Medical school makes changes

The Yale School of Medicine will put plans into action this year designed to improve research and clinical practice.

The school will also expand and improve on several levels, Dean Robert Alpern said, with new plans to streamline patient care access and more than 60 new faculty hires and promotions over the summer and fall.

Among the promotions are two new department chairs — Dr. James Brink in the department of diagnostic radiology and Dr. Tamas Horvath in the section of comparative medicine, which involves research with laboratory animals.

Alpern said Brink, who has served as interim chair of diagnostic radiology since 2003, was named to his new position in June after a nationwide search.

“He’s done a spectacular job so far,” Alpern said. “He is very well-liked among both faculty and his fellow chairs.”

Likewise, Horvath was chosen to lead comparative medicine because of his extensive veterinary and basic research experience, Alpern said.

Horvath said his long- and short-term goals for comparative research include developing animal physiology and welfare courses for undergraduate and graduate students in the context of biomedical research.

“One needs to be humble and respectful towards all animal species regardless of the aims and significance of one’s projects for society,” Horvath said.

Brink said he hopes to maintain cooperative relationships between the Radiology Department and Department of Biomedical Engineering, Yale University Health Services and undergraduate students.

A major challenge for his department, Brink said, is balancing clinical work with research and education and addressing the issue of growing medical technology costs.

“Our specialty is drawing particular attention nationally, as it is contributing to ever-escalating health care costs,” Brink said. “This makes our job more difficult as we need to do a better job of educating our clinical colleagues about the appropriate use of imaging technology.”

Alpern said the expansion of basic research will likely begin in areas previously identified as high-priority — cancer, cardiovascular disease and the neurosciences.

Clinical researchers will receive more support and guidance than in past years, Alpern said, and efforts to make clinical practice more efficient include a changeover from paper files to electronic medical records.

Deputy Dean for Clinical Affairs David Leffell ’77 said the medical school is looking to solve problems of low patient satisfaction and access.

“Our number one complaint by far is parking,” Leffell said. “University medical centers have tended not to pay as much attention to issues of patient satisfaction in the past. We want to put these issues on equal footing with quality patient care.”

Leffell said some solutions include conducting a patient-service survey twice a year, creating a committee focusing on improving access, working with the University parking office, and increasing communication with referring physicians.

Since physicians at the medical school are often busy teaching and providing clinical care, Leffell said, another concern is long wait times between patients’ scheduled appointments. He said the school hopes to shorten these spans this year with better planning and a larger faculty, especially in the oncology department, which has at least 10 new hires.

Medical oncology professor Dr. Maysa Mahmoud Abu-Khalaf, one of the new faculty working at the cancer center, said she splits her time between seeing patients and doing clinical research on novel drug combinations to treat breast cancer.

She said collaboration between the new doctors and scientists has opened doors to creative research ideas — she is performing a phase-one study on composite therapies for breast cancer with Dr. Kevin Kelly and Dr. John Murren, who are testing the same combination treatment on prostate and lung cancers, respectively.

“It is an exciting time to work here,” she said. “We hope to both expand our patient population and focus on bringing ideas from scientific research to our clinical practice.”

Alpern said the search for a new chair of internal medicine is in its final stages and should come to a close this fall. He said the search for a new dean of the School of Public Health and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, which began in February, will likely continue through the winter. The search committee is currently deciding on candidates to invite for interviewing, Alpern said.

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