Making a Statement
George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) MD program alumni from the classes of 1969, ’74, ’79, ’84, ’89, ’94, ’99, and 2009 gathered in Ross Hall 101 to listen to Jeffrey S. Akman, MD ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS, deliver the annual State of the School address during Reunion Weekend on Sept. 14, offering attendees an overview of the progress that has been made over the past year at SMHS.
In what was his final State of the School address as dean, Akman covered many of the major developments at SMHS, such as the significant growth of the research enterprise. The school, he said, has seen a 60% growth in research expenditures, 36% increase in number of principal investigators, and a 52% increase in grant proposal submissions. SMHS has also established many significant research partnerships, including the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Children's National Health System, the DC Center for AIDS Research, and numerous international research agreements in Spain, Thailand, and elsewhere.
Akman updated the alumni on the recent announcement of his replacement as dean, Barbara Lee Bass, MD, RESD ’86, who is returning to GW from Houston Methodist Hospital, the leading hospital in Texas. Bass and Akman have already begun the work of transitioning the school leadership structure in advance of her Jan. 15, 2020, start date.
Bass, he said, is a widely respected academic medicine leader, surgeon, and researcher. “She built the surgery department at Houston Methodist from scratch. Now it has between 70 and 80 surgeons. She really has built an international reputation.”
The dean also took a moment to reflect on the incoming classes of students at SMHS, and the developments their arrival at Foggy Bottom will bring.
“This year we had the second largest number of completed applications, 12,057, competing for about 180 slots,” he said. With that many applications, Akman continued, the school could easily fill classes with nothing but students with 4.0 GPAs, but that isn’t what the school is looking for. It’s not about the GPAs and test scores, he said, the question was “can we evaluate their commitment to service and their fellow human beings?”
“I am a graduate of this institution, I’m an alumnus, I am a product of this culture,” he continued. “It’s been very important to me as dean to maintain this culture. I hear it from alumni to this day, ‘GW saw something in me that nobody else saw.’ That’s still the case,” he said. Even with 12,000 applications, “SMHS is still looking for people who we believe are going to make great doctors. I think as alumni of this school, that’s something you can still be very proud of.”
The past two years, Akman continued, SMHS has recruited the most diverse classes in school history. Incoming medical students hail from a variety of backgrounds, including: African, African-American, Armenian, Bangladeshi, Burmese, Colombian, Cuban, Filipino, Iranian, Korean, Nepalese, Pakistani, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Senegalese, Taiwanese, Venezuelan, and Vietnamese among others.
“These past two years have been our most diverse classes ever not only in terms of race or ethnicity, but also in terms of socioeconomic class.” The dean drew prompt applause from the audience as he continued, “When you look at the data from the [Association of American Medical Colleges], we are among the top 10% in the country in terms of graduating African American or black medical students.”
The success didn’t happen overnight, Akman said, and it wasn’t built on his efforts alone. Predecessors such as John F. “Skip” Williams Jr., MD ’79, EdD ’96, RESD ’83, MPH, laid the groundwork for a strategic vision around diversity.
“It’s not about numbers,” Akman said, “it’s about what you are actually doing.”
When Akman became dean, he immediately began building upon that foundation. His first effort was to create a diversity and inclusion taskforce to develop a plan to support the school’s inclusiveness efforts. He followed that by creating the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and appointing a senior associate dean to lead the charge. Since then, he said, SMHS faculty and staff have worked very hard across all levels of the school to promote diversity and inclusion.
Akman also addressed the schools multiple workforce development and pipeline program efforts, such as the Health Sciences Governor’s Academy, a partnership between SMHS and the Alexandria City Public School System; GW-SPARC, which exposes undergraduates to cutting-edge research and education on health disparities; the Medical Laboratory Sciences Summer Immersion; and Upward Bound, which serves D.C. public school students in Wards 5, 6, 7, and parts of Ward 8, as well as those in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Tuition costs were also a topic of interest addressed during the event. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, medical students attending private institutions carry a mean debt of $206,000. The dean reported that, thanks to efforts to slow the rate of tuition increase and expand the pool of funds available for scholarship, SMHS has dropped to 33rd on the list of the nation’s medical schools in terms of cost. In 2019, he said, students received nearly $10 million in scholarships through SMHS. Students also earned an additional $2.69 million in outside scholarship dollars. Overall, scholarships and grants more than doubled, moving SMHS into top 20 in terms of financial assistance.
To close out the address, Akman invited alumna Ilisse R. Perlmutter, MD ’84, chair for Behavioral Health and Substance Use Disorder Treatment Services at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, to the podium.
Perlmutter announced that, following the dissolution of GW’s Independent Alumni Association, the group would award its remaining funds to “worthy and appropriate GW groups, selected and voted upon by the board.” The Jeffrey S. Akman, MD ’81, RESD ’85, Innovation Fund, she said, was selected as the first to receive a gift of $100,000. The innovation fund will provide seed grants and pilot funding to launch student, resident, and faculty projects to support innovative projects designed to transform ideas into results through intergenerational collaboration.
“For more than 40 years, Jeff Akman has been a champion for education, innovation, collaboration, and inclusion,” said Perlmutter. The gift, she added, “allows me to honor the legacy of my dear friend and colleague, our dean, who has given so much to all of us at GW, whose impact on health care is ongoing and far reaching, and who has made this place, our place, a force in medicine and health care to be reckoned with all over the world.”