Dean of Harvard Medical School George Q. Daley ’82 said he has “never been more proud” of the role Medical School faculty, staff, and students played in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic in an interview with The Crimson last month.
According to Daley, HMS researchers had a major role in the scientific and clinical development of two major vaccine platforms, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, as well as in understanding the “structural biology” of the virus itself.
Daley said some research at the Medical School is now focusing on drug development with hopes of eventually identifying a “pan-coronavirus inhibitor.”
“Even though we now have vaccines, the longer term battle against this virus and other emerging pathogens will be to develop drugs that can be deployed more quickly and more readily,” he said.
Much of the progress made in Covid-19 research by HMS faculty has been facilitated by the creation of the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness and has allowed for “more rapid sharing of information” regarding best practices, Daley said. MassCPR is anchored at Harvard Medical School, and now includes more than 500 clinicians and scientists at 17 institutions.
Daley said he appreciates the “remarkable dedication” of support staff, particularly those working in infectious disease labs, who have helped to keep labs “up and running” through the height of the pandemic.
“Those labs that were directly involved in Covid research remained open and, in fact, really, really amplified their focus on aspects of the virus — the immune response and the host response,” Daley said.
According to Daley, the Medical School as a whole has also been “more open” than the rest of Harvard, as medical students shifted to a hybrid learning program starting in January.
Daley said the pivot to virtual pedagogy has demanded “a tremendous amount of innovation” from HMS faculty in maintaining and enhancing the quality of education offered during the pandemic.
According to Daley, HMS staff have been utilizing “various machine interfaces” and augmented reality technologies to teach portions of the Medical School curriculum, such as human anatomy and physiology. While Daley said he believes these learning interfaces cannot substitute physical learning experiences, like dissections, he noted that these technologies “complement” traditional teaching approaches in medicine.
“My hope is that the lessons learned are going to persist beyond the pandemic and improve the range of approaches to teaching medical education,” Daley said.
Daley also highlighted HMS’s integration of student feedback into faculty instruction through a program in which medical students can meet regularly with teaching faculty to provide suggestions on improving curriculum delivery.
At the same time that the pandemic has caused enormous pain and suffering, Daley said it has also allowed for more visibility for the “deep compassion” of medical and nursing professions in particular, perhaps driving the surge in applications the school received this year.
“I hope and I believe that it has reminded the greater community of the importance of medicine, of the importance of access to medical care as a human right, not as a privilege,” he said. “I hope that part of that [increase in applications] is driven by the profound sense that medicine is an incredibly important and meaningful way to commit one’s talents to the service of others.”
—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Anjeli R. Macaranas can be reached at email@example.com.