Diversity and interprofessionalism were among the key topics addressed by University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Jay A. Perman, MD, in a keynote address given at an international summit of biotechnology entrepreneurs.
“First, I must say how incredibly honored I am to be here today, in the company of such dynamic scholars and entrepreneurs — tomorrow’s global leaders, tomorrow’s innovators, disrupters, and problem-solvers,” Perman said June 9 at GapSummit 2017 held in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the host, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University. “Never have I stood in front of a group of people and been so confident that I will see them again on the world stage sharing their revolutionary ideas and transforming how we approach the most pernicious problems before us.”
GapSummit 2017 is the flagship event of Global Biotech Revolution, an international student-led organization dedicated to connecting bio-leaders across generations, regions, and cultures. The 100 attendees are competitively selected from countries around the world to connect with global leaders in biotechnology.
The mission of the summit is to inspire and train the “Leaders of Tomorrow” in catalyzing innovation, helping to build the global bioeconomy, and facilitating communication through three core values “challenge, grow, and connect.”
Perman thanked Kamalika Saha, PhD ’15, speaker liaison director for GapSummit 2017, who earned her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Saha had extended an invitation to Perman to be one of the keynote speakers during the four-day summit.
“She’s responsible for my being here today and I am deeply humbled, deeply honored,” Perman said. Saha is currently a postdoctoral fellow in medical communications at MedImmune. Two other UMB graduates, Andong Nkobena, PharmD '16, and Abdulafeez "Deji" Oluyadi, PharmD '16, joined Saha on the executive planning team of GapSummit 2017. Like Saha, Nkobena and Oluyadi are postdoctoral fellows at MedImmune.
Perman also recognized Ben Portney, a “Leader of Tomorrow,” whom Perman described as “one of UMB’s most prolific disrupters.”
Portney, a President’s Fellow, is a PhD student in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Maryland Graduate School. UMB is helping him launch his early-stage startup, AgamiLife, which he’s co-founded with two fellow students, Perman said.
“Through sheer dint of will, Ben has carved out a rich space at UMB for student entrepreneurs and innovators, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for his leadership,” he said.
“I can’t begin my remarks today without acknowledging that you’ve come here at an interesting, and occasionally frightening, time in American history. The direction we’re heading as a nation, toward isolationism, toward tribalism, stands as a stark counterpoint to the fundamental philosophy underpinning this summit,” Perman said. “You are here because you believe in the limitless power of collaboration and cooperation. You believe that there are challenges we confront as a global society that must be solved as a global society. You believe that we will find our answers and our hope not in the walls we erect, but in the bridges we build. You believe not only in global leadership, but global fellowship.”
Perman noted that when President Donald J. Trump recently pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, French President Emmanuel Macron had a powerful message for him. Taunting Trump and his slogan “Make America Great Again,” Macron said it was time instead to “Make Our Planet Great Again.”
“That’s why you’re here,” Perman told GapSummit attendees. “To bridge the gaps that imperil us all. To be the change we wish to see in the world. To disrupt globally and implement locally.“
When he was dean of the medical school at the University of Kentucky, prior to becoming president of UMB, Perman would send medical students around the world to learn from their counterparts in other countries. He was often asked why he sent students abroad when Kentucky had plenty of economic, educational, and health challenges of its own.
“I’ll tell you why. Because global versus local is a false dilemma. It’s not an either‒or proposition,” Perman said. “The problems that plague America’s under-resourced communities are the same problems plaguing developing nations. The innovations and practices that can help developing nations address urgent problems of health, education, communication, and sustainability can be applied in the U.S. with the same efficacy — but only if we allow it.”
Turning his attention to the city in which UMB resides, nearly one-quarter of Baltimore residents live in poverty, Perman said.
“There is an inextricable link in our country between health and wealth,” he said. “In the world’s richest nation, with everyday access to breakthrough technologies, we know without a doubt that race, class, and address still dictate how long one lives. And so I think it’s a particular brand of arrogance to believe that we can’t learn anything from other nations. Global experience teaches us humility — a trait that America might consider trying on.”
Regarding interprofessionalism, Perman told the audience, “I promise you that you’ll start the biotech revolution sooner if you undertake it with people who know nothing about biotechnology. If there’s one disruptive thing I’ve learned over a 45-year medical career it’s that education and practice have to become more interprofessional.”
Patients with chronic disease need team-based care and a holistic approach to their health and well-being. At UMB, students in the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Social Work, and Law are expected to function in health care teams, Perman noted. He used a child diagnosed with lead poisoning as an example of the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach to health care. It is a diagnosis common for children in Baltimore, he added.
“We know how to get the lead out of a child’s blood. It’s not a complicated process,” Perman said. Once that process is complete, “that child no longer needs a doctor. He needs a lawyer who will make the landlord comply with the lead-paint laws on the books.”
He encouraged attendees to seek out teams of diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, background, perspective, and experience.
“There are plenty of studies proving that diverse teams perform better than alike teams,” Perman said. “Interacting with people who are different from us forces us to prepare better, to focus on facts and to process them more carefully, to anticipate opposing viewpoints, and to expect that reaching agreement will be difficult. The Harvard Business Review says that diverse teams feel less comfortable — and that’s exactly why they’re successful.”
Perman concluded by saying he was eager to keep a class photo of the GapSummit 2017 attendees because he strongly believed the young men and women will be making significant contributions to the world.
“No pressure, but we’ll be watching. And we can’t wait to see what you’ll do.”