Reflecting on the Past—Anticipating the Future
By Cindy Lefler
Mark L. Tykocinski, MD, is a firm believer in the adage “When one door closes, another opens.” But in Tykocinski’s case, those doors are literal, not figurative. The scientist-turned-administrative leader credits his professional success to a few perfectly timed open doors and his willingness to walk through them into the unknown.
“You don’t necessarily need to know where you’re going to end up in life. What you really need is some general direction and the flexibility to allow for a couple of different endings,” he says. “When you allow for some variation, life becomes a lot more interesting—and all kinds of exciting things open up along the way.”
That trust in the universe led him to a stellar career in research, and to Jefferson, where he is celebrating 10 years as a leader and pioneer in discovery and academics.
Sitting in his sunlit office surrounded by Jefferson artifacts, Tykocinski explains what has always driven him to work hard, and how that drive brought him to Jefferson, where he is now dean of Sidney Kimmel Medical College (SKMC), as well as provost and executive vice president of Academic Affairs at Thomas Jefferson University (TJU).
When asked where the story of Mark Tykocinski begins, he leans back in his chair, smiles, and declares, “I’m just a farm boy.”
From Farm Boy to Forrest Gump
If you told a young Mark Tykocinski that he would end up as a medical school dean and university provost, he probably wouldn’t have believed you. A self-proclaimed “naïve child of immigrants,” he grew up with doting parents who provided an abundance of love, but little academic or career mentoring.
Tykocinski’s parents were Holocaust survivors. Natives of Poland, they endured Auschwitz and met in a displaced persons camp after the war. They married in 1947, immigrated to the United States in 1950 with their young daughter, Annette, and settled on a chicken farm in Lakewood, New Jersey, where Tykocinski was born in 1952. He says one of his most vivid childhood memories is that of standing on a crate, helping his mother candle eggs. Eventually, his father gave up farming to become a successful house and apartment developer in northern New Jersey.
In spite of the hardships his parents suffered during the war, he says the family led “an amazingly normal life.” His mother and father spoke mostly Polish and Yiddish at home, so Tykocinski learned much of his English from televised baseball games in the days of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. He attended a Hebrew day school until eighth grade, then went on to a dormitory at the Manhattan Talmudical Academy, a private, non-coed high school in New York City.
Being a “child of the ’60s and ’70s,” he says he didn’t think much about what he wanted to be when he grew up, and had no career path charted out. Fate took over and “things just fell into place” as the years progressed.
“In fact, most of my life really has unfolded like a Forrest Gump story,” he says.
Doors Number One and Two
With no blueprint for his future, Tykocinski graduated valedictorian of his class in 1970, and was one of two from his school that year to enter Yale—the first-ever graduates from the Manhattan Talmudical Academy to do so. He had also been accepted to Harvard, “but some person, not sure who, mentioned that there were campus riots at Harvard, so I figured I should go to a place that had a chance of staying open,” he explains, adding wryly, “Clearly I was making informed decisions.”
His unexpected path to medicine began toward the end of his first year in college over a dinner at his sister’s apartment at the other end of Yale’s campus. At one point, Annette turned to him and asked one simple, direct question: “So, Mark, what do you think you want to major in—what do you plan on doing?” He admitted he hadn’t really thought about a career, but was considering majoring in philosophy. Ever the pragmatist, she pointed out that university faculty positions in philosophy were few and far between, and suggested, “Did you ever think of becoming a doctor?”
He hadn’t been thinking of that at all, but now that she mentioned it, the question then became where to start. Annette once again made a suggestion: “Work at a lab and see if you like it.” When he told her he was planning on spending the summer in Boston, she quickly responded, “I’m sure you can find a lab in Boston.”
That summer, Tykocinski rented a room in the basement of a Brookline, Massachusetts, home, and somehow found his way to the campus of Harvard Medical School.
“Fortunately, there was no security in those days, so I literally strolled into the first building I saw. It turned out to be the Harvard School of Public Health,” he remembers. “I started walking down the hallway, but all the doors were closed. Finally, down at the far left, there was an open door, with a gentleman sitting behind the desk. I knocked on the door lightly, and he looks up with a ‘Yes?’ I say, ‘Hello, I’m an undergraduate at Yale and I want to work in a lab.’ He quickly sizes me up, and says, ‘This could be your lucky day. We just got a grant...’”
