My Dean’s letter for the Class of 2017 yearbook (an annual production) was written on November 22, 2016. I just received the hard copy of the yearbook, and upon rereading the letter, I felt it was worth sharing with the broader Einstein community.
As I write this letter, just two weeks since one of the most unusual Presidential election campaigns in our country’s history culminated on November 8, 2016, I can’t help but reflect on the potential impact of that election on the lives of you, the members of the Class of 2017. Choices for key cabinet posts such as Secretary of Health and Human Services have not even been announced at this point nor is it clear what will replace the Affordable Care Act if the campaign promise to repeal it is consummated. A new Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has yet to be named, and a new budget for NIH and other biomedical science-related federal agencies has not yet been determined. All of these decisions by the new administration will inevitably shape the careers of our M.D., Ph.D., and M.D./Ph.D. graduates, just as the broader directions the new administration takes will affect the lives of all Americans. In this context, it is worthwhile to reemphasize our commitment to the shared values of Einstein and Montefiore, a commitment to social justice rooted in the belief that everyone deserves high quality medical care, irrespective of socioeconomic status, and a commitment to pursue outstanding, and innovative research across the biomedical spectrum with the goal of improving human health. These are the shared values I and my colleagues on the Faculty have tried to instill into each of you.
Einstein med students are trained to appreciate that health is not only a function of innate genetic and "classical" environmental factors, but also is strongly influenced by the social and economic factors that reflect the communities in which our patients live. The events of the past year reinforce the importance of this “holistic” view of health. An analysis published in JAMA in April of 2016 showed how strongly a single parameter, annual income, correlates with life expectancy. Successfully addressing this income disparity in order to improve the health of all Americans would truly “make America great.”
The importance of science and research in solving the problems that threaten people’s lives and well-being has never been greater. One need only look at the devastation caused by emergence of the Zika virus with resultant microcephaly in babies born of mothers infected during pregnancy to see that the concerted efforts of public health experts, virologists, immunologists and neuroscientists will be critical to preventing further tragic consequences. Einstein students trained by our outstanding faculty in some of our leading laboratories will be at the forefront of the research that ultimately makes the difference for this and other major health challenges. Just as infection with HIV was turned from a certain death sentence from AIDS to a treatable chronic condition, biomedical research will provide the answers to the major threats from Alzheimer’s disease, and currently poorly treated malignancies such as pancreatic cancer.
This brief summary touches on just a few of the notable events occurring over the course of the educational experience of the Class of 2017 at Einstein. The culmination of this experience will come on May 23rd of 2017 at our commencement ceremony at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall. I look forward to handing each of you your diploma, celebrating your achievements at Einstein and launching the next stage of your careers. I wish each of you great success.