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McGill’s new dean of medicine  is techno-savvy

MONTREAL – McGill University has hired a prominent U.S. physician and academic to become its next Dean of Medicine. Richard Levin (pictured), vice-dean for education, faculty and academic affairs at the New York University school of medicine, is also a top cardiologist, inventor and researcher

He will start work at McGill this September.

“He’s quite unique in that he is a modern Renaissance man,” Heather Munroe-Blum, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill, told the Globe and Mail. “He is deeply committed to medical education. He’s an outstanding clinician, a scientist of real significance and someone who has cared not only about research and development but in the delivery of medicine.”

Dr. Levin also holds four patents, including one for a molecule for healing wounds and a coronary health-management device and system.

Dr. Levin, 57, said he was impressed with the “extraordinary reputation” of McGill as one of the “great biomedical universities.”

Another “of the reasons I was attracted to McGill was the opportunity to observe your invention of the public healthcare system from the inside,” he said.

McGill launched a two-year international search for a dean of medicine before hiring Dr. Levin, who will also hold the title of vice-principal of health affairs.

After spending most of his career at Bellevue Hospital in New York, Dr. Levin is no stranger to public healthcare. “One of the reasons I chose to go to New York University was the extraordinary history of being in and of the city and accepting every wave of immigrant, regardless of ability to pay, with any illness and giving them care that is delivered by the same [medical] faculty,” he said.

Dr. Levin, who said he was “nearly fluent” in French three decades ago, is currently taking a French immersion course in preparation for his new life in Montreal.

He will be moving there with his wife, Jane Ellen Bressman, a New York lawyer and judge, while his two adult daughters, one of whom is a lawyer, the other a medical student, will be staying in the United States.

Dr. Levin told a McGill University newspaper that 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, patients stayed in hospital for much longer periods of time.

Days, easily weeks, could stretch out from diagnosis to completion of treatment, allowing students and physicians 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,” Dr. 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 still takes four years, just as it did in the mid-1800s, despite the fact that scientific knowledge has increased by a staggering amount over those years. “How do we present that knowledge to students in so short a time?”

Dr. 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.”

Dr. 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.