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DMS's new dean is a pediatrician and a pharmacologist

It's not unusual that the newly appointed dean of Dartmouth Medical School is a pediatrician— 15 current medical school deans trained in pediatrics, more than in any other specialty except internal medicine. But what is unusual is that the new dean also holds a doctorate in pharmacology and is coming to DMS from industry rather than—at least directly—from another medical school.

Succeeds: On July 1, Stephen Spielberg, M.D., Ph.D., becomes dean of DMS as well as vice president for health affairs of Dartmouth College and a professor of pediatrics and of pharmacology and toxicology. He succeeds John Baldwin, M.D., who was dean from 1998 to 2002, and Ethan Dmitrovsky, M.D., who is chair of pharmacology and toxicology and served as acting dean during 2002-03.

Since 1997, Spielberg has been vice president for pediatric drug development at Johnson & Johnson's Pharmaceutical Research and Development branch in New Jersey. There, he oversaw the development of more effective labeling of children's medicines as well as of new approaches to conducting clinical investigations in the pediatric population. From 1992 to 1997, he was executive director of exploratory biochemical toxicology and clinical and regulatory development at Merck.

He has long been an advocate for children's health and led pharmaceutical industry advocacy in Congress for the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act, which was signed into law in 2002. He has also led industry efforts to foster investigation of new medicines in pediatric populations; organized international efforts to harmonize children's drug development regulations; and helped initiate U.S. and international efforts to assure the highest ethical standards in pediatric clinical investigations.

DMS's new dean, pediatrician and pharmacologist Stephen Spielberg, is animated about the opportunity ahead of him.
Photos by Flying Squirrel Graphics

Spielberg also has considerable experience in academic medicine. He was at Johns Hopkins from 1977 to 1981 and at the University of Toronto and its Hospital for Sick Children from 1981 to 1992. Even while working in industry, he has kept his ties to academe—as an adjunct professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.

Perspective: Having worked in industry gives Spielberg a perspective not afforded many physicians. Overseeing clinical trials, for instance, means that he's traveled to medical schools all over the world. He thus recognizes that "one of the major gaps that we're facing, both in the United States as well as internationally, is a dearth of welltrained clinical investigators and translational scientists. We are often faced with a situation where we have a great new advance in therapeutics . . . [but] we can't even find investigators to properly carry out studies." Medical schools must recognize that the "translation of science into good clinical investigation, and, in turn, into clinical care, is a vital issue," he says.

Spielberg also appreciates the value of collaboration—an area where Dartmouth is already strong—in translating biomedical research discoveries into patient care. He believes that his industry experience "fostering the development of interactions among people with very diverse backgrounds and interests will serve very well in a medical school context. Industry is set up in such a way as to cut across disciplines, to cut across traditional silos between basic and clinical investigators."

Attitude: Ensuring that scientific discoveries have an "impact in real-time patient care," says Spielberg, "requires a very different attitude towards medicine and a very different attitude towards working together—basic scientists with clinicians; clinicians with their patients in the context of a community—to make sure that those advances really do impact the well-being of the people."

He is pleased that translational research is already being emphasized at Dartmouth. In his new role as dean, Spielberg intends to "maintain the excellence that already exists in the basic sciences, . . . expand on what already is a very successful NIH-funding rate, and look for additional sources of funding to support basic science," while also continuing to advance translational and clinical research and "building even further on things such as the Center for Evaluative Clinical Sciences, which looks at outcomes in larger populations."

Happiness: He's impressed that "there is a level of happiness [at DMS] that I don't think you find in most medical schools these days. It's a real phenomenon," he says. He attributes it to people's feeling a "sense of both individual worth and of common purpose."

And he's impressed by the quality of DMS's curriculum. "I want to assure that the quality of education which already exists is going on in a milieu of active investigation— basic, translational, clinical, and evaluative—and in an atmosphere where people truly believe in what they're doing and are having fun doing it," he says. "Because that, in fact, is going to produce the next generation of physicians who are going to lead in medicine.

"As a pharmacologist," he adds, "I'm particularly impressed by the way therapeutics is taught [at DMS]."

During a visit to campus in May, he had a chance to meet some DMS students. He says that he was delighted by the "wonderfully open and frank questions" they asked him, and that—as a longtime member of a choral group—he was pleased to hear about the student a cappella group, the DMS Dermatones.

Spielberg earned his A.B. from Princeton and his M.D. and Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Chicago. He trained at Children's Hospital in Boston and at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

He is a member of the Federal Advisory Committee for the National Children's Study, the board of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the Institute of Medicine Panel on Ethics in Pediatric Clinical Trials, the FDA Pediatric Advisory Subcommittee, and the scientific advisory board of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Research Network.

Spielberg looks forward to moving with his family to Hanover. His wife, Laurel Spielberg, M.P.H., Dr.P.H., has worked in public health in the U.S. and Canada and most recently was an associate professor of epidemiology at Drexel. She will work part-time—doing research and teaching —in Dartmouth's Department of Community and Family Medicine. They have two sons: David, 20, a sophomore at Princeton; and Jeff, 15, a sophomore at Hanover High School.

Critical time: "This is really a very critical time in the history of American medicine," says Spielberg, "a time when we really need to think strongly about educational issues, about research, about how great institutions contribute to their communities."

He was attracted by the fact that at Dartmouth, there's "a real dedication to looking at how health care impacts a community. Medicine [must be] very integrated and very collegial, and needs to be oriented towards a community of care. The nidus of these things exists here, at least in part because of scale, location, but mostly because of people. The kinds of people who have a vision of what medical school, medical education, research, and health care should be."

He's here, he adds, because the "opportunity to participate in that process and be a leader in that process was irresistible."

Laura Stephenson Carter

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