DEANâ€™S INSTALLATION JANUARY 25, 2017 INTRODUCTION BY
C.L. Max Nikias President, USC REMARKS BY
Dean, Keck School of Medicine of USC
C.L. Max Nikias President, USC
By coming together here at our Health Sciences Campus, we are forging a transformative milestone, one our entire university community has reason to celebrate.â€?
What a glorious day for our Keck School of Medicine! By coming together here at our Health Sciences Campus, we are forging a transformative milestone, one our entire university community has reason to celebrate. Today, I have the great privilege of formally welcoming our new dean of the Keck School of Medicine, who now will accelerate us into the future: Dr. Rohit Varma. I called today a transformative milestone. This transformative milestone is for our Keck physicians, researchers, students, and staff. They are extraordinary in their devotion to medicine, their pursuit of medical science, and their passion for the healing arts. This milestone is for the families who look to the Keck School of Medicine
to drive discovery, train tomorrow’s medical leaders, and provide hope. This milestone is for our neighbors whose lives are intertwined with Keck Medicine of USC. These words—healing, passion, hope—also speak to the character of our new dean. Some of us already know Rohit Varma, whose pioneering work over 19 years helped make our Roski Eye Institute world-renowned. He left to become chair of the ophthalmology department at the University of Illinois. Three years ago we brought him back, this time to lead ophthalmology department, and he has been exceptional. His journey to today’s celebration is the result of dedication, determination, and a heart that can teach us all about compassion.
This milestone is for the families who look to the Keck School of Medicine to drive discovery, train tomorrow’s medical leaders, and provide hope.”
Born in India, he earned his medical degree from the University of Delhi. He knew as a boy he wanted a career in ophthalmology, following in his uncle’s footsteps. “I was completely fascinated with vision,” Dr. Varma says. He came to the United States to train, but didn’t apply for a residency right away. Instead, he pursued a master’s in public health at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Varma knew that understanding disease—its cause and effects—is the first step to prevention and cure. He also knew first-of-its-kind investigative research would be the way forward.
“I never changed my goal, but I altered my approach,” Dr. Varma says. This is something his father taught him.
In 1993, he reached his original goal, completing his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital’s prestigious Wilmer Eye Institute.
It also helps that he is driven, fueled by an energy unknown to most people.
His next stop was USC, where he quickly proved he is a skilled surgeon, a born investigator, and a man who understands the word humanity.
That became clear when he was taking classes at Johns Hopkins, and accepted a fellowship at Wills Eye Hospital to research glaucoma. Now, Johns Hopkins is in Baltimore, but the fellowship was in Philadelphia. So Rohit took the train ... from Baltimore to Philadelphia and, many times, back to Baltimore in the same day.
It was here, in our department of ophthalmology, that he created and pursued a series a pioneering, population-based eye studies. These not only were the largest ever undertaken, but their yearslong design led to groundbreaking research that altered the landscape for treatment and public policy. // 3
Funded by the National Institutes of Health, these were, simply, gamechangers: the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study, which debuted in 2000; the Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Diseases Study, in 2006; the ChineseAmerican Eye Study, published in 2013; and the ongoing AfricanAmerican Eye Disease Study.
fan, and can’t get enough of soccer, even rising at 3 a.m. with his son to watch a Manchester United game live on TV.
By focusing on minority populations that are all too often ignored, particularly children and older people, Dr. Varma has cemented his reputation as a trailblazer.
For more than 130 years, the school has been a mighty pillar in USC’s success.
He dared to reach higher, and to dream bigger. As we all know great leaders know how to turn that dream into reality. First, they think strategically, and then work relentlessly. This is the essence of Rohit Varma. But, lest we think he is all business, Rohit happens to be a huge NFL
As Dr. Varma takes the reins, the Keck School of Medicine must be a catalyst for change, now more than ever. It must redefine what it means to cure and to heal.
Today, the school’s rising profile attracts the brightest students from around the world. Last year, we had 186 first-year students: one of the largest, best, and most diverse classes in the nation. Our medical training is unparalleled because USC is home to some of our nation’s premier teaching hospitals. But it is the patients who give the school its breadth, its life.
We have one goal: to extend and improve the quality of life for all those who seek our help. We can achieve nothing greater. Ours is an investment in people, an investment in humanity. On this note, I want to share a story that only Rohit’s family and closest friends know. Yet it explains so much of his life’s work. It is a story of one man’s humanity, and the capacity of the human heart. While studying medicine in Delhi, Rohit found a calling: to help the poorest of the poor. On his days off, he would volunteer at nearby Prem Negar, home to a leper colony. It was there that he met her. Mother Teresa. She was a light for good. Dr. Varma could feel it, and see it.
