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HST Structure: MIT Alumni Response

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Consensus statement of the Board of the Alumni Association of HST (Harvard-MIT Health Sciences & Technology)

Submitted to: The Ad-Hoc Committee to Explore Options for the Structure of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences & Technology (HST) Effort at MIT c/o Douglas W. Pfeiffer, Assistant Provost for Administration, MIT

March 3, 2011

Dear Members of the Committee:

As members of the Board of the Alumni Association of HST, we are grateful for the opportunity to comment on the structure of HST at MIT. We represent over a thousand alumni and have a collective memory extending back to the inspired inception of HST by Dr. London. Our careers were fashioned by the HST mix of science, engineering, and clinical experience – and we wish to defend and extend that experience for future students. For the MD students among us, HST allowed us to merge engineering and science seamlessly into our medical education. For these medical students, HST delivered a wonderful preclinical education which has guided our careers over decades. For those in PhD programs, the experience of true clinical education with MD students is nothing short of unique. When HST works best, strong cooperation between visionary leaders on both sides of the river fosters this “best of both worlds” education. It also facilitates interaction between different types of students at a critical professional juncture – those who might otherwise never meet. Scientists and engineers learning bedside skills, and clinicians-in-training encountering brilliant faculty and research opportunities have spawned leaders and discoveries with enormous impact on health and the human condition.

There are potentially better options for HST than its status as a "Division" at MIT. This structure may have worked brilliantly in the past, but some challenges to this paradigm may be apparent to some. It is critical in our view that HST not be “demoted” in the organizational chart so as to become a subsection of an existing Department.  Our students presently benefit from access to many departments and our overriding concern is that we not limit the impact of HST by making it a small subdivision within an existing department. A truly exciting aspect of HST for students not in the MD track has always been the possibility of clinical education and clinical contact, an experience that many departments including EECS, physics, biology, biological engineering, chemical engineering, brain and cognitive science, economics, entrepreneurship, and many more at MIT might benefit from. To flourish and best serve these students and the community, the scope of HST must reach beyond a single department or a small subset of these departments. The collaborative approach is essential to the success of HST.

MIT has been very successful in advancing biomedical science outside as well as inside the HST program proper. Perhaps when Dr. London proposed the partnership between HMS and MIT, the Institute was quite different and HMS was the only route to a clinical goal. The institute’s presence in biology, biomedical science, and biomedical engineering is remarkable and may have changed this dynamic—but it has not changed the best way to learn both clinical and biomedical science There are students that have access to clinical and biomedical engineering education.  They are called: HST students.

We enthusiastically champion the "promotion" of HST to a higher level within the Institute organizational chart. Given the prescience of the suggestion by Irving London four decades ago, our Board members suggestion is summarized thus:

Human Health is the, or one of the most precious goals of Science and Technology. The Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology has pioneered ways to educate MD and PhD leaders in health science and technology. HST should be promoted to the highest possible level within the structure of MIT.

Submitted by the Board of the Alumni Association of HST


Jeffrey Behrens, BEP '07
Edward J. Cheal, PhD '86
Dan Fintel, MD '79
David E. Goodman, MD '93
K. Domenica Karavitaki, PhD '02
Joseph R. Madsen, MD '81, (President)
Bob McKinstry, PhD MIT '91, MD '92
Steven M. Stufflebeam, MD '94


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