The gentleman turned out to be Bernard Lown, MD, renowned for pioneering the direct current defibrillator, and for his groundbreaking research on how psychological factors play into heart disease. Beyond science, Lown authored an influential book in the medical education world, The Lost Art of Healing, and in 1985 shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Soviet cardiologist Yevgeniy Chazov for co-founding International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
“And so, Bernard Lown became my lifetime mentor,” Tykocinski says.
He ended up working with Lown for three summers, analyzing electrocardiographic tracings to map diurnal variation of abnormal heart rhythms, and wrote his first research paper at Lown’s summer home on Sebago Lake in Maine.
“It was the house that did it,” Tykocinski jokes of his decision to dedicate his career to research. “Every day we’d sit on the porch of this beautiful house overlooking the lake, writing the paper, and I thought, ‘Wow, if this is what scientists do, well, I could really get into this.’ Of course, that was a bit disconnected from reality.” He laughs and shrugs. Still, it was the “aha moment” that changed the course of his life.
When it was time to apply to medical school, Tykocinski looked for institutions close to home; his mother had passed away when he was 16, and he now wanted to be near to his father. He ended up at New York University (NYU).
The road to his chosen specialties—immunology and pathology—also began by chance, in his fourth year of medical school. He wanted to do an extended research elective in the laboratory of a lecturer he admired. When he sought out that professor’s office in the Pathology department, a note on the door read: “Out for the next few weeks.” And so, pressed to lock in an elective, Tykocinski took a walk down another corridor, past another series of closed doors.
“I’m walking down the hall, and I see a door to another lab open—Michael Lamm’s lab. I thought to myself, ‘He gave a pretty good lecture—I think I’ll go in there and talk to him.’” So he did. Michael Lamm, MD, a pioneer in the field of secretory immunology, invited Tykocinski to work in his lab. The immunology seed had been planted.
After medical school, Tykocinski began a medicine residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center (now NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital), but changed course after the first year and transferred back to NYU for two years of anatomic pathology residency, which he determined to be a better path for a hard-core basic science research career. Next, he and his wife, Judy, moved to Washington, D.C., so he could pursue a fellowship in the Laboratory of Immunogenetics at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (NIH). From 1981 to 1983, he cloned and sequenced genes of the immune system, in the early days of cloning technology.
Life is Like a Box of Chocolates
For Tykocinski, the next 35 years would be full of surprises and unexpected opportunities.
The year 1983 presented Tykocinski with “another Forrest Gump moment” when he unexpectedly ran into former mentor Michael Lamm at a conference in New Orleans and Lamm made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Lamm had left NYU to chair the Department of Pathology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and he invited Tykocinski to join him there as an assistant professor.
“The contract letter was one paragraph.” He laughs. In it, Lamm promised to give him what he needed to be successful; he kept his promise, and more. “He gave me the freedom to do anything—to think out of the box, and to start doing really exploratory kinds of projects. That set the tone for the rest of my career.”
Over the course of his 15 years at Case Western, he worked his way up to tenured professor in pathology and oncology. His early projects there led to a new class of gene expression vectors— by now distributed to hundreds of labs worldwide—and he established and served as director of the Gene Therapy Program at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. His pioneering studies introduced terms such as protein painting, cell surface engineering, coinhibition and artificial veto cells, and his NIH-funded investigations into cancer immunotherapy and tumor cell vaccines proved foundational—and way ahead of their time.
Now, Tykocinski was taking his place on the national scene. He served on, and then chaired, a key NIH study section in the cancer field, and served on numerous academic and national committees. In 1995, he received the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Award from the American Society for Investigative Pathology, which honored outstanding research contributions by members under the age of 43. Three years later, the University of Pennsylvania came calling. They were searching for a chair for the university’s third-largest research department—Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
“At first I thought it was a joke—I didn’t think I was even qualified for a faculty position there,” he says. After consulting with Michael Lamm, and at Judy’s urging, he accepted the position; within four months, they and their four children were driving down the Schuylkill toward their new home in Merion Station, Pennsylvania.
