Dear Colleagues-Friends,

2020 has been a year unlike any other in recent memory, testing our capacity to cope with change and uncertainty and putting a strain on our sense of resilience. With the year winding down, there is the opportunity for some well-deserved time to relax and reflect, and I hope that you and your relatives have a happy, safe and healthy Thanksgiving and holiday season.

The feelings of gratitude that generally characterize this season are different this year, and yet meaningful for all of us and our VCU School of Medicine family, as we continue to face the dual pandemics of SARS-CoV-2 and racial inequities. As I reflect on these past 11 months, even with all the challenges we face collectively, there is a lot to be thankful for, such as:

Your remarkable professionalism, cohesion and adaptability

The way you have responded to the pandemic in such a short period has been nothing short of extraordinary. Your collective energy, creativity and undaunted efforts came together this spring to swiftly implement innovations in our medical student and graduate student training, including migrating to online education and assessing curricular requirements to identify efficiencies. Our clinical colleagues also banded together to achieve the rapid mobilization of physical capacity, processes and procedures, and human resources that enabled us to mount a full-frontal health care attack on the virus.

The impressive resilience of our students

The impact of the pandemic on our students has been profound, but it also has provided invaluable lessons. Like the so-called “greatest generation” – those Americans who survived and thrived after World War II – our medical students and resident physicians have had remarkable clinical and human experiences throughout this year that will stay with them throughout their lives and careers. This will be a generation of great doctors, and that in itself is a gift to the future of health care.

Our innovations and impact as an academic health system

At our institution, like so many others nationally, we have demonstrated our abilities to conduct clinical research on COVID-19, make COVID-19 testing and successive testing innovations readily available and provide expert information to other community colleges, universities and regional businesses. We have all witnessed the truth of the phrase “research is hope” as we advance both basic and clinical research to combat this virus. Research at academic institutions is providing knowledge, hope and real solutions to this pandemic. We can also be proud and grateful that American science is so rapidly combating the virus that causes COVID-19, with the imminent availability of vaccines alongside other therapeutics.

Our faculty and collective successes

Our research faculty submitted more research grants during May 2020 than in May 2019, all while working from home. Our colleagues submitted manuscripts, mentored junior colleagues, supervised theses defenses and served (virtually) in national organizations. This perseverance and commitment to our academic and research missions, even in spite of this pandemic, has been inspirational.

The outpouring of support from our Richmond community

In my 30-year career as a psychiatrist and academic health care leader, I have never experienced such an outpouring of support and appreciation for health care providers as we have all witnessed since the pandemic began. We have received donations, meals and innumerable supportive comments from every corner of our community. This has been an unparalleled and uplifting experience.

I am profoundly grateful for each and every one of you. You are awesome and awe-inspiring.

This week, as we pause to reflect and give thanks, let us consider the many ways in which we have grown through our personal and professional experiences this year. Thank you for your leadership under the extraordinary stress of this unprecedented time and for all that you and your teams have accomplished across our three missions.

Additionally, please continue to take care of yourselves and those around you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with.” So as you make decisions about whether or how to gather, please continue to support the safe practices of social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing.

With all good wishes for a happy, safe and healthy Thanksgiving,

Pter F. Buckley, M.D.; Dean, VCU School of Medicine; Executive vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System