Committing to Our Future and Each Other

Welcome to the new school year!

A lot has changed since January. How’s that for understatement? We’ve had COVID-19, the pivot to remote learning, and staying at home. We wash our hands, wear masks, stay six feet apart, and avoid crowds. We have seen Minneapolis erupt in fury after George Floyd died. We have seen how the need for change has moved people around the world to protest racism and how the Medical School became a focal point for outrage after the vandalism of the George Floyd mural.

The University of Minnesota Medical School has not been a comfortable place to be, and that’s okay. Because we need to change. Together. As a team and as an institution. As Hippocrates states in his work, Of the Epidemics (a little irony there), first, do no harm. We need to do no harm to each other, meaning harm like racism, inequity, bias, lack of compassion, and harassment of any kind.

We have a lot of work ahead of us; work that we need to do together to accelerate and accomplish.

During the pandemic, we have learned things about ourselves and our institution that apply to other challenges. We are far more flexible, more capable of reinventing ourselves, than we thought possible. Our power to change the world comes from our working together as a team. Students help faculty and healthcare workers. Specialists switch gears to expand the ranks of the hospitalists. Testing laboratories built from scratch, a COVID-19 hospital set up, and clinical trials and scientific research begun—not in months, but in days. Faculty transformed curriculum into distance learning in a heartbeat. Staff adapted to working from home. Our clinical enterprise went virtual virtually overnight. And we did it all while keeping the Medical School moving forward.

As with COVID-19, we don’t have the luxury of powering the Medical School down and focusing solely on eliminating the harms of racism. We have to move forward. As we do that—and critically, as we do that together—we can use the COVID-19 response model. Just as our thoughts, actions, and procedures―all the things we do―are now viewed through the prism of keeping faculty, staff, and learners safe during the pandemic of COVID-19, we must begin to view our work, our ideas, and our school through the lens of eliminating racism.

We bear a collective responsibility to keep this at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. We have the responsibility to speak up when we see something wrong, and to listen and empathize when concerns are shared with us. We have the responsibility of reimagining our Medical School as the kind of place where we want to work and to learn. This effort can’t be just top down or bottom up. It has to come from all of us.

I wish all of you the best as we embark on this new academic year of challenge, of growth, and of renewed commitment to each other.

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