A Message from the Dean

Dear OUWB Community,

I am asked from time-to-time what it means to be a founding dean. I usually answer that I was the first to arrive. I recall being in my office in O'Dowd Hall alone with a box of paper clips. From that modest start, I assembled a team of the most gifted leaders one could hope to find and we, together, designed the scaffolding for OUWB. The others we recruited along the way, our dedicated staff, our superb basic science and clinical faculty members, and most of all, our precious medical students all built the rest. A leader must start a project and to contract one's influence quickly so that the team sustains the momentum of creation.

I am very grateful to Dr. Ananias Diokno, then the Chief Medical Officer at Beaumont, and to Dr. Virinder Moudgil, then the Provost at Oakland (and now President of Lawrence Tech). They recruited me to this position directed me to develop an outstanding educational enterprise and an academic environment that was innovative and creative. I promised them that our team would develop an innovative paradigm for medical education and for the practice of medicine that others would strive to emulate. I hope that they believe that we kept our promise.

It was not easy to start a new medical school when Michigan became the epicenter of a crushing recession. I remember relating that the biggest challenge to us at the time was convincing Michiganders that something good could happen in this state, and as jobs were leaving the area, we were recruiting top talent to come here because the vision of OUWB was so compelling.

Beaumont, at the time, spoke of a “Beaumont Doctor,” and Dr. David Forst, a Beaumont physician leader, had challenged me at an interview, “I know you can train a physician to be academically brilliant - how will you train a doctor to be kind?” OUWB’s emphasis on “healing beyond science,” a phrase that Mary Fisher related to us at the commencement of our charter class in 2015, appeared to resonate consistently with Beaumont's aspirations and with the values of higher education embraced by Oakland University's Founder, Matilda Dodge Wilson.

My decision to leave behind a 20-year career as an NIH-funded clinician scientist was tough for me. I had hosted scientists from all parts of the world in my lab and in collaboration with another group, we challenged a dominant paradigm in cancer biology. I was criticized, even personally vilified, when our work was published. To respond to scathing criticism, I built collaborations with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, I worked with virtual reality tools 15 years ago to understand tumor microarchitecture, and I worked with engineers who specialized in molecular modeling. The paradigm that we challenged in 1999 no longer stands. Our paper, so controversial then, has been cited more than 1,800 times according to Google Scholar.

In the end, I left behind a research career because I could not resist the opportunity to set in motion a brilliantly innovative approach to teaching medicine — to start OUWB. Because of the recession, our resources were limited, and our parent organizations and the nascent OUWB leadership team agreed to delay the implementation of highly intensive research initiatives until well after the first class graduated and resources became available. Although we couldn't do everything at once, everything we set out to do would be excellent. I am delighted that our very first research initiatives are in the dynamic area of population health informatics and that OUWB will soon be home to our early graduate programs.

OUWB became well known for its unique learning environment. Twice, journalists have called OUWB “The Kindness Curriculum.” We created a community to serve our community, and we live our values by recognizing that everyone at OUWB and everyone in the communities we serve has infinite value. Our approach to diversity and inclusion became the framework for the current campus-wide diversity initiatives at Oakland University.

Our approach to education in medical sciences and technology is so compelling that our graduates have matched to residency programs in the most competitive fields and in the most prestigious training venues. At OUWB, we insist that science and technology are the prerequisites for excellent medical practice — as is the case in every medical school. At OUWB, we also ask that each of our students and our graduates tether mastery of knowledge and technique to a generous personal expression of humanity through service to others. At OUWB, we strive to generate “virtuoso physicians.”

One member of our very first class suggested that in a decade or generation, one would able to point to a physician and to say, "By the way you practice medicine, you must have trained at OUWB." Years later, we are told that this is true - OUWB graduates are indeed distinctive in the way that they deliver medical care, and our students and graduates are overrepresented in leadership positions, remarkable considering OUWB’s institutional youth. Together, we built a medical school masterpiece.

What does it feel like to be the founding dean at OUWB? I share the answer with you now: I love OUWB -- its staff, faculty, and precious students -- as a father loves a child.

OUWB is still very young, and there is so much more work to do, and yet, the time arrived for me to make another difficult decision, one that I have made in the best interests of all parties.

I have informed our leadership of my intention to complete my present term as founding dean of the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine through the end of July 2019, without seeking reappointment and I indicated my current intention to remain on the faculty as a tenured professor.

I am very grateful for having had the privilege of serving you, and I wish everyone at OUWB a future of abundant blessings.

Robert Folberg, M.D.

Stephan Sharf Founding Dean, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine
Chief Academic Officer, William Beaumont Hospital