Dean’s Column

In the life of an organization, there are periods of convergence. A collection of very different individuals suddenly in one place, with a common calling—complementary know-hows, gestalts that mesh, aspirations in synch. Things crystallize. The institution leaps forward. And once the quantum step happens, you can’t imagine it otherwise.

In a real sense, this has been the Jefferson I have witnessed over the past decade and a half. The dramatic scaling of the clinical enterprise, now with a health insurance arm. The university’s out-of-the-box merger with another in the design professions space. The spurt of curricular and co-curricular innovation at the medical college, pioneering under a new banner. The campus-wide ferment of discovery, with a more than quadrupling of publication output and a tripling of extramural funding. At the helm, a collection of leaders, a mélange of mindsets and skillsets, but sharing a willingness to embrace change, even more, a compulsion to do so.

That this journey has all pressed forward with a pandemic as backdrop these past two years speaks to yet another quality—resilience. At all levels of our organization. Walking into a classroom or lab, facing a patient of unknown virus status, standing guard at a building entrance—beyond heroism and mission-driven dedication, signs of inner strength, an ability to absorb and pivot. Remarkable people, fortuitously together, allowing an iconic institution to survive into a new century and continue to thrive in the face of radical challenge.

Each leader has added unique things to the Jefferson brew. Beyond bringing a flurry of new opportunities to the table, Steve Klasko’s more profound contribution was instilling in the Jefferson enterprise a gestalt that invites bold steps, pivots, risk-taking. And yes, a bit of playfulness. The DJ playlists in his Friday missives to the Jefferson community sent a subliminal message that the out-of-the-box is permissible. For the medical college, this spirit instantiated in things big and small. Shredding a time-tested curriculum and inventing one from scratch, why not. Combining medicine with design, that’s cool. Sending biomedical experiments on space shuttle missions, seems like a fun thing to do. Creating a first international dual MD pathway for minting global physicians, worth the transnational leap.

A lot of things fell into place these past years. Right boards, right management teams, right philanthropists—all powered by right faculty and staff. Histories will reveal fortuitous complementarities. A mix of current leaders who have hands-on insight into the competitive Philadelphia healthcare marketplace. Academic drivers with unusual academic tastes—in science, in technology, in clinical priorities. And over time, a sequencing of leaders, each adding their unique piece. This includes my dean predecessors who assembled key building blocks that now power the medical college engine. As is common, much of such institutional evolution can be understood only in retrospect.

No doubt, many profound challenges remain before us. But we can allow ourselves a moment to step back and reflect and appreciate. We have done much to secure Jefferson’s future. We are now on the national, and even international stage. All this, as we cherish legacy, relentlessly cleave to our roots—the collegiality, the humanity, the respect for place—and model our most recent motto: Redefining Humanly Possible.

Mark L. Tykocinski, MD
Provost and EVP for Academic Affairs
Thomas Jefferson University
Anthony F. and Gertrude M. DePalma Dean
Sidney Kimmel Medical College