Breadth of Excellence

reprinted from Issue 21, Fall 2015 of Frontiers of Medicine (PDF)

Interim Chair, Robert M. Wachter, MD

The separation of traditional medicine and public health has always been an odd quirk of the US health care system. The more we learn, the more we understand the tight interconnections of the world we have traditionally thought of as medical, and the world we have characterized as public health.

Within the UCSF Department of Medicine, many faculty straddle these worlds. In doing so, they are creating important new knowledge and building powerful new bridges. In this issue of Frontiers, we profile three of them, Brie Williams, Margot Kushel and Elise Riley. Brie’s work focuses on the health of the US prison population, a population larger than that of one-third of our states. Margot and Elise’s work centers on the needs of homeless people. All three are motivated by their recognition that the health needs of these disenfranchised populations have largely been ignored.

Addressing these needs is crucial on moral grounds, but also makes sense on pragmatic and economic grounds. The prisoner who is unhealthy at the time of release, the homeless person whose “primary care” is delivered in a series of emergency rooms... Brie, Margot and Elise’s work points out the profound costs of these failings, and the need to address them with new knowledge and tools. They are also developing insights that will help us better tackle issues such as behavioral change, adherence, and the social determinants of disease – issues that we confront when trying to improve the health of all populations.

Also in this issue, we highlight our newest Master Clinician, Lisa Murphy. Like Brie, Margot and Elise, Lisa has chosen, through her work as director of the Diabetes Center for High-Risk Populations, to focus on a particularly vulnerable population. She is a wonderful addition to our Master Clinician team.

Thomas Perkins is one of the founders of the legendary Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and he has spent his career finding great people and programs to invest in. His choice to endow the Thomas Perkins Distinguished Professorship in Cancer Research is another inspired choice. Chuck Ryan, who heads our Genitourinary Medical Oncology Program, is a distinguished clinician and researcher and a wonderful recipient of the Perkins professorship.

In my first few months as interim chair of this magnificent department, I have come to appreciate the breadth of the work of the faculty. This issue highlights that breadth, with profiles of faculty working to improve the care of homeless people and prisoners, to others developing new molecular targets for prostate cancer. Philanthropy is crucial to all of this work, and I am grateful for the support of our donors, who recognize its importance.


Robert M. Wachter, MD
Professor and Interim Chair, Department of Medicine
Lynne and Marc Benioff Endowed Chair in Hospital Medicine

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