Jeffrey S. Akman, the newly appointed vice president for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, gave the George Washington University’s SMHS community a glimpse on Tuesday of what he envisions for the school’s future under his direction.
At a well-attended town hall meeting, Dr. Akman said the school—inspired by its students, residents and faculty, and built on a bold vision, historic mission and spirit of collaboration—is on an “upward trajectory” with “aspirations for a new level of greatness.”
Though the list is not exhaustive, Dr. Akman identified seven priority areas that will help guide the school in the coming years: education and training, research, diversity, program growth, philanthropy, construction and a new strategic plan.
Education and training
Student scholarships and tuition affordability are always a priority, Dr. Akman said. “We have an obligation and a need to continue to raise money to support our students,” he said. “The goal is not only to recruit the best and brightest, as we do, but to provide more opportunities for our students and to lessen the debt load over time.”
Revisions to the school’s curriculum, currently in the draft stage, are also a priority. Calling for an innovative model, Dr. Akman said the school will examine whether changes are necessary to the traditional structure of medical school education, which is typically two years of basic science followed by two years of clinical medicine. He also wants to reduce the time students spend in lectures and increase the time they spend learning independently. Leaders will soon solicit feedback on the curriculum.
Meanwhile, expanding Health Sciences distance-education programs and creating additional residency programs, including a dermatology residency and allergy fellowship, are also possibilities, he said.
Helping GW become a top-tier research university is another priority. The dean emphasized working collaboratively with GW Medical Faculty Associates, GW Hospital and Children’s National Medical Center; expanding interdisciplinary research within the school itself and “breaking down silos” to work with other schools across the university; and focusing research efforts on specific areas, like tropical diseases, HIV/AIDS, neuroscience and cancer.
A “key priority,” Dr. Akman said, is examining a task force report on the school’s diversity efforts. While the school has done very well, he said, “we can take it to the next level.”
International opportunities—both bringing students here and allowing for opportunities for students, residents and faculty to go abroad, such as on a medical mission—are also important. The school has strong relationships in the Middle East and Africa, but will also look to expand to China and other countries, Dr. Akman said.
“Clearly, we need to fund these ideas. To make these ideas reality, we have to raise money,” Dr. Akman said. The dean wants to make the case, particularly to the many alumni or grateful patients who may want to contribute, that supporting the school is a good investment.
After Ross Hall’s partial makeover, the school will soon have new labs on the fifth and sixth floors, along with a state-of-the-art Clinical Learning and Simulation Skills Center on the fourth floor next year. Meanwhile, a new power plant under Ross Hall will serve both Ross and the university’s new Science and Engineering Hall.
Looking forward, the school will look for lab and teaching space at the Science and Engineering Hall and on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus.
The school’s strategic plan will build on the university’s overall plan, but Dr. Akman said he will wait to move forward until new leadership appointments—such as that of the senior associate dean for research and senior associate dean for M.D. programs—are finalized.
Over these next years of growth and change, there will be constants, the dean said in closing.
“What we do every single day as clinicians and healers is impacting and changing lives,” Dr. Akman said. “It’s about what we do on a day-to-day basis to the lives of those who are students, residents, faculty, to what we do for our community and what we can do globally.”