presented to professional research associates for outstanding service to the School of Medicine. Ong has been PRA in the laboratory of Kurt Beam, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, for more than 10 years. Kurt describes hiring Ong as one of the best decisions he’s made in his career. Ong handles the administrative responsibilities of the lab and has an active role in training students and postdocs in lab techniques. Ong shares the same generosity and welcoming nature that characterized the award’s namesake, Steven Fadul, who was a PRA with CU for 30 years.

The Department of Pediatrics will award its Career Teaching Scholars Awards this Friday, December 11, during its virtual Pediatric Grand Rounds, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Zoom Link: The recipients are Patricia Braun, MD, MPH, professor; Renée Cousins King, MD, associate clinical professor; Jay Rabinowitz, MD, clinical professor; and Philip Zeitler, MD, PhD, professor.

Have a good week,

John J. Reilly, Jr., MD
Richard D. Krugman Endowed Chair
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and
Dean, School of Medicine

The Dean’s weekly message is an email news bulletin from John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Dean of the CU School of Medicine, that is distributed to inform University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty members, staff, students and others about issues pertaining to the School’s mission of education, research, clinical care and community service.  For clinical news and patient stories from UCHealth, please visit UCHealth Today

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