While Tykocinski was excited for the opportunity, he remembers the transition wasn’t easy, particularly for his oldest child, Gabriella, a junior in high school at the time. After only a week on the Main Line, she took him on a guilt trip by declaring, “Daddy, I hope this job is really good for you because you’ve destroyed our lives.” But within two months, Gabriella had come around, telling her father, “I can’t believe we were living in Cleveland. I mean, Philadelphia is such a better city!”
“It all worked out.” Tykocinski smiles.
During his 10-year tenure as the Simon Flexner Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Penn, Tykocinski proved himself a mover and shaker in his field on both the local and national levels.
He assembled an elite faculty in his department at Penn, with the brilliant researchers Peter Nowell, MD (the Philadelphia chromosome and the genetic basis of cancer); Mark Greene, MD (antibody therapies for breast and other cancers); Carl June, MD (CAR T-cell therapy for cancer); and Jim Wilson, MD (tissue-targeting, adeno-associated virus gene expression vectors). It sported leading research programs in immunobiology, neurodegenerative diseases, and small RNA biology. The residency program was recognized as one of the nation’s best, and the clinical laboratories were growing and thriving.
At the invitation of, and working closely with, Penn Provost Robert Barchi, MD, PhD, Tykocinski led the strategic planning for life sciences for the university and oversaw the complete overhaul of Penn’s Center for Technology Transfer.
During the Penn years, Tykocinski became president of the American Society of Investigative Pathology and the Association of Pathology Chairs, served as an external reviewer for numerous pathology departments across the country, and participated on a range of national and local scientific and academic committees. “I was plugged into the whole academic pathology community, and, frankly, I loved it. We were doing great things,” he says.
Then, out of the blue in 2008, came another call.
Barchi had moved from Penn to become president of TJU in 2004—and several years later was searching for a new dean for the medical school. Tykocinski was high on his list.
“I had no aspiration to be a dean. It was something I hadn’t really thought about,” Tykocinski reflects. At first, he turned down the search firm’s outreach. But the phone call started him thinking.
“It was clear that I had built all that I was going to build at Penn. By the time I completed my stint there, we were the number one NIH-funded department of pathology in the country, and we were accounting for the lion’s share of Penn’s commercialization activity … I called Bob and asked if the job was still open.”
Although discussions were well along with two other candidates, Barchi set up a meeting with Tykocinski at a local deli. Then a second meeting. And after being interviewed by a reconvened search committee, Tykocinski had the job—and a vision for the future of Jefferson.
Becoming a Jeffersonian
On December 1, 2008, Tykocinski walked through the door to his office in the College Building as the Anthony F. and Gertrude M. DePalma Dean of Jefferson Medical College, senior vice president of TJU, and president of Jefferson University Physicians (JUP). He immediately set out to revolutionize medical education and healthcare.
His first order of business was to fine-tune key administrative components of the medical college and the practices. He believed that things as seemingly mundane as creating standard chair and faculty contracts, implementing more formal departmental review processes with defined internal and external review committees, and active hands-on financial oversight by the dean would bring greater efficiency and efficacy to operations.
At the same time, rolling up his sleeves and working in concert with hospital leadership, Tykocinski orchestrated the launch of Jefferson’s first structured clinical service lines. “John Ogunkeye, Bill Keane, and I were a hard-charging JUP leadership team, while having some laughs in the process … and David McQuaid proved an exceptionally strong partner on the hospital side,” he says. Also key was Brian Squilla, MBA, who followed Tykocinski from Penn as chief of staff, making the medical college tick.
One example of the overwhelming success provided by the overhaul was the neurosurgery department. At the time Tykocinski arrived, the Department of Neurosurgery had all but disappeared. They were stretched thin with less than a handful of neurosurgeons and a dedicated chair carrying much of the clinical load. He vowed to double the size of the department; instead, he multiplied it several times over, and in the process helped the team create a 35-hospital neuroscience network.
By 2017, Jefferson ranked second in the country for total number of neurosurgical procedures; in 2018, Neurosurgery named Jefferson’s Department of Neurological Surgery the most academically productive neurosurgery residency program in North America.
