Dean's Weekly Message

November 15, 2021

Dear colleague:

The annual meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges – Learn Serve Lead 2021 – was held last week and for the second year in a row it was presented virtually rather than in person. Stephanie Nwagwu, MPH, fourth-year medical student at our school, was featured in the introductory video for author Isabel Wilkerson’s plenary address, “Beyond Racism: America’s Caste System.” Stephanie, who is national chairperson on the board of directors for the Student National Medical Association, called on medical schools to do a better job hiring faculty of color. “If you don’t have faculty that look like us,” she said, “if you don’t have faculty who can be our mentors, then it shows us that it is not a conducive place for us to be. And so, when you have faculty that are representative of us, then we automatically flock to those places as well.” Medical schools must focus effort and dedicate resources to make such change happen. One way we are trying to expand representation on our faculty is by offering salary funding support to departments when they hire faculty from underrepresented backgrounds. Still, Stephanie is correct that medical schools must do better than we have, and we still have a long way to go. Her comments are a resounding call for action. 

Isabel Wilkerson delivered an outstanding plenary address at the AAMC’s conference, explaining how on how our society’s systemic racism will not go away if we ignore it. She explained that individuals cannot evade responsibility by avoiding the truth. “We as Americans are like people who inherited a house,” she said. “It’s very old, it has many stress fractures in pillars and joints and beams. We did not build this house, and yet, we have come into possession of it. We’ve come into possession of a responsibility to repair it, whatever it takes. We are responsible.”  

Wilkerson’s book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” is an examination of how hierarchies established before the United States was even a country persist and shape the dynamics of relationships today. As professionals dedicated to improving human health, we know that preexisting conditions shape lives and limit options, so her advice is familiar and worth heeding. “When you have these longstanding conditions, you don’t pretend they are not there,” she said. “You never can declare the work is over.” 

At this year’s AAMC annual meeting, Brian Smith, senior associate dean for administration and finance, and I were on a panel to discuss the financial impact of COVID-19. We discussed the quick shift to telehealth, the careful reopening of laboratories, and the sacrifices of our faculty, residents, fellows, students, and staff in rising to the challenges of working through the pandemic. The consequences of the pandemic have been dire for thousands who have lost family, friends, and colleagues. We have all endured – and we continue to face – inordinate stress. In the face of this adversity, our School of Medicine community has shown tremendous courage, resilience, problem-solving skill, and compassion. Because of you, Brian and I were able to present to our peers an exemplary model of what an outstanding medical school can be: a caring and reliable, high-performing and dedicated source of strength for our community. Thank you for all you have done during this extraordinary time. 

Condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of J. John Cohen, MDCM, PhD, professor of immunology and microbiology, who died this past weekend. JJ was the consummate teacher and his commitment to curiosity has been part of our inspiration for the advanced science courses in our new medical school curriculum. In an interviewwith the American Association for the Advancement of Science, JJ said, “There is nothing more satisfying than teaching and seeing the lights come on.” He turned the lights on for so many that it is impossible to count them all. Students gave him the Excellence in Teaching Award multiple times, and was selected Teacher of the Year five times. He received teaching awards from the Dean’s office, the Chancellor’s office, and the President’s office. He was a President’s Teaching Scholar, the University’s highest teaching recognition. In 2001 he was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2002 he received the national Alpha Omega Alpha Glaser Award as outstanding teacher of medicine. He founded the “Mini Med School,”which provides free classes to the public taught by CU clinical faculty. JJ was born in Montreal and earned multiple degrees from McGill University. He did a residency at the Royal Victoria Hospital, followed by postdoctoral fellowships with Henry Claman, MD, at the CU School of Medicine, and Avrion Mitchison at Mill Hill in London. JJ returned to Colorado as assistant professor and served the school and the entire community with distinction. We are better school because of JJ’s leadership and example. Details for memorial services are pending. 

Anne Lynch, MD, MSPH, professor of ophthalmology, and her research team earlier this year were awarded a grantfrom the National Eye Institute to study systemic biomarkers of inflammation that signal the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This $1.6 million, four-year grant allows Anne and fellow researchers to build on their pilot data that indicates there are specific biomarkers of inflammation that can be distinguished in patients who progress to advanced stages of AMD. The grant is a significant opportunity for our campus to showcase the power of data to provide better patient care. Our faculty at the Sue Anschutz Rodgers Eye Center have critical experience in longitudinal care for AMD patients. Upon Anne’s hiring in 2014, the department founded the Division of Ophthalmic Epidemiology, and since then more than 1,400 AMD patients have joined its registry under her direction. For this recently funded study, Anne and her colleagues plan to recruit about 600 patients with intermediate AMD. 

Laurel Messer, PhD, RN, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes, has been awarded $2.7 million in support from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust for a project to create an online sustainable care model for health care providers to increase use of new technology in diabetes care. The three-year project, called Shared Empowerment for Early Device Success, aims to reduce barriers for health care providers in having resources to initiate and manage diabetes devices outside of tertiary care clinics. 

The Office of Advancement announced last week that the Taru Hays, MD, Endowed Chair in Pediatric Hematology has been established with support from Taru Hays, MD, and Bill Hays, MD. Taru is professor emerita of pediatrics and the gift serves to honor her decades of work in pediatric hematology. The goal of the fund is to support a mid-career faculty member who will also oversee a fourth-year fellowship in pediatric hematology. The gift will ensure that Taru’s lifetime of work endures by supporting future providers and educators. We are grateful to Taru and Bill Hays for their generous support. 

The deadline for nominations for the 2021 Steven Fadul Award has been extended through Tuesday, November 23. The award honors contributions of outstanding professional research assistants or staff in comparable positions in the School of Medicine. Nominees should show initiative in expanding the scope of their work and by mentoring trainees. Nominations should be sent to Additional nomination information is available at the award’s website. 

The CU Board of Regents will be holding a forum on our campus at noon Wednesday, November 17, to hear from faculty, staff, and students about the qualities they want in the next CU president. You can register to attend either in-person in Education 2 South, L28-1102 or by livestream via Zoom. The regents have also posted an online form to provide comments on the search process and desired qualities in the next president. The regents expect to announce a formal job description in December and working with a search firm to begin recruiting candidates in January. 

The Colorado Symphony is offering discounted tickets to all staff at the schools on the Anschutz Medical Campus and at UCHealth for two upcoming performances. The tickets are available for Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2 with Natasha Paremski (Nov. 19-21) and Dragon Conducts Elgar Enigma Variations (Dec. 3-5). Tickets are available for $20 using the code TYHEALTHCARE when purchasing. There is a limit of four tickets per order and the Denver Performing Arts Complex requires full COVID-19 vaccination and masks for all events. Richard Krugman, MD, Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics and former dean of the School of Medicine, is co-chair of the Colorado Symphony board, and he said the tickets are being offered by the symphony to show gratitude to health care professionals for their work during the pandemic.

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.  See the UCH-Insider →


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