2020 was a year like none other, and as we look forward to the promise of better days in 2021, we would like to offer a quick recap of the year for our School of Medicine, expressing our awe and gratitude for your remarkable accomplishments and unwavering commitment. With all the uncertainty, upheaval and uneasiness we have experienced in the midst of a global pandemic alongside social unrest and inequalities, I am extraordinarily proud of all our faculty, staff, students and alumni who have risen to the challenges of these past months – challenges we could not have predicted or planned for a year ago.
Responding to the pandemic
Critical clinical care has continued unabated throughout the pandemic. For example, the Hume-Lee Transplant Center – one of the nation's oldest solid organ transplant programs – is a top 20 program in the country, on track to surpass the number of organs transplanted last year, which had been its most active year ever.
We also continue to prepare and educate our students without missing a beat. Our medical students, graduate students and faculty adapted quickly earlier this year as we moved courses online where possible, ensuring the delivery of uninterrupted and essential training. Virtual platforms made it possible for graduate students to defend dissertations and for medical students to become equipped with the skills needed for today’s practice, including communicating compassionately via telehealth.
Throughout the year, we have seen our students and alumni continue to step up to serve their communities. Our students set up childcare and pet sitting for health care workers, such as doctors, nurses, residents, fellows and others directly helping patients during the pandemic. Our students also volunteered with the Virginia Department of Health Medical Reserve Corps, a group of volunteers who support the community in the event of a public health emergency. In addition to helping the Medical Reserve Corps with staffing and outreach efforts, our students assisted with contact tracing and data collection.
Our alumni are also making vital contributions to the national response to COVID-19, contributing their skills and expertise from coast to coast. From public health, to emergency medicine, primary care and infectious disease, to researchers working to increase our understanding and treatment of the virus they are making a real difference in their communities, further galvanized now by the remarkably rapid availability of effective vaccination.
Advancing research and discovery
Our researchers also shifted gears quickly and joined worldwide efforts to find effective preventive measures and treatments for COVID-19, including serving as a key site for clinical trials. Even when most researchers, for a time, had to trade their laboratories for home offices, they accomplished great things, including a 16% increase in grant submissions.
Additionally, in FY 2020, VCU reached a new institutional milestone of sponsored research funding. Combined awards for sponsored programs totaled $335 million, a jump of 8% over the previous year’s record-breaking $310 million. We are proud the School of Medicine accounts for more than half the funding, with grant awards supporting research into COVID-19, muscular dystrophy, concussions in veterans and genetic components of alcohol-related disorders, among many others.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)
The pandemic has served to underscore pre-existing health disparities and social inequities. That combined with the social unrest we experienced this year in Richmond and across the country prompted extensive dialogue throughout our community. Together, we’re grappling with creating learning environments that are respectful of all, training physicians who reflect the diverse populations we serve and strengthening scientific endeavors to address health disparities.
Following extensive dialogue across our communities and with vital input from our trainees, alumni, faculty and staff, we have made progress on our DEI action plans, which includes hiring an interim senior associate dean for DEI, launching a search for a permanent DEI leader, hosting our first annual DEI Dean's lecture and establishing our school’s first Inclusion Council that will create and sustain a school-level focus on these goals.
Additionally, we have committed $1 million to build a more diverse, inclusive and equitable community, in part by creating the Dean’s Equity Scholarship that will help eliminate barriers to access for students of all backgrounds, cultures and socioeconomic status. We know there is still much more to do, and we will continue this work in partnership with all of you throughout the new year and beyond.
Last month, the university announced record-breaking totals for the four-year Make It Real Campaign for VCU: an amazing $841.6 million – more than 112% of its $750 million goal. Representing 44.2% of the university’s total is the $372.3 million given in support of the medical school and VCU Health. Additionally, to reduce the burden of debt carried by future physicians studying in the facility, the 1838 Scholarship Campaign surpassed its goal, raising $27 million and creating 78 new endowed scholarships to support deserving students.
Just last week, VCU and VCU Health announced a $24 million gift from the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Foundation, of which $16 million will go to the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research and $4 million will be used to support the VCU Health Adult Outpatient Pavilion, which is estimated to be completed by this time next year.
Despite the challenges we’ve faced throughout 2020, we have continued to provide much-needed care to our community, conducted and published research that supports innovation and advances scientific discovery, saw 95.3% of our graduating medical students match into residency and welcomed 165 interns and 68 fellows.
Each day I am inspired by our faculty, staff, students and alumni. Your ingenuity, resilience and tremendous commitment to a better future epitomizes our school’s mission to transform medical education, research and clinical care for our community, nation and world. We have endured a lot together, and as the year closes, we can reflect with gratitude on so many activities.
You have my thanks as well as my best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year. Better days are ahead for us in 2021.