Welcome to the the Office of the President
Making a World of Difference Faculty Convocation Address
August 22, 2006
Thank you for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure for me to offer a few words at this year’s convocation. I must confess that I was a bit surprised when the Planning Committee first approached me about speaking here. Of course, it was flattering to be asked, but it begged the question: “Why me?” After some reflection, the answer became obvious to me – the Committee was engaged in a noble effort to control the costs associated with the speaker’s travel expenses and honorarium. I salute them for their frugality.
Seriously, the Planning Committee has worked very hard this year to organize an event that it is both informative and interactive. They have selected as a theme the engagement of MUSC in international activities. The amazing number of such efforts is evident in the poster presentations on display. In order to complement the posters, the Planning Committee needed a speaker who could offer an inspiring vision about global health. Clearly, they were unable to find anyone who could do that, so they asked me. From a personal perspective, I am just grateful to be able to address the faculty without having to face a question and answer period.
Before proceeding further, I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to you. Nobody on this campus is more keenly aware than yours truly of the hard work and dedication of our faculty. The Medical University, with a history that stretches back over 180 years, has never been in a stronger position than it occupies today. We are perceived by our peers not just as an institution that has stood the test of time, but increasingly we are being seen as a center of leadership and innovation. So, it came as no surprise when our AHEC was selected recently as the best in the country, or when a community outreach effort developed by our nursing school just won a national competition, or when our heart transplantation program was shown to have the second best clinical outcomes of any such program in the country, or when our drug and alcohol program was rated this year as number eight in the nation, or when our planning grant for the Clinical and Translational Science Award was just ranked tenth best out of 70 submissions to this major NIH initiative.
These are just a few of the recognitions that our faculty have received in the past few months. There are many others, in fact, too many to mention here. Hopefully, those not cited individually will forgive any unintended slight – my purpose is not to single out individual efforts, but rather to demonstrate how widespread and pervasive the drive for excellence is on this campus. It is felt deeply by our entire faculty in all of our colleges and there is much to celebrate throughout this entire institution.
To work at such a place, where quality is not just desired, but expected in every aspect of what we do, places considerable pressure on all of us. Without question, this is a demanding work environment and I am sure that each of us experiences days when, despite our best efforts, nothing seems to be going right. For me, the saving grace on days like that comes from refocusing my attention from my own work to the amazing things that are being done by others at MUSC. Just to be associated with such talented and dedicated people is a rare privilege, and in the final analysis, allows each of us to be part of something much bigger than ourselves.
Let me turn now to the subject that I was asked to address: international activities at the Medical University. I would like to share with you three observations that have occurred to me recently and have helped to reshape my own thinking about the relationship between the Medical University and the world. Admittedly, these are not earth-shaking observations, but they do challenge some conventional assumptions. For that reason alone, they may warrant a little focus today.
First, let me start with a true confession. For all of the times that I have spoken about the importance of diversity on campus, I had a recent experience that drove this point home to me like never before. Surprisingly enough, it occurred not at work, but rather at a social event. Nobel laureate Phillip Sharp had been a visiting lecturer here and the Biochemistry faculty was kind enough to invite me to join them for dinner with Dr. Sharp.
As the meal was being served, it dawned on me that Dr. Sharp, Dr. Eleanor Spicer and I were in the clear minority. Among the ten or more colleagues present, we were the only ones who had been born in the United States. The other faculty members included two each from Lebanon and Italy, one from England, and one from Japan, and I am sure that there were other countries, if not continents, represented.
I had arrived at that dinner excited about the opportunity to interact with a Nobel laureate. Indeed, Dr. Sharp was a warm and charming person, but that is not what made the greatest impression on me that night. Instead, it was the fact that each and every day on this campus, I have the opportunity to interact with some of the smartest and most dedicated people from all over the world.
This then is my first observation: it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the equation between the Medical University and international activities always favors the direction of MUSC giving to others. The reality is that MUSC, as we know it today, would not exist without the contributions of many students and faculty from a rich tapestry of countries and backgrounds. If the equation is not exactly in equilibrium, it is certainly dynamic, and it is likely to become even more so in the years ahead.