Tykocinski similarly helped elevate other lines of service at the hospital, contributing to its recognition year after year in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospital rankings.
“We took the clinical side of the practices and the enterprise to the next level,” Tykocinski said. “In doing so, we set the stage for a man of action, and a visionary president, like Steve Klasko (Stephen K. Klasko, MD, MBA, president of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health), to come in and take some really bold next steps.”
By the time Tykocinski stepped down as president of JUP in 2014, he had taken the group from 470 doctors to more than 650. That same year, he became the first-ever provost and executive vice president of Academic Affairs at TJU.
Combining the roles of medical college dean and university provost made sense to him under Klasko’s plan to reimagine Jefferson as a leader in healthcare and health profession education. In his dual role, spanning the gulf that had separated the medical college from the other schools became doable.
An item high on Tykocinski’s “to-do list” was to radically overhaul the curriculum at the medical college (renamed Sidney Kimmel Medical College in 2014). He turned to the students to provide the name for the new curriculum: JeffMD.
JeffMD, an updated method of educating future doctors, follows in the path of other medical schools across the country that have moved from large, lecture-based courses to curricula that integrate hands-on medicine and basic science with interactive case-based seminars, problem-based tutorials, scholarly inquiry, and skills and communication training. But JeffMD goes much further than others, infusing the curriculum with a variety of subject threads that creatively span the four years, as well as adding tracking options. In 2017, the first class of JeffMD students received their white coats; two years later, the curriculum is proving to be a great success.
“Given that we’re the fifth-largest medical school in the country, rolling out a small group-intensive curriculum was a big undertaking … sort of a moonshot,” Tykocinski says. He gives a great deal of credit to Steven K. Herrine, MD, vice dean of Academic Affairs/UME at SKMC, and Deborah Ziring, MD, associate dean of Undergraduate Medical Education, who led the design and implementation of the revised curriculum.
But changing curriculum wasn’t enough—at the same time, he sought to elevate co-curriculum, crosscutting knowledge domains that offer students distinctive educational pathways and methods to differentiate themselves as the field of medicine evolves at a lightning pace. Co-curriculum has emerged as a signature strength of SKMC, ahead of the pack on the national scene.
Tykocinski offers a snapshot chronology: “It started soon after I arrived at Jefferson, when we launched the College-within-the-College (CwiC) program with Susan Rattner, MD, as lead, featuring tracks in translational research and global/population health, and later design.”
Co-curriculum was cast in an even larger framework in SKMC. “Several years ago, I coined the term ‘Medicine+’ … yes, we train our students in medicine, but it is the crosscutting ways of thinking and knowledge domains that will empower them in the new healthcare frontier,” he says. “Our students today will be in the heart of their careers in 2050 and beyond. By then, it seems likely that 50 percent or more of what physicians do today they won’t be doing then, as they practice in teams, powered by machine intelligence … so it really behooves us to ask, ‘What is the physician of the future going to be doing, and how do we train these students to do it?’”
While he admits he doesn’t have a crystal ball, he says one can make educated predictions about the kinds of skills physicians will need in the 21st century.
“One of those things is to train students to view the world through a ‘human lens’—sensitize them to interface with their environment and surroundings in new ways, new ways of seeing, brimming with creativity,” he says. To help with that kind of training, Tykocinski recruited Peter Lloyd Jones, PhD, who founded LabStudio in his department at Penn, and launched MEDstudio at Jefferson. Bridging medicine with architecture, design, and smart fabrics became part of the Jefferson gestalt, and MEDstudio-sponsored projects showcased Jefferson’s embrace of those bridges.
Medicine + Design programming at the medical college was expanded by Bon Ku, MD, MPP, a practicing emergency room physician, an associate professor at SKMC, and an expert in health and design thinking. JeffDESIGN emerged as a first-of-its-kind medical school program that teaches future physicians to apply human-centered design to healthcare challenges. The co-curricular track embeds medical students in design thinking sessions to find better ways to deliver care and develop the next generation of medical devices. Projects include using 3-D printing to improve surgical outcomes, redesigning hospital spaces for efficiency and patient comfort, and improving lives of the physically handicapped—in short, exploring the ways infrastructure, community, and physical environment can all positively impact health.