We have one goal: to extend and improve the quality of life for all those who seek our help.”
So, he would ride his motor scooter to reach those in need, not only at the leper colony, but also at a children’s center and at a hospice clinic. They were all in Mother Teresa’s domain, and there was no room for spectators. One night, Rohit was involved in a traffic accident. His family was relieved he suffered only minor injuries. Then the police brought the motor scooter to the house. It was smashed, flat as a pancake. Rohit had been broadsided by a three-ton truck. His grandmother had no more doubts: a greater spiritual force was at work. “Keep working with Mother Teresa,” she told him, “because she must be a pretty good person.” Rohit’s years of working with Mother Teresa is not something he talks about it. After all, as he might say, wouldn’t any of us help those who need us most? Rohit’s lifetime of selflessness reminds us of these inspired words: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
It is why Rohit pursued a master’s in public health, and why his research into eye disease is aimed at vulnerable, or overlooked populations.
His own hope is that the Keck School of Medicine, through collaboration and outreach, will set a new bar for medicine in the 21st century.
Dr. Rohit Varma is a man of vision. His strategic thinking is already at work, focusing on scientific innovation, research funding, and diversity. // 5
Dean, Keck School of Medicine of USC
Storms of generosity And visions of incandescent souls.â€?
President Nikias, I thank you.
I am both humbled and honored to stand before you all this afternoon. It is an enormous privilege to have been chosen to serve as dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, an institution that means so much to me, to all of us gathered here today, and to the people of our city and our region.
Founding Dean of the College of Medicine of USC, Joseph P. Widney, MD (1885 – 1896)
I would like to start by sharing part of a short poem by Boris Pasternak called “After the Storm.” The last stanza of the poem reads:
It’s not the earthquake That controls the advent of a different life; But storms of generosity And visions of incandescent souls. “Storms of generosity, and visions of incandescent souls.” We at Keck are the beneficiaries of such souls with vision and generosity. Souls who share our enduring belief in the power and the potential of USC to change the world. // 8
I want to recognize a few such souls, and I will start at the very beginning with the Widney brothers—Robert and Joseph—who had the vision in 1880 to build a university in Los Angeles. And later, to create a medical school. Joseph, who was the first dean, mortgaged his home to buy a building in which the medical school was housed. That first class had 10 students, of whom just one was a woman. Today, we have 186 students per class, of whom 50 percent are women. The next incandescent soul I want to recognize is President Nikias. President Nikias, under
your leadership, our university has become recognized around the world for our depth of expertise in higher education and research, including in health. You are acknowledged as a leader in creating the most diverse student bodies and in demonstrating excellence in how we teach our students and prepare them to succeed in life. Thank you for enlisting our community to support USC’s mission. There is no better teacher and there is no better leader in higher education today. I look forward to learning from you in the coming years. The third incandescent soul I want to recognize today is Mr. Robert Day. His vision and generosity have provided a critical foundation for our school to succeed. I thank him for his steadfast support. Without him, our faculty and students would not
enjoy the incredible opportunities that they do. I look forward to our continued collaboration in the years to come as we build this great medical school. I am extraordinarily grateful to be a part of the incredibly supportive community that we enjoy at the school of medicine and, more broadly, across USC. This unique atmosphere enables us to excel—in research, in education, in patient care and in making our community better. And it is this environment that will be the foundation for our next wave of great accomplishments. As I consider our future as an academic medical center, I think of a quilt of intricately and richly woven threads, including those of “tradition” and “pride.” For me, there are four critical threads woven
throughout this quilt, and they are what will continue to guide us on our ascent as a world-renowned medical school. These threads, which I call the “Four Cs,” are collaboration, creativity, compassion and community. In the coming years, I will use this quilt as a map in guiding our school as we reach for an even brighter future. Let me share with you what I mean. First, let me speak about collaboration and creativity. Those of us who call USC home are fortunate to be surrounded by leading experts in a vast number of disciplines—men and women whose brilliance is literally reshaping their fields. This is a wonderful point of pride for our university. But really, it’s much more than that.
When our school’s faculty reach out to collaborate with USC’s experts in fields including engineering, physics and computer science, truly amazing things happen.” // 9
Increasingly, the advances we are making in research and patient care are being made possible by collaboration across disciplines. When our school’s faculty reach out to collaborate with USC’s experts in fields including engineering, physics and computer science, truly amazing things happen. When multiple different disciplines intersect, the friction created leads to sparks of creativity. It’s those sparks that ignite new ideas for understanding and intervening in human health. And when that happens, the results can be truly revolutionary. One beautiful example is the work of my good friend and colleague, Dr. Mark Humayun, who led the development of a prosthetic retina—a chip that can partially restore sight for people with a
degenerative eye condition. What Mark has done is almost biblical.
into USC’s expertise in a wide array of other disciplines.
