On August 8th, one year after the opening of the new Medical School building, 120 students of the class of 2016 began their medical school orientation. This class is the largest in our school’s history and includes 64 women and 56 men. The students bring a wide diversity of past experiences to Alpert Medical School. The class includes musicians, scholars in the humanities and sciences, a graduate of Annapolis who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq with the Marines, and an author and host of cooking shows on television. As usual, we held a reception for them in our backyard, where they did a number on the sushi. Our dog Snicky is a particularly enthusiastic host for all such events.
This week we will have the first-year graduate students entering PhD and master’s programs in the biological sciences and public health over for a similar reception. The Division welcomes 56 new students into 11 PhD programs and 83 new students into nine master’s programs. They join 261 graduate students already in their training.
Graduate students are the life blood of the sciences. After initial classroom study, the students select laboratories to do their doctoral projects leading to a thesis. The students learn by doing–they design their projects with their mentor’s guidance, work for years on their experiments, and then prepare and publish their findings, culminating in their final thesis. During their years in the lab they learn the rigor, frustration, and exultation of science. As significantly, they contribute to knowledge and form a vital part of the research teams in our laboratories. When I tour the labs in BioMed, I inevitably see graduate students, post docs, as well as undergraduates, all working in teams. The scholarship from our laboratories, in large part driven by our graduate students, is the basis for the outstanding scientific reputation of Brown University. The trainers in our graduate programs come from departments in the Division, including our hospital faculty, as well as departments outside of BioMed including, for example, Chemistry and Engineering. The students also form an important part of our educational programs, serving as teaching assistants in the major undergraduate courses taught by our faculty. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of our graduate students to BioMed and the University.
Important changes are occurring in the Rhode Island health care marketplace. Care New England (CNE), parent company to Women & Infants, Butler, and Kent Hospitals, has agreed to explore an affiliation with Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island. Memorial Hospital has had significant financial problems in the past few years and viewed an affiliation with a strong hospital partner as essential to its survival. Fortunately for Brown, the association will most likely be CNE. As many of you know, Memorial is the home for our Family Medicine department as well as an important training site for the departments of Medicine, Psychiatry, and others.
Steward Health Care, a for-profit health care system with 11 affiliated hospitals in Massachusetts, is considering taking over Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket. Landmark has been in receivership for the past two years and risks closure if an agreement with Steward is not reached. Westerly Hospital declared bankruptcy in the spring and has recently agreed to be purchased by Lawrence & Memorial Hospital (L&M). Other independent hospital systems in the state including CharterCare Health Partners (Roger Williams Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital) are stressed financially and may also be looking for a partner.
In summary, independent hospitals are under severe financial pressure in Rhode Island. The Brown teaching hospitals for the most part are in relatively good shape financially, but the winds of health care change will cause a radical reorientation of our delivery system in the next few years. Our teaching hospitals and clinical faculty will need to be prepared for changes such as bundled payments, tiered delivery, an emphasis on primary care networks and prevention. Alpert Medical School should be at the forefront of these changes as well, helping our clinical faculty and institutions work toward a new landscape.
My final note is about Brown’s 249th Convocation, which occurred on Wednesday during a major Rhode Island deluge. President Paxson gave an inspiring talk titled “Constructive Irreverence.” She encouraged Brown students to think anew, take up the challenge of exploring the fascinating intellectual life at the University, and make a difference in the world. I urge you all to view her speech.