Rising to the challenge

Stanford Medicine mobilizes to respond to the devastating and historic health crisis

Letter from the Dean

In the waning hours of 2019, reports emerged of a mysterious cluster of pneumonia cases from an unknown cause.

Fewer than 60 days later, SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, had gained a foothold on every continent except Antarctica.

The speed of the spread of COVID-19 and its devastating impact is unprecedented in modern history. It has challenged the resilience of health care systems, rocked the global economy and disrupted virtually every aspect of public life.

The crisis is far from over, yet I take heart in the scientific collaborations that have unfolded to protect the public, accelerate therapies and clear a path to a globally available vaccine.

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. (Photo by Glenn Matsumura)

They give cause for optimism that human ingenuity will eventually win out. I also take pride in the fact that Stanford Medicine has established itself at the forefront of these crucial efforts.

In response to the pandemic, our clinicians, researchers, students and staff quickly mobilized to rise to this challenge. They have led clinical trials, answered fundamental research questions about the coronavirus, brought critical testing capacity to our region, transformed our virtual care capabilities and advised public officials on how to re-open communities safely.

This body of work is nothing short of remarkable, and it is my distinct honor to share it with you in this issue of Stanford Medicine magazine.

Simultaneously, COVID-19 has laid bare how systemic racism undermines the health and well-being of Black and Latinx Americans. These groups are three times as likely to become infected with COVID-19 and twice as likely to die from it as are white Americans. Communities of color have borne the brunt of this public health crisis, as they have so many others before it.

If we needed to be reminded that racism runs deep in this nation, the tragic murder of George Floyd, under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sworn to protect and serve, underscores how much progress remains to be made. As Sam Cheshier, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurosurgeon and cancer researcher formerly at Stanford, powerfully writes in this magazine, it is incumbent upon all of us to be actively anti-racist. We must not let this moment pass; we cannot look away.

Overcoming systemic and overt racism requires a sustained campaign greater than the one mobilized to fight COVID-19. It involves individuals changing how they think and act, and elected leaders confronting the effects of policies that have stripped Black and Latinx communities of essential services, affordable housing, a quality education and other opportunities for advancement.

Academic medical centers, too, play an important role in bringing forward necessary and long-overdue solutions. We will devote a future issue of this magazine to how Stanford Medicine is actively addressing systemic racism in health care and taking part in the fight for racial justice.

By early October, COVID-19 had killed more than 210,000 people in the United States and a million globally. Vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics will end this pandemic, but that is not our finish line.

We have lifetimes of work ahead of us, especially in confronting the shameful inequities that COVID-19 has exposed. Stanford Medicine is committed to doing this difficult work and will be part of the solution.


Lloyd Minor, MD

Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the School of Medicine

Professor of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery

Illustration by Jason Holley
Illustration by Jason Holley