Dr. Mark Schweitzer, Dean of the Wayne State School of Medicine

Dr. Mark Schweitzer, Dean of the Wayne State School of Medicine

Show notes

Episode notes In this episode of the Today@Wayne podcast, Dr. Mark Schweitzer, new dean of the WSU School of Medicine, sits down with host Darrell Dawsey to discuss his expansive vision for the medical school, the school’s current impact on the city and state, and how medical education nationwide is being reshaped by a once-in-a-generation pandemic.

About Mark Schweitzer, M.D., a preeminent radiologist, is the dean of the Wayne State University School of Medicine and vice president of health affairs for Wayne State University.

In addition to his leadership role in the School of Medicine, as vice president of health affairs, Dr. Schweitzer works with the deans of Wayne State’s College of Nursing and Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences on clinical training issues, developing avenues to strengthen collaboration between the three schools to advance interprofessional, team-based approaches to health care.

A medical scholar and educator, Dr. Schweitzer is an outstanding administrator who has served in many hospital and medical practice roles, including vice chair for clinical practice and chair of the information management group for Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. A lecturer for Harvard Medical School, Dr. Schweitzer is extensively published and holds a number of medical patents.

Additional resources Follow the WSU School of Medicine on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WayneStateMedSchool)

Follow the WSU School of Medicine on Twitter (https://twitter.com/waynemedicine)

Follow the WSU School of Medicine on LinkedIn (https://www.instagram.com/waynemedicine/?hl=en)

Transcript Announcer: Welcome to Today@Wayne, a podcast that engages and informs the Wayne State University campus community with news, announcements, information and current event discussions relevant to the university's goals and mission. Today@Wayne serves as the perfect forum for our campus to begin a conversation or keep one going. Thanks for joining us.

Darrell Dawsey: Welcome to the Today@Wayne Podcast, I'm Darrell Dawsey. If the last year-plus has reminded us of anything, it's the critical importance of well-trained, dedicated medical professionals. From physicians and nurses to medical technicians and researchers, with a legacy deep rooted in educational excellence and training, the WSU School of Medicine has played a major role in staffing those professional ranks, both throughout Detroit and statewide. In fact, nearly 40% of Michigan's practicing physicians received all or part of their medical training at WSU. And, of course, this role is helping Michigan turn the tide in its fight against coronavirus, other diseases and the health disparities that come with them.

Darrell Dawsey: Announced in January 2020 is the latest dean of the School of Medicine. Dr. Mark Schweitzer is the person now tasked with furthering that legacy. A preeminent radiologist, Dr. Schweitzer is — along with being the dean of the School of Medicine — also vice president of health affairs at Wayne State. Consequently, Dr. Schweitzer works with the deans of Wayne State's College of Nursing and the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences on clinical training issues, developing avenues to strengthen collaboration between the three schools to advance interprofessional team-based approaches to health care. And we've got him here with us today on the Today@Wayne Podcast. Welcome, Dr. Schweitzer.

Mark Schweitzer: Thank you Darrell, happy to be here.

Darrell Dawsey: All right. Glad to have you. Well, let's just jump right into it. Tell me a little bit about what your focus has been. You've been here for about a year and a half now. Talk a little bit about what you focused on accomplishing during your first year as dean.

Mark Schweitzer: What I ended up focusing on wasn't what I planned on focusing on. What's the expression: God laughs at your plans or something. So, the pandemic played a major role in changing what was the initial plan. But if I had to say what the plan ended up being and what the plan is going forward, the term I would use would be sustainability. I think it's important for society that we have a sustainable society and it's important for the medical school to be a sustainable medical school. Now, what makes a sustainable medical school is different than what makes a sustainable household. To be sustainable, we have to be financially solvent. We have to have enough clinical placements for our students. We have to cater to individual students' needs with the assumption that students learn better in different environments, depending on who they are.

And we have to keep cognizant of the mission [and realize] that I'm here for a reason, you're here for a reason. And our students are here for a reason. And I often say that most medical schools have one mission and that's to graduate and educate outstanding doctors. We have two missions: to graduate and educate outstanding doctors, but to [also] take care of those who other parts of society don't want to take care of. And that is both true clinically, but also true educationally. The Wayne State medical student is different than a medical student from a different school. They've often had more challenges in their lives and overcome those challenges. And we need to be cognizant of that mission because that's why we're all here.

Darrell Dawsey: Now, you've hit the ground running pretty hard. You've already established some programs and some ideas that have got folks talking. There's a little conversation about this curriculum track that's related to passions of individual students. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts around that and how that's developing?

