Deputy dean will leave Medical School in June

When Dr. Herbert Chase walked onto the Yale campus as deputy dean for education at the School of Medicine in 1999, he was the first to hold the position. Six years later, having left his mark on the school’s curriculum, he is returning to the research side of medical academia.

Chase announced in an e-mail to the medical school community in early December that he will be leaving the University at the end of June. He will become a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he said he plans to focus on conducting research into physician decision-making.

Chase leaves Yale well-respected for his initiatives in clinical education.

“Herb will be remembered for how much he cared for the students and education with almost a religious fervor,” School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern, who has known Chase since 1978 when they trained together at Columbia and is now dean of the School of Medicine, said. “I think the students, I think everyone appreciated it.”

An experienced scientist with 22 years of experience at Columbia before he came to Yale, Chase said he was ready to move on from the administrative role he played as deputy dean for education. But though Chase is leaving Yale, in some ways, he said, it is responsible for guiding his latest career move.

“I’ve been inspired by the Yale experience,” Chase said. “Yale is one of the few medical schools to require students to write a thesis. Most medical schools teach science, but they don’t teach students to become scientists.”

His research will study if thinking like a scientist makes for a better doctor. Two characteristics that define scientific thinking, in Chase’s view, include a reliance on evidence and a healthy dose of skepticism.

Though not every physician conducts either bench research in a lab or clinical research, he said the skills are still relevant. Chase said too many physicians make decisions without consulting the relevant evidence, found in published studies and articles. But even when physicians do look up the needed information, a scientific background aids in interpreting it.

“That skill is one that I think needs some work,” he said. “Law schools have courses called Evidence, medical schools don’t. You don’t hear the word ‘corroborate’ in medicine much, you do in science.”

Still, Chase praised the Yale system of medical education, first created in the 1920s, for requiring student to write a thesis.

“It was groundbreaking then, and still is, so I didn’t need to tinker with the system,” he said. “The curriculum is still, in my opinion, the model people should aspire to.”

Chase will leave behind a legacy of supporting the faculty and strengthening the clinical experience medical students have. He headed the creation of the Society of Clinical Preceptors and the Society of Distinguished Teachers to emphasize strong teaching. He also appointed a director of clinical skills training.

Dr. Frank Bia, director of the Society of Distinguished Teachers, said Chase’s initiatives have been successful.

“He set into motion a process for a reevaluation of the clinical curriculum which is very effective,” Bia said. “This year is the first year in which [Yale School of Medicine] is funding research projects in medical education and I think that was a major plus.”

The position Chase currently holds was created in 1998 by then dean David Kessler. Chase said he credits Kessler with providing, through the deputy dean of education position, a catalyst for a stronger faculty.

“There’s pressure on the faculty members,” Chase said. “Their job is either to be a scientist or a clinical practitioner, the teaching comes in their spare time. They want to teach, but they need support. It was an acknowledgement that the school put education on the same level as research or clinical practice.”

But most agree that Chase’s work is unfinished.

“Medical school education is always changing,” Alpern said. “Next there needs to be a focus on the clinical years.”

Bia said he agreed that the clinical medical education should be addressed next, particularly in bringing students out of the hospital and into outpatient experiences.

A new deputy dean for education could be selected by a search committee, where several faculty members evaluate applications for the position from all over the country. But Alpern said he may forgo using a search committee and hire a new deputy dean directly. He said any decisions would be made in the next few months.

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