The program got rave reviews, but Tykocinski and Ku felt the need to take it one step further. They reasoned: Why not groom students in design thinking before they arrive at medical school? So they looked to partner with a respected university that didn’t have a medical school.
Princeton University agreed to a joint venture where second-year undergraduates would immerse themselves in course work that ties into design, and would work with SKMC students on special design projects. In return, Jefferson would assure admission to a number of those students. The program showed positive results from the get-go, and is continuing to grow.
But never satisfied with the status quo, Tykocinski saw as a next logical step offering design-primed JeffMD students a pathway to cap off their co-curricular training with a master’s degree in industrial or strategic design. For this, the team set out to find a university willing to establish an accelerated program in conjunction with the medical college. Enter Philadelphia University.
“When they put this place on my radar, despite all my years in Philadelphia, I’d never heard of it,” he recalls. Both Jones and Ku had been separately cultivating working relationships there, so Tykocinski and Klasko decided to take a road trip.
“As I walked into the (PhilaU) building with Steve to meet their president, I sort of nudged him and said, ‘This is an impressive place. Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow join together?’” A few months later, Klasko called Tykocinski: “Remember that visit to PhilaU and what you said? Well, it looks like we could get it together with them!”
The rest, he says, is history—and the future.
In July 2017, Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia University merged to create a professions-focused university designed to deliver high-impact education and value for students in medicine, science, architecture, design, fashion, textiles, health, business, engineering, and more.
As Jefferson continues to grow in size and stature, Tykocinski says it’s important to remain grounded and “stay true to the original concept of JMC founder George McClellan, MD, and create a more humanistic training ground for physicians”—one that takes them from the bedside and into the community.
“What truly distinguishes our medical college is the level of student engagement in community service,” Tykocinski proudly offers, ticking off just a few examples of the outreach in which Jefferson faculty, staff, and students are involved: JeffHOPE (celebrating its 25th anniversary this year), a student-run organization of SKMC that works to improve access to healthcare for the homeless and underserved populations of Philadelphia; Refugee Health Partners, another student-run organization that works with refugee communities in the city to improve and advocate for the health and well-being of refugees through community outreach programs; and Give Kids Sight Day, which offers free eye exams for children from some of the poorer areas of Philadelphia.
Radical overhaul of academics, strengthening healthcare service lines, and bolstering old outreach programs, while instituting new ones to meet the community’s needs, were only part of Tykocinski’s plan. He knew that the future of medicine hinged on information. Tykocinski saw the future—and it was bursting with data bits.
“This is the century for data sciences,” he says. “One of the things our strategic academic framework calls for is building and doubling down on computational thinking as it applies to our specific areas of interest—like design, textiles, architecture, and healthcare. These are computational intersections where we can truly excel.”
For example, Tykocinski says, while at Penn, he had a vision of taking computational biology to the next level and marrying it to clinical diagnostics. Computational biology—the development and application of data-analytical and theoretical methods, mathematical modeling, and computational simulation techniques to study biological, ecological, behavioral, and social systems—is unquestionably a key new frontier in the biomedical space.
While funding limitations prevented him from bringing that initiative to fruition at Penn, he was determined to establish it at Jefferson. Tykocinski sought out a renowned researcher, Isidore Rigoutsos, PhD, who had worked at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center and co-founded the company’s Computational Biology Center in 1992. Tykocinski offered him a new position, Rigoutsos accepted, and in 2010, the Computational Medicine Center at Jefferson was created.
Another part of the plan entailed extending Jefferson’s reach internationally. While Jefferson faculty collaborate in literally dozens of countries around the world, Tykocinski has pushed for focus, channeling resources and energies on a more limited set of countries, which would be designated as Jefferson Global Centers. The first ones encompass four countries on three continents.
