December 17, 2021 – College of Human Medicine


It’s the end of the semester, a remarkable semester in which we have taught successfully in person throughout. In the medical education program, we taught in clinics and simulations throughout most of the pandemic. But this semester, our courses in small and large groups also took place face to face. For graduate programs and our professors who teach in the big university, this semester has been an adjustment to masked teaching, mostly in person. Based on the experience of many students, including one in my family, the slightly more normal educational experience has been a welcome change.

As students and faculty adjusted to new classroom protocols, many supervisors and staff have navigated the mysteries of hybrid work schedules. The Dean’s Staff Advisory Council conducted a survey this year and found that around 95% of staff would like to have some degree of hybrid work environment. This is a remarkable level of agreement among staff, and it doesn’t mean that everyone wants the same balance between working from home and working in the office, but it does mean that when we think about what makes the happy and engaged people, we will need to think about our advice to supervisors and units. You can connect to the Dean’s Staff Advisory Committee here.

This week, I am delighted to announce that following national research, Julie Phillips, MD, MPH, will be the new chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the College of Human Medicine. She will begin March 1, 2022. Dr. Phillips is a professor of family medicine and obtained her medical degree and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan before also completing her residency in family medicine at the U of M. Dr Phillips was a core faculty member of the Sparrow-MSU Family Medicine Residency Program in Lansing, where she practices full spectrum family medicine.

For the past seven years, Dr. Phillips has served as Associate Dean for Student Careers and Professional Development at the College of Human Medicine and is a former Clerkship Director. Dr Phillips is an international expert on how students make career choices and how it shapes the emerging medical workforce. Her other professional interests include professional development, social mission-oriented medical education, storytelling medicine, women in family medicine, and developing the primary care physician workforce. She is associate editor for Family medicine, focused on narrative submissions; and founding associate editor of PRIMER.

As we welcome Julie to her new role, I would like to ask you to thank John vanSchagen, MD, FAAFP, for his service as Interim President since last May. I told John we would only need him for a few months, but who knew people could be temp for much longer than expected…. He did a wonderful job. Dr vanSchagen stepped in to help our faculty run the clinic and has been a thoughtful and consistent leader for the department. I am especially grateful that he has accepted this role and I greatly appreciate his help.

As COVID cases increase in our community and omicron has arrived in our communities, MSU Health Care (HCI) has launched a new MSU stage testing service. In addition to COVID-19 testing, the lab’s respiratory panel includes influenza and RSV. Testing has started at Spartan Stadium Concourse B and will run Monday through Friday 8:30 am to 6:30 pm – with holiday times as well. Info here.

As we head into the holiday season, and we watch COVID-19 cases on the rise across the country, and Michigan continues to dominate the country in COVID-19 hospitalization rate, we need to behave better when it comes to masking and vaccination – we all need to do this. Our hospitals need us to reduce the burden of COVID-19, and we can do it by putting on strict masks and getting vaccinated.

Omicron is in our communities, so anyone who can get a callback (required at MSU for the spring semester) should receive a reminder. I say this because in three weeks omicron has outperformed the delta variant in Scotland. Omicron is already with us, and he will find all those who are not immune. In all likelihood, a large number of immunized people (people who have been vaccinated and previously infected) will also have it. The casual conversation between the doctors I talk to is like, “Oh yeah, everyone is going to get omicron, just like everyone else gets the other coronaviruses. The key to surviving variants of COVID-19 is to meet them with immunity. For omicron, this means being vaccinated and recalled with mRNA vaccines.

All is not gloomy and catastrophic. the COVID-19 death rate in the United States per person vaccinated at all ages is similar to the Death rate in the United States at all ages for influenza. In the United States, fully vaccinated people (people who have received a complete mRNA vaccine, not J&J) have a mortality rate of 0.8 to 2.0 per 100,000 people vaccinated. In 2019, the death rate for influenza was 1.8 per 100,000. For those vaccinated, think of it as you should have thought of the flu in the past.

Correction. Suddenly, I had feedback / help with my complaints in the previous paragraph, and I understood some prices that are not the same. If you download the The data original CDC from COVID-19 website I used above, you can total the deaths of people vaccinated during the seven months of April to October 2021 in jurisdictions providing data to the CDC during this period. Fortunately, the denominator of people vaccinated increases steadily during this period; unfortunately this makes it difficult to calculate an overall rate without doing a weighting per week, which I am not qualified to do. So, I’ll spare you the questionable calculations on the back of the envelope. And, if you go to deeper cuts in influenza data you will find influenza death rates in 2018 and 2019 ranging from 15 to 18 deaths per 100,000 for these influenza seasons (much higher than the number above). In all of this, this suggests that COVID is more dangerous for those vaccinated than the flu. But, on safer ground, citing the CDC directly, unvaccinated people 14 times more likely to die from COVID than fully vaccinated people. Omicron will likely make this worse. From now on, I promise to stick to internal medicine. Always,

I’m trying to get you to think of COVID-19 as an endemic virus that we will have to live with, despite being vaccinated alive. COVID-19 will continue to be dangerous to people with weakened immune systems, cancer and advanced age in the same way as the flu. Keep in mind that for the unvaccinated, COVID-19 is absolutely worse than the flu. but for the vaccinated, the risks of the two diseases are similar.

And, again, for the sake of those around you, wear your mask if you are indoors in the presence of potentially or actually unvaccinated people. It appears that boosters and vaccination go a long way in reducing hospitalizations and deaths from omicron, but it seems likely that anyone with omicron can pass it, including to others who have been vaccinated. We will learn more about the overall severity of omicron in the coming weeks.

Have a safe and healthy vacation and by all means take a nap if you can.

Serve people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Acting Dean