Selected Speeches

Annapolis Rotary Club

June 7, 2018
Annapolis Yacht Club, Annapolis

Thanks, Don. Before I get started, do we have any UMB alumni in the room today?

You know, that question—“Did you graduate from UMB?”—often stumps people. That sounds strange, but it’s not. The word “Baltimore” doesn’t actually appear in the names of our individual schools. “UMB” exists only when we refer to all of our schools together. So you can understand the confusion.

Of course, when people hear “University of Maryland,” many think of our sister university in College Park, headed by my good friend and close partner, Wallace Loh. That’s a great school. But it’s not us.

UMB is Maryland’s only public health, law, and human services university—with six nationally ranked professional schools and an interdisciplinary graduate school.

As our name indicates, we’re in Baltimore. But that “B” for “Baltimore” causes even more confusion. We’re not UMBC, in Baltimore County, headed by my good friend Freeman Hrabowski. We’re not UB, on the north side of Baltimore, headed by my good friend Kurt Schmoke. We’re on the Westside of the city, a few blocks from Downtown in one direction and from West Baltimore in the other.

We have six professional schools—in medicine, law, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, and social work—as well as our Graduate School. Our medical school, founded in 1807, is the oldest public medical school in the country. Our dental school is the world’s very first college of dentistry.

UMB awards most of Maryland’s professional doctoral degrees, which means there’s more than a passing chance that your dentist, your pharmacist, your physician, your lawyer was educated at UMB.

You heard in the video that UMB’s mission—our core purpose—is to improve the human condition and serve the public good. I want to talk about what that means in terms of our work, our work in education, research, clinical care, and service. The fact is, we can’t fulfill any one of these missions without fulfilling the other three. Each mission intersects with the others—relies on the others.

It’s easiest to illustrate this with an example. Among Maryland universities, the size of UMB’s research enterprise is second only to Johns Hopkins’. This year, we’ll likely break $600 million in research grants, and this research has global impact.

For instance, UMB was just named to lead a $100 million federal project to survey HIV prevention and treatment programs in Nigeria. It’s the largest population-based HIV survey ever conducted in a single country. We won this grant because we have a decades-long track record in global health. Because we have close collaborations with partners around the world. Because we have deep capabilities in infectious disease prevention and treatment. And through our work, we’ve gotten 1.3 million HIV patients throughout Africa and in the Caribbean into ongoing treatment.

But that’s only half the story. HIV isn’t eradicated in America, even though we seldom talk about it here. In communities with high intravenous drug use like Baltimore, HIV is a fact of life. We treat 6,000 patients with HIV in Baltimore each year. We educate patients and providers. We remove obstacles to care. We develop peer support networks. We implement risk-reduction strategies. This is work that everyone is involved in—our students, faculty, staff, neighbors, volunteers.

And everything we learn from our HIV work around the world, we apply locally—in our own neighborhoods. Everything we learn locally, we apply globally. Because no one’s cornered the market—the U.S. included—on best practices and best policy. If we’re not open to learning from countries and people around the globe, we’re failing those we’ve pledged to serve.

Certainly, the one thing our students learn from the moment they step onto campus, from the moment they start serving our constituents, is that we cannot move the needle on health and wellness indicators if we don’t address the social determinants of health: the environments—the conditions—in which people live, learn, work, and play.

I use this slide a lot to illustrate the social determinants of health. Look at how wealth corresponds to life expectancy in two Baltimore City neighborhoods. Roland Park and Upton/Druid Heights are only about five miles apart. But if you live in Roland Park, here in red—with an average household income of $108,000—you can expect to live a full 15 years longer than one of our neighbors in Upton/Druid Heights, here in yellow, where income is just $19,000 a year.

So remember when I said that HIV isn’t uncommon in Baltimore, given our high IV drug usage? That means we can’t possibly implement a comprehensive plan for HIV prevention without addressing endemic addiction.

And it’s in issues like addiction that UMB has something truly special to offer. With seven schools in health, law, and social work, we can attack this problem from every angle. We have a promising drug in development right now—called UMB 425—an opioid painkiller that reduces the risk of addiction. It’s exciting, but we know that pharmacological solutions aren’t the only ones.