Mark Schweitzer: Yeah. So let me talk about two things related to that. The first one is the Trailblazer program, and Sonia Hassan has taken a lead with that. Beena Sood has helped out with it. And it comes from the assumption that Wayne State is an outstanding university. It is an outstanding medical school, but the next permutation of that medical school is to train health care leaders. Being a doctor is a great thing. Every day, you get to help people and you'll make a pretty good living. I often say being a teacher at a medical school is a better thing because you train the next generation how to take care of people. And hence, there's a multiplier effect, but if you become a health care leader, there's even a greater multiplier effect.

And Wayne State students, because they've been through real life, they're members of the 99%. In my opinion, they're ideally situated to be the leaders of health care in the U.S. — and, perhaps, the world — going forward. So, we established this program and it's voluntary. As I said before, different students have different values, different needs, different desires. We've had an outstanding amount of students that were interested in it, and the purpose was to help train them, train our students to be health care leaders. So there's three parts of that.

The first part is the content and everything that you need to know about medicine that has nothing to do with science. It has to do with the economics. It has to do with the sociology. It has to do with perhaps legal, but it has to do with all those skills you need to make a difference in health care that you're not really taught in the science of medical school. The second part of it is to create this cadre of students who will be support systems for each other, who have similar ambitions and values and they'll learn from each other and teach each other.

And the third thing, about the most important thing, is for the speakers to be role models and to be physicians of color or female scientists or female physicians of color, who are corporate leaders, to show our diverse student body, people who look and sound and come from backgrounds like them can really make a difference and do amazing things. And I think seeing that is perhaps the most important thing that we can possibly do.

When I was a kid, I never saw a doctor in my neighborhood, among my parents' friends, among my relatives, other than if I was sick. And I have a career in medical research, and I used to interview students for the M.D.-Ph.D .program at a university I worked in. And one day a student came up to me and he goes, "Dr. Schweitzer, I see you're an accomplished researcher, and I'm happy to have his conversation, but you're not an M.D.-Ph.D. So why the hell are you interviewing me?" They phrased it obviously slightly different than that. And I thought a little bit about it, and I never knew that an M.D.- Ph.D. program even existed. It wasn't in my scope of experience of people who I knew and no advisor had ever suggested it to me because they had assumed[that] many of our students wouldn't be interested or wouldn't have the skill sets for that.

And that those forms of bias are pervasive in our society. And maybe I would have been a different person, if I did that, maybe I wouldn't be, but at least I would have had the chance to make that decision. So by having role models who are like our students, I think there's an important message to be had about what a student is able to do. And that it's what they can do is not limit it.

Darrell Dawsey: One of the major things that President Wilson has been noted for in his time in leadership at the university is turning around certain things at the medical school with regard to representation of a disadvantaged and underrepresented students, first time in college students. He's brought in or helped to create programs that have brought in whole new groups, groups that have largely not completely but oftentimes largely have been shut out. I'm just wondering, what are your thoughts about what he's done and how you're going to help kind of further that.

Mark Schweitzer: And all the respect for President Wilson for doing that, because I think at least [the] medical school lost its place. It went through a period of time when it didn't really understand what it was. And you have to understand what you are, what your role is and what you can do with what the gifts God has given you. I was speaking to one alum, who is placed on one of our search committees. And she said her great-great grandfather was in a first class of Wayne State and was the first African American medical school graduate in Wayne State. So we lost our way, because if, you go back to 163 years ago and her great-great grandfather, that was our way. And somehow, about 10 years ago, we had lost our way and President Wilson, God bless him, helped us find that way. We're now ranked the 15th most diverse medical school in the country.

And if you think the top five to 10 are historically African American universities and colleges, among the universities, which are not, we're probably in a top five or six, and that's our way. And that's what we should be doing. And I'm going to look at the statistics for this year, actually later on today. And I think they look even more promising than we've had historically. We make an extra effort for that because it's who we are, it's what we should be doing. It's that second part of the mission that Wayne State‘s medical school is different than other medical schools.

We're trying to do a better job in not only racial, but gender diversity in the health care leadership, medical school leadership. The faculty, we've got a ways to go to be honest, and that's the next project to work on. But it's something that is important to the school. It's a sense of mission. And we're committed to fulfill that mission the best we can.

Darrell Dawsey: Absolutely. Now, let's look down the road a little bit. When we started off, you talked about how the pandemic sort of laughed at your plans and forced some changes. And I think that that's been the case for a lot of folks, both in the city and state and around the country, in terms of what we're trying to do with our institutions. But even as that's happened, we know that the pandemic has also sort of helped create a different future, if you will, for medicine in the post-pandemic society. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about, what you think that future's going to look like and how that is going to impact the way that we teach and train.

