Days of Summer, Science, and Celebration

Dear Colleagues,

Last week’s graduation ceremonies were a special reminder of why we come to work. For many of us, seeing the Class of 2023 dressed in their Columbia blue regalia was both joyful and cathartic after the last several years. This is a special cohort of students from across our disciplines of medicine, nursing, dentistry, and public health. Their resilience, poise, and empathy in the face of historic adversity give me incredible hope for the future of health care, and it was a privilege to celebrate them with all of you. 

Our thanks to Dr. Atul Gawande for sharing his wisdom with us at the VP&S ceremony. His return to campus marked 18 years since his first VP&S graduation address, where he spoke at Dr. Lisa Mellman’s very first graduation as VP&S dean of students. As it happened, Dr. Gawande returned this year just in time for her last graduation as dean of students. The VP&S Class of 2023 honored Dr. Mellman with the Distinguished Teacher Award—a fitting end to a storied tenure in this important role. I want to give a very special thanks to all of you who helped make this a memorable week for the graduates and their families. My youngest daughter celebrated her own college graduation this weekend, so take it from a proud mom that what you do means so much to those of us in the audience. Thank you all, and congratulations again to the Class of 2023.
With that, summer is ahead and I must say I’m looking forward to it even more than usual. As one cohort of students leaves campus, a new group arrives by way of our summer pipeline programs. There are too many of these programs to list here, and that’s a testament to all the faculty and staff who dedicate their time and energy to this incredibly important work. These high school and undergraduate students are able to build foundations for careers in medicine and science thanks to the opportunities they find here, and it’s so meaningful to see how our summer programs impact their lives and professional trajectories. The opportunity to provide more coordination and support across these programs has been highlighted as a priority for the next phase of VP&S strategic planning. 

Just this week, I had the opportunity to participate in a very special celebration of the Department of Urology held on Liberty Island. I confess that I was skeptical about the wisdom of bringing faculty, staff, and friends of the department out for dinner on a ferry in uncertain weather. But, as I shared in my comments that evening, it’s hard to imagine a better setting for highlighting the importance of equity in health care and the power of attracting diverse talent to any enterprise. I highly recommend spending some time at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island if you need a reminder of how fortunate we are to work in this incredible city and how important it is for us to remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing health and opportunity for all. 

On an administrative note, I know that many of you have seen the information about the new Simple is Better effort to improve organizational processes across CUIMC. I have already received a lot of great feedback about the importance of such an initiative. In my experience, so much of the success of these efforts depends upon our willingness to try new ways of doing things, even when we may have some level of skepticism about their success. Perhaps a little like my lesson from the dinner on Liberty Island. I encourage you to send in your suggestions at and look forward to calling on many of you to help us redesign our processes over the months ahead. 

In other summer news, I want to remind you that the first two of our VP&S Science Afternoons are just around the corner. I hope you will take advantage of these opportunities to hear from our basic science departments on their latest advances and their plans for the future. The incredible research we do here is so central to our work, whether it’s laying the foundation for future discoveries or connecting our patients with the groundbreaking science that happens here. While much of our recent discussion has focused on the importance of our training programs and early career faculty pipeline in advancing this mission (including the new Vagelos Institute), the contributions of our scientific leadership to these efforts cannot be overstated. I am grateful to Dr. Gerard Karsenty, chair of the Department of Genetics and Development, and Dr. Riccardo Dalla-Favera, director of the Institute for Cancer Genetics, for being the first departmental and institute leaders to participate in this process. I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate Riccardo for receiving the AACR Outstanding Achievement in Blood Cancer Research and Dr. Cory Abate-Shen, chair of the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, for being recognized with the AACR-Women in Cancer Research Charlotte Friend Lectureship at the AACR meeting this year. 

Finally, with Memorial Day weekend upon us, I want to remind everyone about the importance of vacation and finding time to unwind, reflect, and recharge. As for my own summer vacation plans, I’ll be spending some time on the beach with family, books in hand. I shared my enthusiasm for one of my favorite books, “The Boys in the Boat,” when I joined this community a year ago and heard from many people who added it to their list. My Summer Reading List is growing fast, and I’ve pulled a few highlights together for your consideration. Feel free to send me suggestions and I am happy to add them to the list. 

With that, I have some reading to do. I’ll see you all next week. Until then, be safe and be well. 

All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD 
Dean of the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences, Columbia University