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The connection between McGill and New York City just got stronger with the appointment of Richard I. Levin as Vice-Principal (Health Affairs) and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. Levin is currently the vice dean for education, faculty and academic affairs at New York University's School of Medicine.
Levin has been in New York City his entire professional career, so making the move to Montreal was in some ways a difficult decision for he and wife Jane B. Levin, a lawyer and administrative law judge.
"But the opportunity was great," he said in a phone interview with the Reporter. "I feel I've been in training for a deanship for a long time."
The strength of McGill's medical school was an irresistible lure for Levin. "McGill is one of the world's great public research universities."
"Dr. Levin has outstanding credentials and leadership skills," said Principal Heather Munroe-Blum. "He also brings a deep understanding and passion for the unique role of education and research in advancing our society and mankind, which is an essential quality for the position."
Provost Anthony Masi noted that "Rich Levin understands well and is exquisitely prepared to address the challenges that face the medical profession at McGill, in Quebec, across Canada, and around the world.
He has all the right stuff: broad vision, strategic thinking, deep analytical capacity, great interpersonal skills, and a proven track record at a peer medical-doctoral institution in the United States."
Levin said he looks forward to meeting the university leaders and asking them to join him in a strategic planning program that will help define what needs to be done in the next five to ten years to make the Faculty of Medicine even stronger.
He's impressed by the collegiality of the university's researchers and anticipates many fruitful interdisciplinary collaborations.
Not that he doesn't have hard work cut out for him. Levin believes one of the major challenges to medical education today is the loss of the hospital as a human laboratory. He said that when he was doing his training, how long a patient stayed in the hospital was of no concern. Days, easily weeks, could stretch out from the time of admission to diagnosis to completion of treatment, affording the students and physicians time to get to know the patients, their families, their life situations, the progress of healing. These days, it's considered inefficient for a patient to stay in the hospital beyond the crisis point.
"This has led to a remarkable loss. Students don't perceive the continuity of even a single episode of chronic illness," Levin said. "That six-week adventure and learning experience has been reduced to 24 to 48 hours."
Another educational issue is that medical school training takes merely four years, Levin pointed out, just as it did in the mid-1800s. This despite the fact that the sheer mass of scientific knowledge has increased a staggering amount over those years. "How do we present that knowledge to students in so short a time?"
Levin believes that students could benefit if schools were to embrace multidisciplinary learning tools such as information technology and narrative-based medicine. "Such approaches allow us to recreate the environment that has been lost," he said. He has already helped set up NYU's Advanced Learning Exchange (ALEX), a richly layered, computer-based educational environment. "ALEX hearkens to the library at Alexandria." At the core of ALEX is its ever-expanding digital library. "In the world wide web's peer-reviewed authenticated components, all biomedical knowledge can be found."
Levin received his BS in Biology from Yale University in 1970, his MD from NYU School of Medicine in 1974, and did a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Cornell University Medical College from 1979 to 1983.
He has been a full professor of medicine at NYU since 1996, and is currently responsible for NYU's distinguished educational programs. He practiced and taught medicine for 25 years on the front lines at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, the oldest public hospital in the United States.