Mark Schweitzer: Yeah. So let me start out with an analogy. When things change, sometimes it's a rubber band and the rubber band snaps back and you have a stress. And then two years after that stress happens, you’re back the way you were. And sometimes it's an old rubber band and it stretches and it comes back and it doesn't quite come back to where it was before, because it's a little bit stretched out of shape. And sometimes it's a dish, and if you pull the dish too high and you try and get it to go back it fractures, it cracks into a million pieces. The question is, which of those three things are we going to become? I don't think we're going to be a rubber band that goes back exactly the way it was, nor do I think it's a dish that's irretrievably broken.

Darrell Dawsey: Okay.

Mark Schweitzer: So I'll go back to it being a rubber band that's a little bit stretched and it's going to come back a little bit different than it was before. So in what ways will it be different than it was before? Well, I think tele-learning — and we were tele-learning in Wayne State School of Medicine for several years before this even happened — is going to be here to stay. There's always something to be said for in-person learning and a lot of learning — maybe most of it — will be done in person, but certainly there'll be a persistent, significant percentage that's not. And I think that that's good.

And similarly, in medical care, there's going to be a significant percentage of medical visits that are going to be telehealth visits. And certainly, then if you're a student, and a student potential health care leader, you have to realize what are the strengths and weaknesses of those models and how could I do my best to help society within those models? And then the last thing is, I truly think this will make this cadre of students the best because of all the obstacles and difficulties put in their way. And I can't help but think that they'll be even finer physicians because of it. And hearkening back to what I said earlier about, leaders coming from the 99%. And I know that hasn't been a norm in the U.S., but I do believe it ultimately will be because those obstacles that make you stronger, make you more aware or more open-minded, all the things you need to be a better leader.

Darrell Dawsey: All right. Okay.

Mark Schweitzer: I think, it'll be the stretched rubber band and we're preparing for that.

Darrell Dawsey: Now, the pandemic has also ... It's changed things in terms of the need. I know that there's talk now about a need for more mental health professionals, a continued development of readiness for future emerging infectious disease experts. Wayne State is pretty well positioned to both of those thing, is it not?

Mark Schweitzer: Yeah. I think we have one of the best psychiatry departments in the country under Dr. Rosenberg's leadership. He's taken a proactive sort of role in mental health issues related to the pandemic, particularly among health professionals. I think one of the best changes in medicine in the last 20 years was the medicalization of psychiatric illnesses. And the minimization of the stigma of psychiatric illnesses. You'll get hypertension because something in your arterial endovascular becomes abnormal and you become a schizophrenic because some synapse somewhere doesn't have the right neurotransmitter. A disease is a disease is a disease.

And so this understanding that mental health issues are not only important, but are diseases to be treated and to be treated without stigma is really one of the major changes that I've witnessed in medicine and Wayne State is a leader in that. And I hope we'll continue to be an even greater leader in that. In terms of infectious disease, we have Teena Chopra at the DMC [and] Mark Zervos at Henry Ford. We've taken a lead role in many of the vaccination studies. Under Phil Levy's leadership, we've taken in a lead role in testing and going out to communities to test and now to vaccinate. We're a school with a mission and we've done our best. And I think a really, truly outstanding job to fulfill their mission under these really adverse circumstances.

Darrell Dawsey: Okay, all right. And we're seeing some successes in terms of bringing more folks in. As I understand it, the number of applications to medical schools are actually going up around the country and here in Detroit at Wayne State. Is that correct?

Mark Schweitzer: We had well north of 10,000 applications this year.

Darrell Dawsey: How much different is that from the norm?

Mark Schweitzer: Let me give you a background: because we're so large, we can't increase as much as other schools increase. So, for example, if you're a school that gets 1,000 applicants and you go up a 1,000, you've doubled your applicants.

Darrell Dawsey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark Schweitzer: If we go up 1,000 we only go up by 10%, so we're up by about 10%. But an interesting thing that the Wayne State community should take pride in and I think the entire state of Michigan should take pride in. If you're applying to medical school and you live in the United States, you have a one in five chance [that] one of the schools you're going to apply to is Wayne State. So, 20% of every medical student applicant in the U.S. applies to Wayne State; that's a pretty amazing statistic.