So, let us turn to the second observation by citing an example of a person affiliated with MUSC making a substantial contribution abroad. This story involves one of our alumni – Dr. John Wilson Bradley. Six years after graduating from medical school here he joined a Presbyterian missionary effort in China. He traveled to the city of Suqian and established a new clinic there. Within four years, Dr. Bradley led the effort to construct a modern hospital with full medical and surgical services, as well as medical education programs.
With so many of our students, faculty and alumni engaged in medical missionary work, you might wonder why I would single out Dr. Bradley’s efforts. Well, let’s just say that Dr. Bradley may have been a little ahead of his time. You see, Dr. Bradley graduated from the Medical College of South Carolina in 1895. This is my second observation: it is easy to be misled into thinking that international work is a relatively recent phenomenon at the Medical University. In reality, our predecessors were engaged in international activities long before it became either easy or fashionable.
With the advent of inexpensive and fast transcontinental transportation, satellite transmissions of mass media, wireless telephones, and of course, the ubiquitous internet, it is easy to fall into the trap of considering international work only in current terms. Indeed, it was not until the early 1960’s that Marshall McLuhan popularized the phrase ‘the global village’ in predicting the impact of mass communications on the world stage. There is no question that advances of technology in the past half century have made it much easier for us to travel and communicate to even the most remote parts of the world.
Nevertheless, these technological breakthroughs are simply enhancers of the desire; some might say the imperative for us to help our fellow human beings regardless of national boundaries and ideologies. In Dr. Bradley’s day, such work was not only more inconvenient, it typically came at the risk of great peril. A case in point was Dr. Bradley’s wife, Mamie McCollum Bradley, a fellow missionary from South Carolinian. Mrs. Bradley died of cholera not long after arriving in Suqian and having just given birth to their son. This was risky work and people like Dr. Bradley and his wife were pioneers in the field.
My third and final observation returns us to the technology-intensive world of today. I learned recently that the Medical University has licensed the content from its problem-based medical education curriculum to a new medical school that has been created in the Republic of Vanuatu. Dr. Don Wilbur, who has retired from our faculty, is helping to lead this effort.
Now, if you are like me, you probably know very little about Vanuatu, so here is the Cliff’s Notes version. Vanuatu is an archipelago of over 80 islands in Micronesia located about 1,000 miles east of Australia. The total population of Vanuatu is around 200,000 and the New Economics Foundation recently ranked Vanuatu as the ‘Happiest Nation on the Planet’. All things considered, not a bad place to start a medical school. The content adapted from MUSC is delivered by internet and instruction is guided by health professional tutors.
This leads me to my third observation which is that we tend to falsely dichotomize our domestic and international activities into separate domains. In reality, the medical curriculum developed for our students in South Carolina can serve as the core for training of physicians in Micronesia. There is far more overlap than there is disparity in the educational needs of these two groups of students.
To summarize, then, my three observations are as follows:
First, MUSC draws as much from other countries as we give back. The migration of talent to this campus is a rich gift from the rest of the world, and we are deeply in debt to the many countries from which our faculty and students derive.
Second, international work is not a recent development for MUSC constituents. This university can take pride in a tradition of global outreach that began with pioneers such as Dr. John Wilson Bradley more than a century ago.
Third, there is continuity between our domestic activities and our international work. We should not view them as competitive in any way with each other. Rather, we should look for opportunities for our work in one domain to complement our ability to contribute in the other.
In concluding these remarks, I would like to take a moment to recognize those who planned this convocation and have worked tirelessly to provide an attractive showcase for our global outreach. Please join me in thanking them now. Finally, we are about to recognize a number of our peers for their outstanding work in teaching, research, and clinical service. It is always difficult to select the recipients of these awards from amongst so many deserving individuals. I want to congratulate the honorees for their extraordinary efforts and for the distinction that they bring to the Medical University. Most importantly, I want to thank our entire faculty for giving this university the power to make the world a better place.
Thank you very much.