Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. J. Larry Jameson, Dean at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine

Thasin Jaigirdar
Oct 24, 2014

Dr. Larry Jameson is the Dean of University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine and Executive Vice President of University of Pennsylvania for the Health System. He is also the former Dean and Vice President of Medical Affairs at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine and the former President of the Endocrine Society. Dr. Jameson is a physician-scientist whose research interests surround the topic of molecular endocrinology. He has received numerous awards throughout his career and has authored more than 300 scientific articles. We are excited to feature him in our Leaders in Medical Education Series today.

How did you decide on a career in Medicine, and can you elaborate on your background and what has brought you to where you are today?

I was attracted to the field of Medicine initially through undergraduate research projects in chemistry and biology. I was fortunate to work summers in a large laboratory that was populated by physician scientists, including future Nobel Laureates. These role models were inspirational, and I was strongly influenced by how they creatively solved biological problems through rigorous inquiry. After beginning medical school, I decided to simultaneously pursue a PhD degree in Biochemistry. Throughout my career, I have greatly enjoyed both patient care and research. I now serve as Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. I also serve as Executive Vice President for the Penn Health System. In these capacities, I am fortunate to remain closely connected with research, patient care, and the training of our next generation of physicians and scientists. I was attracted to this type of leadership role because of its societal impact and because of the breadth of activity across different fields. In some respects, I still feel like a medical student as I move quickly from discipline to discipline, needing to quickly understand the latest advances in every field of medicine and science.

What is some advice you would give to an undergraduate student interested in pursuing a career in medicine?

As a physician, we are students for life, continuously learning. I would encourage undergraduates to pursue a broad education and to pursue areas of curiosity and passion. Once you choose a specialty, you will become expert in the relevant physiology, best practices, and treatment options. As an undergraduate, you live in a renaissance environment, and I would take advantage of those diverse learning opportunities.

What are the toughest challenges you face every day as Dean of a Medical School?

I face more opportunities than challenges. Consequently, one of the greater challenges is to prioritize among the many valid opportunities suggested by faculty or students. We use strategic planning to chart our future path and priorities. Still, hardly a day passes when someone doesn’t suggest an interesting new research project, faculty hire, new feature for the curriculum, or international collaboration.

What are two or three changes you would like to see in the way Physicians are trained in the United States?

I don’t think the system is broken. Perhaps the most fundamental challenge in medical education and physician training is the overwhelming amount of information that physicians must learn and continue to digest on an ongoing basis. Ultimately, this requires fundamental knowledge, coupled with experience. As the demand for health care grows, it makes sense for physicians to focus their effort and expertise on diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Or, in the case of procedure-oriented physicians, on technical expertise. An implication of this is that physicians will leverage other talented members of health care teams to assist with care delivery, particularly for prevention and the management of chronic disease. I support current curricular efforts that provide greater focus on: 1) teamwork and interprofessional learning, 2) skills in information technology (IT) management, and 3) competency based education.

It seems that more medical students are pursuing interdisciplinary careers and degrees (MD/MPH, MD/MBA, etc). What are your thoughts on this and how do you think this may change the future of medicine?

I encourage students to pursue their professional interests. More than half the students at the Perelman School of Medicine graduate with a joint degree or certificate.  This reflects the complexity of health care and the fact  that physicians increasingly interact extensively with professionals in other fields, such as management, law, and public health. While there can be real advantages in having some people trained in both medicine and other fields, not everyone needs a joint degree. We benefit, however, from a culture in which these disciplines can intersect to provide synergistic benefits for society.