January 11, 2021

The DOM in 2020: A Year Unlike Any Other

2020 was a test of our courage, our empathy, our resilience, our patience, and our resolve. The horrors of the year – hundreds of thousands of deaths from Covid-19, everyone’s life disrupted by a deep recession and the limits on normal activities, the painful reckoning with the depths of systemic racism made brutally clear by the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the debasement of our political system culminating in a mob attack on our Capitol – are distressing and raw. And it’s hard to know whether we’ve reached bottom, or if there’s worse to come. Both optimists and pessimists have plenty of material to work with.

Throughout 2020, the people of the DOM comported themselves with skill, grace, love, and compassion. Everyone’s life was disrupted and altered by the events of 2020. But while there have been tears and stress and confusion and anger, there have also been innumerable acts of kindness and generosity that have illustrated the very best of humanity. It is a privilege to be part of such a caring community.

Despite the events of the year, the faculty, staff, and trainees of the DOM soldiered on. Clinicians reconfigured their practices with telemedicine, and learned how to care for patients suffering the protean manifestations of the coronavirus. Researchers conducted pioneering studies on Covid, while advancing work in other areas – the needs have not gone away. Educators pivoted to on-line teaching, sometimes devising new approaches that may have advantages over our old ones. We co-created programs with our communities, learning from and advocating for them. Our people went to New York and the Navajo Nation to pitch in, worked around the clock to develop testing, and helped inject their colleagues with a miraculous vaccine. It was inspiring, for sure, though not surprising – knowing what I do about the people of the DOM.

Even in this challenging environment, we continue to attract exceptional leaders. In 2020, the Center for Vulnerable Populations at ZSFG became its own division, with Margot Kushel as its inaugural chief and Gato Gourley as its manager. We were also pleased to welcome six other new division chiefs: Maria Dall’Era (UCSF Health Rheumatology), Michelle Estrella (VA Nephrology), Priscilla Hsue (ZSFG Cardiology), Jeff Kohlwes (VA DGIM), Suneil Koliwad (UCSF Health Endocrinology and Metabolism), and Gabby Schmajuk (VA Rheumatology); and one other division manager David Scarbeary-Simmons (UCSF Health Prevention Science). We also welcomed three new Associate Chairs: Meshell Johnson (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), Jen Perkins (Ambulatory Care and Population Health), and Urmimala Sarkar (Faculty Experience). Many other faculty and staff assumed leadership roles in their divisions and at their sites. I am thrilled with the quality of our leadership and pleased with the progress we’ve made in diversifying our ranks, though there remains much more to do on that front.

We celebrate the amazing honors, national and local, that our people have received for work across all of our missions. There are simply too many of them to name here. But we also celebrate the clinicians – attendings, residents and fellows – who held the hand of a dying patient because they were the only visitor allowed; the teacher who mentored a struggling medical student; the advocate who went to the Mission or Bayview to help with testing and prevention; the staff member who figured out how to do their job from home with skill and creativity; and the researcher writing a paper at 1am because they spent the day teaching math to the kids. This was a year unlike any other, and I am in awe of what you have accomplished and the compassion you showed for each other and your community.

If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a few minutes to watch this inspiring video, which captures some of the accomplishments of the DOM in this singular year. Let us continue to rise together to be a shining light in these dark times. 


Bob Wachter's signature

Robert Wachter, MD
Chair, UCSF Department of Medicine
Holly Smith Distinguished Professor of Science and Medicine
Lynne and Marc Benioff Endowed Chair in Hospital Medicine