The first global center—the Japan Center for Health Professions Education and Research at Jefferson—was established in 2012, following years of relationship-building by Dean Emeritus
Joseph S. Gonnella, MD, and the more recent leadership of Charles Pohl, MD. It brought together TJU with the Noguchi Medical Research Institute, focused on their common interest in the nexus of medicine and humanism. Beyond Japan, the global centers initiative has extended to Italy, India, and Israel, benefiting from highly effective country-specific executive directors—Ignazio Marino, MD, Richard Derman, MD, and Zvi Grunwald, MD, respectively.
The Jefferson Israel Center opened at a ceremony in Jerusalem in June 2018, the culmination of five years of public and private partnerships between Jefferson and Israeli universities, hospitals, technology innovation centers, and government agencies. This April, Tykocinski received the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce for his diverse endeavors in Israel. The award is given annually to a corporation or private Delaware Valley citizen who has contributed to the fostering of economic and educational ties with Israel.
Roots and Wings
Tykocinski’s office offers a private glimpse into some of what he holds most dear in his life. Shelves are stuffed with scientific books and mementos of his decade at Jefferson. Strewn about his desk, in no particular order, are family photos—lots of them. His wife, four children, and six grandchildren stand in silver, Lucite, and gold-trimmed frames. Two smaller photos sit in prominent view: a handsome man in black and white, his late father, and a faded-with-age color picture of a lovely smiling woman—the mother he lost too young. The walls are filled with photos he discovered in the Jefferson archives—a set of Robert Frank originals—along with a painting by his lifetime friend and noted artist, Tobi Kahn.
A whiteboard beside Tykocinski’s desk, covered in scientific scribbles, stands as evidence that this scholar is not yet ready to give up his first love—research. While he admits he doesn’t have a lot of time to devote to it, he simply cannot step away from it, and keeps a small lab going on campus, led day to day by his long-term scientific colleague, Matthew Weber, PhD.
The dry-erase marker scrawls sweeping across the board represent the mechanism for a new fusion protein Tykocinski’s lab is developing, with a provisional patent already filed earlier this year. It wouldn’t be Tykocinski’s first patent—in fact, he has dozens linked to his science, some of them connected to the Israeli biotech company he founded in 2007, KAHR Medical, to create fusion protein pharmaceuticals for cancer treatment. Tykocinski serves as chair of the company’s scientific advisory board, and is in the early stages of creating a second biotech start-up.
Tykocinski’s expertise in fusion protein research extends past the lab, beyond patents, outside of business enterprises—and into the pages of textbooks. Pulling a tome from the shelf, he explains that he was lured into writing the first chapter of a book called Micro- and Nanoengineering of the Cell Surface when one of the authors told him that he is the “father of the field.” He laughs. “For most of my career, I didn’t know that what I was working on was actually a ‘field’ … nor did I see myself as the father of anything beyond my four children!”
He slides the book back onto a shelf brimming with other keepsakes—a stethoscope from the Alumni Association, a microscope from the Jefferson archives, photos, plaques, awards, a glass figurine of an eagle that represents the qualities of leadership (a gift from former TJU President Richard Gozon). With every object he touches, he launches into professor mode, lecturing on the historical background of each piece and its importance to himself and Jefferson.
Finally, he lifts a frame from the shelf; it contains a weathered paper dated October 30, 1824. He is animated in telling the tale of Jefferson’s founding, as he takes on the persona of George McClellan, recounting the story of his “Paul Revere ride” across the state to Jefferson College, to circumvent the University of Pennsylvania’s attempt to thwart his efforts to start a new medical school in Philadelphia.
“And this is the original charter of Jefferson Medical College! This incredible university that we are so proud of has its origins on this single piece of paper.” Tykocinski smiles, puts the framed document back on the shelf, and says almost apologetically, “I love history and historical artifacts.”
It is the desire to honor the history of this “incredible university” that inspires him to continue to build on the successes of Jefferson, both academically and clinically. “I see us as a university aspiring to elevate the professions to a truly elite level; our strategic plan gives us a road map to build on our legacy strengths and to realize our dreams for an institution that meets the needs of students who will confront a radically different future state,” he says of TJU.
As for SKMC: “I want us to be recognized as a true leader in envisioning medical education for the 21st century. After all, we were the first medical school in the nation to introduce bedside teaching, and throughout our 200 years we have been at the forefront of many innovations in medicine and medical education.”
