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We’re Changing Medicine: A Campaign to Transform Health

For much of its history, academic medicine has advanced research, education, and clinical practice as independent silos. But today, that way of thinking is simply impractical. Realizing the potential of all three missions means integrating them fully—and understanding that each depends on the others. Our leading research programs, for example, help us attract top students from around the world. Breakthroughs in bench science inform our curriculum and practice, while innovative clinical approaches allow us to not only better treat patients, but to train the next generation of doctors and researchers—students who will make tomorrow’s scientific advances. And our culture of equity, diversity, inclusion, and mentorship underlies and enriches our mission.

All this means that academic medicine adds up to more than the sum of its parts—and our approach to fundraising should, too. It used to be that we ran mission-driven campaigns, narrowly focusing on a single goal.  While that strategy led to transformational growth, we need to think bigger, and our thinking must reflect the urgency of the present moment. In this era of integration and innovation, it is time to make another transformational leap—to change medicine, because we can and must.

Weill Cornell Medicine has launched a new eight-year, $1.5 billion capital campaign as we grapple with a global pandemic, a crisis that has revealed so much about our responsibility toward the communities we serve, here in New York City and beyond. Now, more than ever, we must work together toward health equity, ensuring that everyone has access to the best, lifesaving care. But this is also a moment of extraordinary innovation, as researchers make huge leaps in our understanding of disease and develop cutting-edge treatments made possible by advances in new fields like regenerative medicine, cellular therapeutics, data science, artificial intelligence, and computational biology. This research is taking place right here at Weill Cornell Medicine, but also through collaborations with industry and our Ithaca and Cornell Tech campuses, as well as our partner NewYork-Presbyterian and affiliate institutions along the Upper East Side medical research corridor. Our deep well of resources and these long-standing relationships provide us with a critical opportunity to change the future of scientific discovery, enriching the quality of care we provide our patients and the knowledge our graduates will bring to their own careers as healers.

One of the most exciting directions that research and clinical practice have taken in recent years is toward precision medicine. Now, we can use genome sequencing and data science to personalize treatments for each patient, saving lives that might have been lost just a few years ago—including that of Cheryl Bonder, a sixty-one-year-old mother of two, who came to WCM with a rare blood malignancy. In an example of our people-first, personalized care, a diverse team of researchers and clinicians whose expertise ranges from oncology to computational genomics was able to solve the puzzle of her disease, coming up with a precisely calibrated treatment that has controlled her cancer and restored her quality of life.

When you take the idea of precision medicine to the population level, you get precision health—a new way to address healthcare disparities that accounts for the ways in which biology interacts with social determinants to put certain populations at greater risk. When I was in medical school, we were trained to diagnose and treat disease. Now, we’re discovering how to keep people healthier through better risk calculation and more sophisticated understanding of the interplay between demographics and environment, lifestyle, stress, nutrition, and exercise. Our hope is that the mass data generated from precision health approaches will enable investigators to spot patterns and trends—and potentially uncover the answers to the most vexing health questions.

We are at a pivotal moment, when investments in foundational and clinical research will have exponential benefits. But the potential of our research depends upon the generation that will carry our mission into the future. And that is why in 2019 we pledged to provide debt-free education to students with demonstrated financial need—not only to work toward equity for all our students but to attract the best and brightest, regardless of background, and to ensure that their career choices are not restricted by the need to pay off loans. A critical goal of this campaign is to guarantee that this groundbreaking program can continue in perpetuity, for the benefit of future doctors and the patients who need a diverse healthcare workforce.

Our medical and graduate students spend formative years immersed in the special, collaborative culture of Weill Cornell Medicine, a future-focused environment that has made possible so many advances in science and medicine. It is my hope that they will carry that teamwork and passion for discovery with them as they become doctors and researchers, and as they in turn train future generations. In that way, the momentous choices we make today will resonate long into the future.