Building Medical School’s Future Discussed at Town Meetings

President Phil Hanlon ’77 and senior leaders met with Geisel School of Medicine community members on Sept. 28, the first of two town hall meetings, to launch discussion of a framework for building the medical school’s future. The second meeting is set for Sept. 29 on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock campus in Lebanon, N.H., where many of the school’s faculty and staff work.

Geisel School sign

(Photo by Will Shively)

“The success and the academic excellence of Geisel is critical to Dartmouth as an institution,” said President Hanlon, who, along with Provost Carolyn Dever and Geisel Interim Dean Duane Compton, spoke at the first town hall meeting and will speak at the second session as well. This is “an important time to look at what the future for Geisel should be.”

The prospect of change at the medical school presents a great opportunity to strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration across an institution that excels at both research and teaching, the College leaders said yesterday.

“The net effect is not only a more secure future for Geisel, but the ability to train the consummate physician for the future and enable Dartmouth to have a greater impact through research and discovery,” said Dever.

Hanlon said that Geisel—and most medical schools in the U.S.—operate under a highly stressed model that is no longer fiscally viable. The speakers told the audience of more than 200 in Kellogg Medical Auditorium that in planning for changes at Geisel they will sharpen and narrow the school’s focus to be sure Geisel has a strong foundation for the future.

The developing framework contemplates changing the school’s existing departmental structure to one made up of fewer interdisciplinary divisions; establishing a new medical education division to ensure the school provides the highest caliber education possible; and changing the school’s financial relationship with Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system.

“We can be a very powerful medical school,” said Compton. “We actually have a lot of resources to bring to bear to reach this vision. What we need to do is create a more disciplined and deliberate way in which we distribute those resources.”

The dean said the school will “invest in programs that have academic excellence and focus our resources on our core strengths to make the strongest foundation possible” for the future. He also emphasized the importance of medical education and the imperative of enhancing pre-clinical instruction, the need to solidify the academic relationship with clinical providers and to deliver broad, interdisciplinary opportunities for graduate students.

The changes are expected to ease an operating deficit at the school that is not sustainable and impairs Geisel’s ability to invest in, attract, and retain top students, faculty, and staff.

Dever said the medical school “can’t be competitive and build a strong future for Geisel without strong bridges” to Geisel’s partners at Dartmouth’s graduate and professional schools and in the Dartmouth-Hitchcock system.

“We must seize this opportunity to deepen ties between medicine and engineering, between our business school and the entrepreneurial innovation disrupting U.S. health care,” she said.

The changes build on the work of a number of working groups and discussions Compton has had with faculty and staff across the institution since he was appointed interim dean in July 2014, and are part of a three-year plan to create an academically excellent and financially sustainable medical school. Compton said that evolution of this framework will continue at a series of meetings with faculty, staff, and students to be held in the coming weeks.

“We cannot fail to act,” he told the crowd.

He said Geisel employees and students will have an opportunity to comment and provide feedback on the framework discussions through links set up on the school’s website.

College officials expect to refine their plans and present a proposal to Dartmouth’s board of trustees for approval at the board’s next meeting on Nov. 5-7. In this timeline, the majority of changes would be implemented at Geisel before the end of this academic year, June 2016.