Darrell Dawsey: That is, that's a pretty impressive number. Let's talk a little bit about the importance of research universities like Wayne State, the need to support them. There's been some concern in recent months about the investments that we as a nation maybe are willing to make in terms of higher education. I know that there's been some talk here, even in Michigan, about appropriations cuts and the damage that those things could do, particularly to research universities such as ours. Talk a little bit about why research universities are just so critical and why it's important that we support.

Mark Schweitzer: Let me just talk about three ideas with that. So idea number one is [that] we're a university of opportunity, and a university of opportunity provides an opportunity to students that might not have that opportunity elsewhere. And that's true, no different for the medical school than it is for the university at all. When I was a kid, they used to be this ad on TV that said, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." And a mind is a terrible thing to waste. So, not to provide that opportunity because of someone's socioeconomic status is not only horrible for that individual, but it's bad for society because you're losing that potential for that person who could really make difference, number one.

Number two, as I said before, I talked about being a physician as kind of a nice thing because you get to help patients every day and make a pretty good living. Being a researcher, one might say, is an even better thing. You'll make a slightly less good living, but you get to help patients who you've never seen through your research. And so that multiplier effect is there for research. And that's the second point I like to make. And the third point is economic and it's also a multiplier. That research in an institution has a tremendous economic effect on the area. It has knock-down expenses and knock-down costs and knock-down employees that act to uplift a region, a city in a neighborhood. And the research is important because it's important, it does good things. It shows you where the future will be. It prepares you for the next pandemic. If we hadn't done the research on messenger RNA for many years, if not decades, before these vaccines came around, there would be no way we would be vaccinated now.

So that's the fountainhead of research that had been done for two decades, but it's important also to provide opportunities and that can't be underestimated and its economic impact also cannot be underestimated.

Darrell Dawsey: One other thing I want to talk to you about really quickly before we wrap up. There were some headlines about children's hospitals and Wayne Pediatrics, and got some folks concerned. I just want to give you an opportunity to kind of give us an update on where things stand, how things are coming along. Wayne Pediatrics, just because it's such a critical part of the work that we do.

Mark Schweitzer: It is. And that was happening, I think, my first or second day on the job.

Darrell Dawsey: Welcome to Wayne State.

Mark Schweitzer: Welcome back, Dr. Schweitzer, here's this major problem. So, our students continue to rotate through Children's Hospital; that is unchanged. The relative number of students is not significantly changed, but in all honesty, I never let a crisis go unrequited and it forced us to rethink. And a student came up to me and said, "I'm going into dermatology. And my pediatric rotations were basically pediatric neurosurgery. Dr. Schweitzer, how does that going to help me be a better dermatologist?" And they were 100% correct. So, we've changed pediatrics to be half outpatient and half inpatient, which I think is to the tremendous betterment of their education. And we've diversified where students learn pediatrics, because sometimes learning pediatrics in a tertiary care center may not be going back to trying to individualize education, it may not be the best for that specific student.

So I'd be lying, if I said, "I wish things wouldn't go back to the way they were." I think it's unfortunate that what happened, happened. But it provided us an opportunity to rethink how we do education and I'm 1,000% sure that we're doing a better job in pediatrics now than we were before because of unforeseen things. But I think in the end, the education has benefited.

Darrell Dawsey: We're all the better for it, as things move forward. Well Dean Schweitzer, that's about it for me in terms of my questions. I was just wondering, do you have anything else that maybe you want to add, something we haven't had a chance to discuss?

Mark Schweitzer: Yeah. I want to talk about the uniqueness of Wayne [State]. I went to an urban university when I was 18, and urban universities really play a major role. They attract and are devoted to a different type of student. R1 universities, research intensive universities, also play a major role. As I said before, vaccines wouldn't be around today if not for the research that was done 10 or more years ago. And there's the unique combination of an urban R1 university is rare and really important for society and really important for the state to adequately invest in because it's not an expense, it's an investment. That money comes back in manifold other ways, so it is an investment. And I've been touched by the mission that the faculty feels, that the staff feels and that the students feel. And that all of them, to the man and woman are here because of the mission. They would have a lot of other opportunities, but they chose to come here and to stay here because their belief in what we're doing. And when I see that, I have no right to feel pride in that because I've been here for such a short time. But nonetheless, I feel a lot of pride in that because I think we're doing righteous work.

Darrell Dawsey: Absolutely. Thank you so much for that, I appreciate it. And thank you for taking your time and coming on and talking with us. I hope we can get you on again.

Mark Schweitzer: Okay. Thank you, Darrell. I enjoyed it.

Darrell Dawsey: All right. Well, Dean Mark Schweitzer, thanks so much. It's been a pleasure to have you. I'm Darrell Dawsey, and this the Today@Wayne Podcast.

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