Update from Dean Barbara Bass
Dear Fellow Alumni,
First and foremost, I hope you and your loved ones are faring well during this unprecedented time in our nation. Those of us in the health care field, especially frontline health care providers, have been particularly impacted by this pandemic, and it will likely take some time for us all to process what we have witnessed.
I have been serving as dean of the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences and chief executive officer of The GW Medical Faculty Associates for almost six months. I can honestly say it hasn’t been exactly what I expected, but certainly an adventure with many challenges and opportunities.
I want to thank each of you for your support. I have been impressed by the level of care that you have given to our greater community, especially as the pandemic has affected all of our lives. Your emails, calls, and donations have shown me that the GW community is genuinely committed to our mission and each other. We set up a COVID-19 Response Fund several months ago, and it has provided resources for our residents, students, and faculty. I am very grateful to all who contributed to these efforts and other philanthropic priorities like student scholarships.
On March 15, we made the difficult decision to pull our students out of the clinics and transitioned to online learning, as we knew that COVID-19 was heading toward us at a rapid pace, and we wanted to keep our students safe. During that time, our staff and faculty had to take a mostly in-person, tactile program and quickly develop a meaningful online curriculum that enabled our students to continue to learn as they pursued their goals of becoming doctors and health care professionals. It was an impressive accomplishment, and I am grateful to those faculty and staff members who made that happen.
I am equally proud of and grateful to our students who lived through this process. Our students also faced these challenging times with open minds and a strong desire to serve. Many students volunteered at testing sites, provided childcare serves to those on the frontlines, called seniors citizens to offer comfort and companionship while social distancing, and supported research efforts.
The COVID-19 pandemic also disrupted our traditions of Commencement on the National Mall and our program graduations in Lisner Auditorium. As a community, I believe we developed creative virtual celebrations that were special and memorable. To our newly graduated students, please know that we are extremely proud of your resilience, and we are thrilled to welcome you to the GW SMHS alumni community.
During the last several months, we have faced some trying times, and the road ahead is clear, as many states are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. We are learning how to live with COVID in our midst. That said, we feel confident that we have created a safe environment for our workforce, our patients, and our returning students.
On June 8, we brought back our fourth-year medical students to resume their clinical education. Later this month, a larger student cohort, including the medical class of 2022 and students studying to be physician assistants, physical therapists, and other health sciences fields will resume their clinical training. I am pleased to share that our incoming student population is comparable in numbers to prior years. I do envision an ongoing model of education that will include online components where possible. Keeping some learning online will also open up possibilities for interdisciplinary learning and collaboration between different student and faculty populations. Our researchers are gradually returning to continue in their roles of discovery, including those pursuing a vaccine for COVID-19. We will continue to monitor and make adjustments when necessary to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff as we resume more in-person clinical education and research activities.
I am also excited to report that GW’s medical enterprise also adapted well to the pandemic. Since March, we have treated 1,300 COVID-19 patients, established a virus biorepository for future investigation, and launched clinical trials for treatment and vaccine development. Additionally, the medical enterprise quickly ramped up its telehealth services, providing 40 – 50 percent of ongoing clinical care to patients through this platform. Even as new phases reduce movement restrictions, I believe that telehealth will remain a key component of our offering. Telehealth provides convenience to our current patients and an opportunity to deliver desperately needed health care in underserved communities.
The pandemic is not the only significant event we face as a medical profession. We are at the nexus of the public health crisis of racism and equality – a societal problem that we have faced for many years but have not been able to overcome. The events surrounding the death of George Floyd have had a profound impact on our society as a whole and our GW community. We are working on these issues together. We are committed to change and evolution in our community and to catalyzing change across the nation. To start this process, we have created the Anti-Racism Coalition, which is dedicated to making anti-racism part of the fabric of our culture at GW SMHS.
As you can see, there is much happening at the school and the GW medical enterprise. We will continue to navigate in a world that is perpetually changing, evolving, and – it is my hope – growing to be more equitable.
I look forward to connecting with you more often over the next six months. I appreciate your support, and I invite you to get involved.
Barbara L. Bass, MD, RESD ‘86
Vice President for Health Affairs
Dean, GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences
CEO, The GW Medical Faculty Associates