3 Questions for HiSum Speaker Carmen Puliafito

This post is part of an ongoing series profiling speakers for our upcoming Health Innovation Summit.

Carmen A. Puliafito is Dean of the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Dr. Puliafito is responsible for leading the Keck School’s activities in patient care, research and education. Dr. Puliafito is recognized as co-inventor of the technology of optical coherence tomography (OCT), which has revolutionized retinal practice for both patients and physicians.

What is one piece of advice you can give to the medical student of digital health age?
Our new first year medical students started last week. I am always impressed by the altruism and intellectual enthusiasm of brand new medical students. Our goal as medical educators is keep that altruism alive.We ask every student, on the very first day of orientation, to write one or two sentences about their interests. I would say that more than half the class spoke of their interest in working with underserved patient populations or in global health. The impact of the digital age upon medical education and medicine is really just beginning. Medical school is just the beginning of life long learning for physicians and that “learning” will be dominated by online and distance education.

How does USC encourage its medical students to think like innovators?
Nurturing a culture of innovation at a medical school is really important. And it needs to start with medical students. Since I became Dean, I have done a number of things to promote innovation. We started a Dean’s Research Scholar program which allows medical students to take a year off from their formal medical education to do research in any area of health care or biomedicine. We pay them a stipend which covers their living expenses and we help fund their project. This year we have twelve students in the program investigating everything from basic cancer biology to the health of the homeless in Los Angeles. We also started a joint program in Health Technology and Engineering with the Viterbi school of engineering. Every year we take a cohort of PhD students and first year medical students and educate them together about solving clinical challenges using technology. The medical students learn to think like engineers and the engineers learn how to take a history and physical with real patients.

What’s your favorite part of being a Dean?
My favorite part of the job of Dean is make it possible for students and faculty to do something special in medical research or patient care. Sometimes I can do this directly, but most often it is by setting up a program or building a facility or recruiting a visionary faculty leader. For instance, stem cell biology and regenerative medicine is a huge priority at USC. We did two things this summer that were special in this area: First of all we recruited one of the great stem cell scientists in the world, Andy McMahon from Harvard College to direct our Broad Stem Cell Institute. Secondly, we implemented an innovative summer research program for Los Angeles area secondary school students to do stem cell research at USC. Innovation starts at an early age!

Join us and hear more from Dean Puliafito on his panel, Innovation from the Inside Out, on health innovation in academia, at Health Innovation Summit.

Do you have you have any more questions for Dr. Puliafito? Share them below and we will ask him on August 28th.