On one level, giving people their eyesight back—giving them the ability to navigate everyday life—is an astounding gift on its own. But even more than that, the prosthesis has restored people’s ability to enjoy the experiences that add richness to their lives: seeing the faces of their family members, taking in a show or watching us win the Rose Bowl! How amazing was that game?
For example, we can work with the Price School to optimize value in health care delivery. We can work with the School of Cinematic Arts to venture further into telemedicine and better teach patients about health and diseases. By linking with the College, we can leverage their expertise in history, philosophy, humanities and ethics to better communicate with our patients and understand the complex decisions we make as physicians.
The retinal chip was possible because Mark fostered a collaboration between a number of experts in a range of disciplines.
This is true for all 18 of our schools, including social work, dentistry, gerontology and the arts.
But linking medicine with other fields in the sciences, technology and mathematics is only the beginning. We must do more to tap
As we move forward, we will encourage more of these types of nontraditional collaborations. We want our faculty to spend time at
A creative spirit—the ability to see outside of the obvious and dream beyond what has been done—is in evidence everywhere you look at the Keck School of Medicine.” // 10
The College of Medicine of USC building opened in 1896, built with funds from the faculty, who took a mortgage to pay for it.
UPC, and to have faculty from UPC to spend quality time here. I admit, doing that might mean finding ways to overcome the enormous 7.3-mile commute! But I am sure we can do it. Interwoven with collaboration is our second thread, creativity. A creative spirit—the ability to see outside of the obvious and dream beyond what has been done—is in evidence everywhere you look at the Keck School of Medicine. It’s a vital ingredient in the work of faculty members like Dr. Art Toga and his colleagues at the Stevens Institute. Their work borrows from a vast array of disciplines and
approaches to produce the most sophisticated visualizations of the structure and function of the human brain. The same is true for the work of many, many others including Andy McMahon, Betza Zlokovic and Jae Jung. I could go on and on. Even with our students, creativity is an important part of what makes them so special. I’d like to mention one of them. Hugh Gordon is a fourth-year medical student who is a part of our growing Health, Technology and Engineering program, a
collaboration with the Viterbi School of Engineering. Before coming to USC, Hugh was an engineer at a little company called Google. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As part of his Dean’s Research Scholarship project, Hugh cofounded the USC D-Health Lab. In three years, the D-Health Lab has incubated health care start-ups now worth over $100 million. Hugh is still a director of the lab. And, still, that’s not all. Hugh co-founded Akido Labs, which builds data systems used by Keck // 11
Medicine, to help make sense of the vast amounts of data we collect. Developing an incubator and launching a new company, all while working toward his MD. I think we can agree: that requires a certain level of creativity! With students like Hugh representing the next wave of creative thinking in health and medicine, I know our future is in very, very good hands.
The third thread is compassion. For the past century, we have trained medical students guided largely by a report that was published over 100 years ago. The approach to teaching was this: Instill in students the basic science and functions of the human body before introducing clinical education. There was a focus on facts and organs, but not on the person. This approach overlooked compassion.
We like to think of this as a more enlightened era in terms of compassion in medicine. But physicians know that it can be tough to summon compassion when weâ€™re asked to see five patients in a few short minutes, or when electronic medical records become a major focus of your day. While big data, algorithms and robotics have made unimaginable things possible in medicine, their emergence has only heightened the danger that the human touch could be further removed from patient care. We can automate diagnoses, analysis and data gathering. But the human touch, that critical connection with our patients, can never be automated. We therefore must ensure that a 21st century medical education instills compassion, empathy and understanding in our physicians of tomorrow, and that our students understand that the human connection is the very core of healing.
Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center // 12
We can automate diagnoses, analysis and data gathering. But the human touch, that critical connection with our patients, can never be automated.”
The final thread is community. We can be very proud of the many ways in which the school already serves our neighbors—in particular, and most notably, through our partnership with L.A. County and our numerous clinics throughout Southern California. We can be proud of the faculty and students throughout our ranks who are absolutely devoted to making a difference in the lives of the city’s most vulnerable. You don’t have to look very far for examples. One is our colleague Dr. Astrid Heger, who, by the way, earned both her undergraduate and medical degrees at USC. More than 30 years ago, she established a revolutionary program to offer medical, mental health, protective,
legal and social services for victims of family violence and assault. Now known as the Violence Intervention Program, it evaluates more than 18,000 victims of violence each year, and it has been replicated in cities around the world. In combining a passion for her work, an undying empathy for her patients and a willingness to try new ways of serving our community, Astrid embodies that community spirit. Moving forward, we will continue to take bold new steps to build upon our tradition of engagement in Los Angeles. We will do more to assess the health of our community, to participate more fully in serving their needs and to provide ways for them to find jobs in health.
