Yale leaders talk about COVID-19: School of Medicine Dean Nancy J. Brown, M.D.

Brown discusses how Yale School of Medicine doctors are gearing up for the expected influx of COVID-19 cases, new research, and the effects on medical students.
Nancy J. Brown, M.D.

Nancy J. Brown, M.D.

This interview is part of a running series.

How are Yale School of Medicine doctors gearing up for the expected influx of patients with COVID-19?

Our response to COVID-19 has brought out the best in our school — the caring, collegiality, and creativity of our people. This is a rapidly evolving situation, but we are prepared. Our clinical leaders huddle each morning to ensure that we can care for patients while protecting the safety of our faculty and staff. They are working creatively to ensure that we have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, sufficient capacity in the hospital, and enough clinicians. For example, our Clinical Virology Laboratory developed testing for COVID-19 in-house, and this has made rapid testing available for health care workers.

The Yale Medicine team has arranged for accommodations for physicians who are working long shifts or who need to self-isolate. Our critical care physicians have stood up and equipped additional hospital floors dedicated solely to the care of COVID-19 patients. Colleagues in one department have reached out to those in another to share work. To decrease the number of ambulatory patients, our faculty have greatly expanded the number of telehealth video visits. Our clinical leaders have conferred with colleagues in China and throughout the world to learn from their clinical experience and enhance our protocols for caring for COVID-19 patients.

What research is taking place around the virus?

Epidemiologists within the Yale School of Public Health, Yale School of Nursing, and Yale School of Medicine have been modeling the pandemic to allow us to focus resources where and when they are needed. Yale School of Medicine has some of the best immunologists in the world, and they have shifted their programs to understand how COVID infects cells, how the immune system responds, and how we might interrupt that process. Our data scientists have developed methods to study outcomes in patients using data from their electronic health records. We can share these methods with other institutions across the country to enable research in many patients. We are leveraging the infrastructure of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation to quickly initiate clinical studies of new therapies. Our geneticists are exploring how patient factors determine outcome. And, of course, many of our colleagues across the campus are doing similarly important research to fight this pandemic. To coordinate these efforts, we have created the COVID-19 Response Coordination team (CoReCT).

Other than moving to online classes, what is the effect on medical students?

In addition to moving classes online, we were forced to interrupt the clinical clerkship training, which provides medical students with clinical experience in hospital and clinic settings. Students are extremely valuable members of the care team, but with a decrease in the number of ambulatory visits and elective surgeries, we could no longer offer them a meaningful educational experience. Students are now working with their advisors to make individualized plans. They have volunteered to conduct literature searches for our teams, just as they would on the wards. The students also conceived of the idea of creating an elective on COVID-19 and pandemics. Students at Yale School of Public Health are performing contact tracing. Last week, students helped organize a virtual Match Day (a celebratory event when students learn where they matched for residency) using technology to observe social distancing. For our accepted students, who would normally visit campus at the end of March, our education leadership team has created a virtual Second Look visit. These prospective students will have the opportunity to meet with faculty virtually, and even meet with community leaders. All told, our faculty, students, and staff are coming together to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19. In doing so, I’m confident we’ll discover new ways to work together to advance discovery, learning, and health.


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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale responds to COVID-19

Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-980-2222