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December 2020 Dean's Letter

This decade certainly started out differently than we all predicted.  Like many of you, I’m looking forward to the start of a new year and am eager to have 2020 in the rearview mirror.  Of course, we’ll still be contending with a global pandemic, the country’s overdue reckoning with racial injustice, and an economic crisis.  Yet the ritual of watching the clock tick down to midnight will be especially welcome this December 31 – a mental reset after some very demanding months.

Weill Cornell Medicine has accomplished quite a bit in 2020, despite—and because of—the very serious challenges we’ve faced.  And I’m optimistic that the grit, resolve, and ingenuity we’ve already shown, as individuals and as a community, will get us through this tough period of time.  They’ll also leave their mark, shaping the culture of our institution and our society for years to come.

Although it may not be as easy to find reasons to be grateful in times like these, there are still some very good ones to choose from this holiday season at Weill Cornell Medicine:

  • We helped New York City survive the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic this spring.  Our doctors and clinical staff demonstrated extraordinary bravery in facing down a new infectious disease and cared for thousands of patients in extreme and unfamiliar circumstances.  Nearly 400 healthcare workers were redeployed to temporary responsibilities in intensive care, the emergency room, hospital wards, and telemedicine.  Working closely with our clinical partners at NewYork-Presbyterian, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and Hospital for Special Surgery, we were able to increase intensive care capacity at our main campus from 114 to 237 beds in a matter of weeks.  At the peak of the crisis, our medical center was caring for 481 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at a time.
  • Weill Cornell Medicine has been able to resume on-site activities in patient care, research, and education safely and effectively during the summer and fall.  A coordinated strategy incorporating changes to the physical environment, social distancing measures, reduced density, masking, testing, and enhanced cleaning have kept the number of cases within our on-campus community low.
  • We are in a better position to care for our patients and continue to advance in our academic mission this winter, having already navigated the surge of cases in the spring.
  • We’ve contributed significantly to the medical and scientific understanding of COVID-19 across many different fields.  Basic science, translational, and clinical investigators have quickly pivoted their research to address one of the most serious public health crises of our time, resulting in approximately 600 peer-reviewed publications by members of the WCM community already.  A selection is highlighted on our Newsroom.
  • We are intensifying our efforts to build a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive culture at WCM and in academic medicine more widely, as I described in earlier communications here and here.  The health inequities so starkly revealed by the pandemic, combined with an invigorated national movement for social justice and anti-racism, make this work even more urgent in the 2020s.  Receiving the Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award for the third year in a row was a big honor for our institution.
  • Our research enterprise continues to grow.  We’ve maintained a remarkable 14% increase in funding from the National Institutes of Health and an 8% increase in total funding between fiscal years 2019 and 2020.
  • Digital learning tools are enabling greater flexibility and creativity in medical and graduate education.  There will be opportunities to preserve some of these more interactive practices even after students return to the traditional classroom.
  • Similarly, telemedicine is coming into its own, with more than 7,000 video visits with WCM providers taking place each week.  This clinical innovation has great potential to improve patient access to efficient, high-quality care.

This holiday season will be unique, to say the least, but it is still a time to be thankful for what we have.  I count myself incalculably lucky to be part of the Weill Cornell Medicine community and to have the privilege of working with such talented and collegial individuals.  Together we’re making a positive impact on academic medicine, healthcare, and the lives of our patients.  Thank you so much for everything you do.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays and all the best in the New Year.

Augustine M.K. Choi, MD

Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean
Weill Cornell Medicine
Provost for Medical Affairs
Cornell University