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Meet School of Medicine Dean Edward Halperin

February 19th, 2007

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The University of Louisville Faculty Senate welcomes new deans and vice presidents by inviting them to speak briefly at a senate meeting. In December, the senate met new medical school Dean Edward Halperin, who came to UofL in November. Halperin started his talk with a series of jokes that often pointed out difficulties inherent with medical schools.

After he broke the ice, Halperin told the senate that he is a proponent of the basic sciences and liberal arts and a firm believer in integrating medical schools and the rest of a university. In this interview, he elaborates on some of his points that day.

Meet Edward Halperin

Hometown: Somerville, N.J.

Educational Background: I received my undergraduate degree in economics from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; an MD from Yale; and an MA (in liberal studies) from Duke. I was an intern in internal medicine at Stanford University Medical Center and a resident in radiation oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Medical specialty: My particular area of clinical interest is pediatric radiation oncology: the diagnosis and treatment of malignancy in childhood with a special interest in ionizing radiation.

(Halperin has obtained a Kentucky medical license and will see patients at a regular clinic at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center.)

It is important for the medical school dean to actively participate in clinical care and teaching. In addition, I intend to pursue my research projects and have already begun helping in the teaching load by participating in instruction in gross anatomy. I look forward to working constructively with my colleagues throughout the university and with the Greater Louisville Medical Society.

Why did you come to UofL?

Schools of medicine are national treasures. They deserve society’s careful attention and stewardship. Responsible for the health and well-being of the population in the present and the future; medical schools use clinical care, research and education to advance societal well being.

The University of Louisville School of Medicine has an honorable past and an exciting future. The school has demonstrated exceptional ambition to advance the causes of medical education and biomedical research. I look forward to partnering with the faculty in pursuing these goals.

What is your vision for the medical school?

A school of medicine is a community of scholars dedicated to the generation, conservation and dissemination of knowledge regarding the causes, prevention and treatment of human disease. It is a community of scholars, not primarily an engine of economic progress, a social club, a reform school or a business. The faculty are not employees of the School of Medicine, they are the School of Medicine.

At Faculty Senate in December, you described the relationship between any university and its medical school as one of “dynamic tension.” Why is that?

Several factors engender a dynamic tension between Schools of Medicine and their universities. These include:

  1. It is typical for the budget of the School of Medicine to constitute 60 to 80 percent of the overall university budget. Thus, problems in the medical school are magnified throughout the university as evidenced, recently, by the influence of the financial problems at the Hospital University of Pennsylvania on the overall bond rating of the university.
  2. The clinical environment is highly competitive. The School of Medicine must be concerned about competitive dynamics of multiple hospitals, third-party payers and private practices. This creates market forces which are considerably different from those buffeting the Arts and Sciences campus.
  3. The management of a very large labor force on a health sciences campus also can create tensions.
  4. The education enterprise in a health care system is considerably different from that on an arts and sciences campus. Medical schools have, in general, far more residency trainee learners than they do medical students. Tuition revenue is a minor portion of the medical school budget. There is a mixture of education and service activities expected of our learners.

What should be the relationship between a medical school and the rest of the university?

Medical schools must be constructive and engaged partners in the life of the university. A core liberal arts education is essential to the training of a physician. Our colleagues in the humanities, social sciences, business, engineering, law and other disciplines have a crucial role to play in medical education and research. Conversely, the scholarship of the School of Medicine has much to contribute to our sister schools.

What are your goals for taking UofL closer to this ideal?

I am particularly interested in the place of interdisciplinary studies and dual degrees as they relate to our partnership with the other schools of the university. I wish to actively pursue the creation of a joint MD/MA degree in medical humanities and bioethics; an MD/MBA program for those students interested in health care policy, medicine and business, and hospital administration; an MD/MPH program for students interested in population health, maternal and child care and epidemiology; and to continue our strong support for the MD/PhD program for physician-scientist.

You also said at Faculty Senate that “doctors ought to be good practitioners of liberal arts.” Why do you believe this?

To paraphrase Robert Maynard Hutchins, we are all liberal artists. To live life in this world is to be a liberal artist. The only question is whether we shall be good ones or bad ones. Physicians must be good ones to provide empathetic care for our patients. An appreciation of English literature, diverse cultures, foreign language, history, philosophy, mathematical reasoning, art and the social sciences forms the core education of a physician.

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