On June 16, 2006, NYU President John Sexton named Dr. Michael C. Alfano to the position of Executive Vice President of NYU. (For details on the appointment, please see the related article on page 72).
No one who knows Mike was the least bit surprised that President Sexton chose him for such an important position, thus enabling the entire University to benefit from his prodigious talents.
Thanks to Mike’s visionary leadership, NYUCD has been transformed into what no less an authority than Crain’s New York called “one of the nation’s top schools.” The reasons are many. Because of the generosity of our alumni and friends, fundraising has been unprecedented, leading to the creation of important new facilities and programs, that play a critical role in attracting the best students. Last year, 4,000 students applied for admission to the four-year DDS Program, more than ever before, making it possible for us to be more selective than ever before. Indeed, the academic qualifications of an entering class have never been better than they are for the freshman class of 2006, with top scores in all relevant categories.
We have also recruited world-class faculty; new roles for dentists and new models for healthcare education and delivery have been advanced; dental care for poor New Yorkers has been expanded; and NYUCD has emerged both nationally and globally as an important center for healthcare research, dental education reform and patient care innovations. It is not too much to say that NYUCD today is well on its way to becoming the most influential dental institution in the world, with the greatest impact on the health of society.
An equally important achievement of Mike’s tenure — and one of his proudest accomplishments — is the remarkable esprit de corps he helped to build among NYUCD students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. With such a strong foundation in place, NYUCD’s future promises to be nothing short of extraordinary. On a personal note, I feel both proud and privileged to have had the opportunity to work alongside Mike.
President Sexton has appointed a search committee to help select the outstanding individual who will become the next Dean of the College of Dentistry. Headed by Associate Dean for Research Dr. Louis Terracio, the committee has been charged with presenting President Sexton with the names of three to five unranked candidates by early next year. As Interim Dean, it is my honor during the search period to lead the College on its continuing upward trajectory.
A key issue confronting us today is the state of ethics and integrity in our society. Hardly a day goes by that we do not hear about acceptance of cheating being on the upswing, and I do not mean solely in higher education. Whether in medicine, science, journalism, sports, literature or the corporate and public sectors, there is no denying that we are experiencing a pandemic, with fraud, lies, distortions and rationalizations becoming all too common.
With this challenge much on our minds, this issue of Global Health Nexus explores concepts of ethics and integrity as related to health care. The content is not meant to be exhaustive, which would be impossible, but rather to foster what we hope will be an ongoing conversation.
My own view is that as clinicians, ethics and integrity go well beyond such things as not lying, cheating, stealing, committing insurance fraud or trying to persuade a patient to have a procedure that is not essential.
I strongly believe that ethics and integrity include taking personal responsibility for knowing everything we need to know to appropriately treat our patients. Ethics and integrity mean making the time to keep current about the relevant literature, being able to evaluate the literature and to explain treatment recommendations so that patients can give genuinely informed consent. For example, if a patient presents with a history of lupus, and if we are not totally familiar with the disease at the first visit, that’s understandable — it may have been some time since we studied the relevance of lupus to oral health care. But if the patient comes in a second time and we are still uninformed, then shame on us.
When you translate this thinking into the realm of healthcare education, it means that if a student doesn’t know what he or she is supposed to know about his or her patient, that’s not an academic problem, that’s an ethical problem. By not knowing, by doing just enough to get by, the student is demonstrating a lack of caring for the patient, and therefore a breach of ethics, because he or she is unwilling to acquire the foundation of knowledge that will enable the provision of appropriate care.
The most important thing dental education can do for students is to instill in them the conviction that good ethical practice means taking responsibility for themselves and for their patients. In addition to the dentist being sure that he or she is providing the best possible care for his or her patients, it also means that the dentist cares enough about himself or herself to seek constant intellectual stimulation. The more a dentist knows, the more confident that dentist feels, and the more fulfilling that dentist’s practice will be. The bottom line is that good dentists love what they’re doing because they are being constantly challenged intellectually.
We’re tremendously honored to have a group of leading thinkers across a range of disciplines share their views on ethics and integrity in this issue of Global Health Nexus. We begin with Dr. Charles Bertolami, Dean of the University of California at San Francisco School of Dentistry, who has contributed the lead article, “Is It Possible to Educate Students to Act Ethically?” We are also privileged to hear from Dr. Insoo Hyun, Assistant Professor of Bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine; Dr. Anthony Vernillo, Professor of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology, Radiology & Medicine at NYU, who recently completed an MS degree in bioethics; Professor Gloria Ramsey, a leading nurse-attorney with the Uniformed Health Services University of the Health Sciences; and Dr. Frederick More, Professor of Epidemiology & Health Promotion, who is the linchpin of NYUCD’s ethics curriculum.
You’ll also find stories on the exciting research being conducted at NYUCD and on the people who make NYUCD such a wonderful place to study, work and create new knowledge. I hope you enjoy this issue of the magazine as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to you.
NYU President John Sexton often asks people, “Are you leading a meaningful life?” Or, one could ask: “Are you leading an ethical life, one based on integrity?” Both questions challenge people to look within themselves, to become introspective.
We feel that this is such an important question, particularly with regard to health professionals, that we have made it the focus of this issue of Global Health Nexus.
For some, ethics and integrity mean adhering to a professional code, but that can be problematic, since codes vary by profession. For example, it is ethical for lawyers to split fees; it is not ethical for dentists to split fees. Lawyers ethically need to accept a certain percentage of pro bono cases; dentists do not. Integrity is something else. It is a fundamental way of leading one’s life that does not vary from situation to situation or from profession to profession. It is the path one follows
in attempting to answer the question, “Am I leading a meaningful life?” We invite you to follow along with us in seeking to answer that question.