Another project, which is the vision of President Nikias, would both expand our commitment to our community here in Los Angeles and advance our quest for life-changing innovations. Our hope is to develop a biotech park adjacent to the Health Sciences Campus. Such a development would give a leg up to our faculty and students on the next wave of discovery in health and medicine. But, just as importantly, it would have a significant economic impact on our community. It would create jobs for our neighbors, and it would serve as a bridge, extending our vital connection to the community. Our destiny as a school and as a university is intertwined with that
As we continue on this journey together, let us establish goals so grand that the only way we can achieve them is through collaboration, creativity, compassion and community.”
of our city. With a biotech park, as with all of our endeavors, we can and must ensure that our success feeds the health and vibrancy of our community. These are the four most critical threads in our quilt. As we continue on this journey together, let us establish goals so grand that the only way we can achieve them is through collaboration, creativity, compassion and community. We intend to make life-changing innovations in the next several years: reshaping medical education, fighting and treating cancer, ending blindness, mapping the human brain, ending the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease and improving the very structure of how health care is delivered.
For these achievements to be realized, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, humanists, artists and social workers will need to collaborate and create in dramatically new ways, and they will need to share a common, compassionate focus on a larger mission for our community. And this is what is perhaps most exciting to me on this day: that there is a real sense of optimism that we—all of us—are on the precipice of something amazing and something great. That enthusiasm and energy are there not just among our faculty, but in our staff and students. There is a tangible feeling that we are looking beyond what is good for our own personal gains and instead
thinking about what is good for all of us, as a medical school, as a health system, as a university and as a community. I want to acknowledge a few people who have been instrumental in making today possible. To the USC Trustees and Keck Board of Overseers: thank you for being so giving of your time, talent and energy in the service of our school. I recognize each day how fortunate we are to benefit from your dedication to our school and I look forward to working with you and to celebrating our successes in the years to come.
I want to thank Dean Puliafito, who shepherded the school as dean for the past eight years. And I want to thank Deans Mathies and Tranquada. Gentlemen, your leadership has brought the Keck School of Medicine to new heights, and I am honored to stand on your shoulders. I thank Tom Jackiewicz, the senior vice president for USC Health. It is a true privilege and joy to work with you. I deeply appreciate your support and partnership in continuing to build this extraordinary academic medical center.
To the members of the search committee that recommended me for this role: I thank you for placing your trust in me.
I want to hear from you when we’re doing well and, especially, when you see an opportunity for us to do better.
I am especially grateful to the many friends and generous supporters of the Keck School of Medicine. Thank you for believing in us and for supporting our goals. Please know that my door is always open to you.
I am very grateful that my esteemed colleagues, the senior officers, deans and chairs of USC, have joined us today. I look forward to serving our great university with you.
And to Provost Michael Quick: Thank you for your counsel and guidance, and for your confidence in what we can accomplish at Keck. I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for heading the dean’s search committee—although if all of this doesn’t quite go according to plan, you have only yourself to blame for choosing me!
Goethe, in Part II of Faust, writes: … This sphere of earthly soil
Still gives us room for noble doing. Astounding plans even now are brewing: I feel new strength for bolder toil. … The Deed is everything, the Glory naught. “The deed is everything, the glory naught.” Goethe drew inspiration from Sanskrit literature, and in particular, from the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic written thousands of years earlier, which very succinctly states the core of what one should do in life. In Sanskrit we say, “Karmneya vadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachan,” which translates to, “Do your duty, do not look to the fruits of your actions.” In service and duty to our university and our community,
Artist rendering of the Biotechnology Park adjacent to the USC Health Sciences Campus // 16
President Nikias embodies these words. USC’s senior officers, deans and chairs exemplify them. And I hope in some small way to emulate them. Finally, I want to reflect on how improbable my journey has been and how grateful I am. I never could have dreamed that I would one day be living in this extraordinary city and working among this amazingly talented group of individuals. Only in America could this have happened: that a little boy from India would have the opportunity to become dean of this magnificent medical school. I will end where I started. President Nikias: I am deeply grateful for this opportunity and for your support.
Thank you and Fight On!
DESIGN: WARREN GROUP | STUDIO DELUXE
Dean's Installation, USC Keck School of Medicine