We’re using virtual reality to study pain management without the use of opioids, putting patients into an immersive virtual environment that relaxes them during painful procedures. We’re looking at the use of placebos to extend time between opioid doses, and at the long-term effects of opioids on babies who are exposed in utero, so that we can devise better programs not only for these babies but for their mothers, too. We’re looking at how women who are addicted and pregnant are handled in the criminal justice system, and whether our criminal justice policies have the effect of imperiling women and their babies, when we’re actually trying to save them.

All seven of our schools have come together to reframe how we think about addiction—how we treat it and how we interrupt the path to it. Together, we’ll train a workforce dedicated to substance use disorders. We’ll develop new models of care. We’ll gather and analyze data on addiction to get ahead of the problem. We’ll advise policymakers on science-based prevention and intervention.

I said earlier that’s it when we talk about all seven of our schools together that we use the name “UMB.” And there’s incredible power in that. There’s power when we work across professions on the very same problems.

When he introduced me, Don mentioned that I run a weekly pediatric clinic with students from all seven UMB schools. Not just the health sciences schools. All of them. Together we see pediatric patients and meet with their families. Together, we discuss possible diagnoses and treatment plans.

And the reason that all seven schools serve in the clinic together is because we know that health is so much more than biology. You can’t treat a child with lead poisoning and then send that child back into a home with lead paint peeling off the walls. Once that patient is treated, she no longer needs a doctor. She needs a social worker; she need a lawyer. She needs integrated, patient-centered care, and professionals who will work together to provide it.

And what Maryland needs is a generation of talented, dynamic students—like ours—who will take this big-picture view of human health and well-being, and will innovate the way we solve our most persistent problems. We need a new generation of professionals who will look at these problems in a whole new way, collaborate with new partners—across industries and sectors.

In the video, you saw that UMB has a rich culture of innovation. Last year, we disclosed 150 inventions. We licensed 40 drugs, diagnostics, and medical devices—most of them to huge, multinational corporations. We launched 10 startups from our own intellectual property. Our BioPark is the largest biotech hub in the city, with dozens of tenants and 1,000 employees, all working to move their discoveries out of the lab and into the marketplace, where they can have a real impact on health and wellness.

Now we’re making sure that all of our students can be a part of this innovation community we’re building. We’re launching tech accelerators with partners like Hopkins, Under Armour, and Plank Industries. We’re creating spaces for students to collaborate with one another and with local entrepreneurs. We’re laying in the seed funding and resources students need to get their ideas off the ground. And we’re developing degree programs in health and social innovation, so that students can start designing solutions to the worst challenges we see every day.

For instance, we know that the city’s food deserts contribute to the serious health disparities we see among populations—to epidemic levels of obesity and chronic disease. So what’s a market-based solution to this? What can we do differently to achieve a different outcome? What can we pilot and scale? And how do we attract investors to our ideas?

Answers to the challenges we face can’t be abstract or academic, handed down from on high. That’s why we bring our students into the community, every day, into neighborhood schools, homes, clinics, our community center … not only to provide our neighbors needed services—like health and wellness programs, parenting classes, legal advice, job training—but to train the next generation of capable and compassionate providers, who know their communities and know how to deliver high-quality care and counsel to diverse and vulnerable populations.

And we’re even doing one better: We’re exposing local middle school students to careers in health and science so that, one day, they can take care of their own communities. We know that this ownership is absolutely essential to structural change. But we also know that—without well-planned interventions—it won’t happen. There are roughly the same number of black men in medical school today as there were in 1978. That’s because the system fails many of our students of color early. And that means we have to reach them early.

So through our CURE Scholars Program, these middle school students—80 of them now; soon to be 100 this fall—they come to campus throughout the week for tutoring, mentoring, afterschool projects, science experiments. They come to our summer camp at UMB. They go out on field trips.

We ignite their curiosity and engage their talent—and, believe me, that talent is abundant. Our first class of scholars enters high school this fall—some of the best high schools in the city. We’ll stick with them, we’ll stay on to coach and mentor them, so that we can begin plugging this education pipeline that’s been leaking students of color for so long.

We know that significant, sustainable change lies in scaling and replicating programs like these. And it lies with the thousands of students UMB graduates every year who are so deeply invested in living our core mission: Improve the human condition and serve the public good.

I’ll leave it here and take any questions you have.


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