“I like the dreams of tomorrow better than the history of the past.”—Thomas Jefferson
Looking back on all he has put into place since arriving at Jefferson—both locally and globally—Tykocinski assesses his accomplishments as “pretty good for 10 years.” He notes not many deans stay at an institution for a decade; in fact, by the Association of American Medical College’s latest calculation, the average tenure of a medical school dean in the United States is 3.6 years.
But for Tykocinski, 10 years is only the beginning; there is much more for him to do here. He sees in Jefferson even greater potential for becoming an institution that will serve as the vanguard for the future of education, healthcare, and discovery. He works toward that goal every day—and his schedule reflects it.
A day in the life of Mark Tykocinski can be quite frenetic. One minute he will be deep in scientific discussions, the next he will be talking about master facility plans; just a few hours after discussing financial budgets and strategic national and international partnerships, he’ll dash off to a session of the Dean’s Student Leadership Forum, the program he created to give himself face time with selected students and mentor them on leadership skills and perspectives. He serves on committees a bit too numerous to count, all the while keeping an eye on the latest trends in medicine, research, and education.
“It’s a pretty wild existence,” he admits. “But I have never experienced boredom … and at this rate, I probably never will.”
However, just to keep any possible ennui at bay, Tykocinski has a new project in his back pocket. “In my free time, I’m writing a book,” he says with a chuckle. Seriously. He’s writing a book.
In June he was invited to give an endowed lecture at Johns Hopkins on the future of medical education, which prompted him to collect his thoughts on the subject. After the well-received speech, several attendees suggested he “write this stuff up.”
He put pen to paper, thinking he’d write an article based on the lecture, but by the end of his summer writing in Woods Hole, he had more than 100 pages of deep outline. He quickly realized the piece was going to be more than an article, it was going to be a book.
Ever the glass-half-full kind of guy, Tykocinski lays out an optimistic view in his book—of the future physician, of medical education, and of healthcare.
“Too many people are doom and gloom these days when it comes to the role of humans in the age of machine intelligence,” he says, explaining that there are those who predict the role of the physician will be minimized or eliminated as machines take over.
“I see it as the exact opposite. I believe our future is incredibly bright—but it requires us to envision the physician of the future in an entirely different way,” he says, explaining that the doctor of tomorrow will need to be less of a diagnostician and more of a healthcare team coordinator, a consultant to the patient, and a humanistic care provider.
He views humanism in medicine as something far deeper than just empathy. “Empathy is surely part of the picture, but it’s really only a small piece of a much broader perspective that includes asking important questions such as: What will the physician of the future be doing? What are the competencies of that physician in an age of machine intelligence and robots? What are the essential human qualities of the future physician? What training does this call for?” he says. These are all questions he addresses in the book.
Although he hasn’t found a publisher just yet, he’s sure that door will open—just as others have over the years.
Tykocinski says he has enjoyed every step of the journey that has led him to where he is today. If he had to cite one regret, it’s that his mother—especially given all that she suffered during the war—didn’t live long enough to see any of what he has accomplished.
“Being the child of Holocaust survivors is pretty much what has shaped me as a person; there was always this subliminal sense that I had to make my parents’ survival worthwhile,” Tykocinski says. “Growing up, no matter what happened in my life, I didn’t feel as though I could complain because anything I could complain about would pale against what my parents went through.”
He is appreciative of the love and nurturing his parents gave him when he was young, and also for the freedom they gave him to set his own paths in life—even if he had no idea at the time where those paths would lead.
“When I reflect on my life, I realize if I had been much more conscientious and much more directed and much more specific in what I wanted, I may well not have gotten to where I am now. When you narrow the potential endings, you essentially preclude all the other different possibilities,” he says.
For Tykocinski, the possibilities are always endless, and always a source of wonder and gratitude.
“When I look back,” he says, “I just feel very fortunate for a lot of those doors—many of them random—that just seemed to open and allow me to get to where I’ve managed to get to in my life.”
He now looks toward the future with optimism, eagerness, and anticipation. Because, who knows? Down another long corridor, another open door might be waiting.