URGENT: ** Please attend demonstration of support May 11th in St. Louis. ** Just received this letter from a medical student:
I hope you are doing well. I am reaching out to you in less than pleasant circumstances. Dr. Slavin, our most valued leader and educator, has been dismissed precipitously from his position as Dean of Curricular Affairs. He seems to have been targeted unfairly for the recent accreditation decision. There is a general lack of transparency regarding all of this. The newly appointed Dean Behrns also may not share Dr. Slavin’s vision of valuing student mental health and wellness and being a national leader on this front. Please help us in increasing awareness of a demonstration of our continued support for Dr. Slavin tomorrow on the medical campus.
There will be a demonstration tomorrow, Thursday, May 11, 2017, from 12-3 pm on the medical school campus to show support for Dr. Slavin. We will be gathering around the fountain in front of the Learning Resource Center Building at 3544 Hickory St. in St.Louis, MO 63104.
Official Press Release: May 10, 2017, St. Louis, MO.
On the morning of May 8, the students, faculty and staff of Saint Louis University School of Medicine (SLUSOM) received an unexpected email from the School’s newly appointed Dean, Dr. Kevin Behrns. The email informed students about “changes in structure and leadership” and of the dismissal of Dr. Stuart Slavin, Dean of Curricular Affairs. The decision to terminate Dr. Slavin was a surprise to many as Slavin, a stalwart in medical education thought leadership, nationally renowned for his work on medical students’ well-being, was held in the highest regard by his students. These students were notably absent from the decision to fire him.
The letting go of Dr. Slavin was the second surprising announcement in as many months for SLUSOM students. The first came on March 14 when students were notified that the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) placed the School on probation. Following an October 2016 LCME site review, the School was cited in areas of administration and curriculum management. These findings are contradicted by the School’s favorable student reviews — a recent report by the AAMC found that 96% of SLUSOM students are satisfied with the quality of their education, beating the national average by roughly ten percentage points — and the School’s students consistently exceed national averages on licensing exams.
Despite disappointment and confusion over the LCME decision, students looked eagerly toward the opportunity to have a seat at the table as the School worked to improve upon the areas highlighted by the LCME. In the weeks following the probation, medical students sought out an active role in the remediation process while also striving to ensure the aspects of SLUSOM that they valued would remain. However, after hearing initial responses from the medical school administration about how the probationary status would be addressed, medical students became concerned about the uncertainty of Dr. Slavin’s position at the medical school. In order to ensure the administration understood medical students’ support for Dr. Slavin and the work he has done to pioneer an innovative curriculum, over 600 students’ signatures were preemptively collected in support of Dr. Slavin. These signatures were to be delivered at a meeting with Dr. Behrns on Wednesday, May 10; however, news of Dr. Slavin’s dismissal arrived two days before this could occur. Despite Dr. Slavin’s almost universal respect, Dr. Behrns offered no rationale behind the decision, citing only a need for a change in leadership and oversight.
This is about more than a nice person losing a job. Dr. Slavin has worn many hats at SLUSOM over the last 13 years, and he has been integral to the development of SLU’s recent identity as a leader in medical education, student wellness and mental health. In addition to acting as the Dean for Curricular Affairs, he is also the director of multiple courses, sits on many of the School’s clinical and curricular committees, and lectures throughout the year. On top of all of this, he provides unwavering support for medical students, being a mentor for many, and has been a pioneer in medical student wellbeing research.
Dr. Slavin is an accomplished and skilled educator, having won multiple teaching awards at UCLA and SLU and consistently evaluated by students as one of the best educators at SLU SOM. He was chosen as a winner for the 2013 Alpha Omega Alpha Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teacher Award, one of the field’s top honors, for his outstanding contributions to medical education. In addition, he has furthered SLUSOM’s presence and recognition nationally. He has spoken at 16 medical schools in the U.S. and has been the keynote speaker at both national and international conferences. His work has been noticed by many, notably Missouri House Rep. Keith Frederick who stated in his defense of the Show Me Compassionate Medical Education Act that SLUSOM is a “beacon of light” in medical education and has “leapfrogged the LCME” with regards to exploring and addressing medical student mental health. Slavin has also been featured in journals and news outlets, including, the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, The New York Times, and the St. Louis Public Radio.
Although he is a pioneer of integrating wellness into medical education, this is about more than just “wellness”. Wellness is a byproduct of the educational environment, and Dr. Slavin is challenging and transforming the framework of traditional education as a whole. The work Dr. Stuart Slavin has done at SLUSOM has made it a place that not only fosters one’s development as a physician, but also as an individual. All of this was done without diminishing student performance on national licensing exams. Dr. Slavin has made SLU an example other schools look to when exploring how to improve their student wellness.
Dr. Kevin Berhns was appointed Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine on January 1st. In view of that recent appointment, it is understandable Dean Behrns lacks certain understanding of the students, the culture, and the curriculum of SLU. His efforts to engage the student body have been noted and appreciated, but there is still more for him to learn. He has stated that he wants to make SLU a “metric-driven” institution. However, his current actions demonstrate he is not yet privy to one fundamental metric that is important to SLU students, namely student wellness. His decision to remove Dr. Slavin without giving any word to how he will continue Dr. Slavin’s wellness initiatives demonstrates Dr. Behrns’ lack of knowledge of how important these initiatives are to the SLU student body and to the role SLU plays as a leader in this field. It may be vogue and reasonable practice to resort to layoffs when an organization faces adverse and embarrassing circumstances, but the firing of a dean so integral to a school’s identity seems kneejerk and premature. The students seek only to be involved in this process, because it is their consensus that the removal of Dr. Slavin is a profound mistake.
Please support Dr. Slavin with your comment on this blog and/or your attendance at the demonstration.
Pamela Wible, M.D., reports on human rights violations in medicine. She is the author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered.