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Message from Dean Richardson: Rain, change and automobiles

Dean RichardsonDear School of Medicine Community:

A maxim related to managing change says that a crisis or an otherwise unexpected situation presents a rationale for rapidly putting into place new ways of operating and, in some cases, overdue changes. However, another outcome associated with these types of situations may be more important and more interesting - how we respond is a mark of our own organizational culture. The most recent opportunity to observe ourselves in this context relates to our response to the temporary closure of Sam Jackson Park Road.

Sam Jackson Park Road is one of only three vehicular entry points to OHSU’s Marquam Hill Campus – 40 percent of the traffic up and down Marquam Hill depends on this road. With all traffic now forced onto the other two access roads, the potential for perpetual gridlock is high. While not a crisis situation, the immediate need for repairs on the road required us to come together quickly to develop a transportation plan for the roughly two months the road will be closed.

Our primary goal in responding to the closure is to ensure that easy access to Marquam Hill for our patients and students is retained, along with the faculty physicians and staff providing services to these groups, and that the knowledge continuity of essential research projects is preserved. As the second largest unit at OHSU with more than 4,100 faculty physicians, scientists, staff members, post-docs, residents and employees – along with about 1,200 students – the School of Medicine’s response to the closure has a significant impact on traffic flow.
Working with facilities, logistics and parking staff at OHSU, the department leaders in the School of Medicine answered the call. In the space of less than a week, faculty and staff in our departments, centers and institutes committed to reducing their single-occupancy car trips to the campus by 45 percent. That’s equivalent to about 5,000 fewer trips per week. The School of Medicine accomplished this with a combination of car-pooling, riding bikes, walking, taking public transportation and teleworking.

This response is a testament to the commitment we share to our public missions; almost everyone in the School of Medicine did – and will do – their part to be sure that during this unusual two-month situation, our patients, students and research remain prioritized.

While I am not surprised by this outcome – I have seen us respond similarly in the past to much more difficult situations – I find this to be worth writing about because the ability for such a large group to come together for a common purpose and to change their behavior is unusual, and a marker of our own organizational culture that bodes well for enduring future success. We’ve been talking a lot about the changing landscape for academic medicine. Medical schools across the nation are experiencing fundamental and likely permanent shifts in funding streams, including from the National Institutes of Health and Medicare/Medicaid. Simultaneously, we are developing the framework for innovative new team-based education, research and health delivery models that will help society realize the promise of a ‘golden age’ of health. This is an era for academic medicine that will be both challenging and enormously rewarding, and our ability to adapt quickly to new situations shows that the OHSU School of Medicine can be a 21st century leader.

Returning specifically to the road closure – thank you all for your efforts during these next two months and for what I know may be changes to your daily schedule. I appreciate your flexibility as you change your habits, and your patience. And for those of us who, rain or shine, are newly biking and walking to work during these two months, including myself, we may get a little healthier in the process.


Best regards,

Dean Richardson

Mark Richardson, MD, MBA

Wondering why we are located on a hill in the first place?

There is a long and fascinating history about how OHSU came to be located on a hill in Portland. Check out this publication called Reflections on Yesterday, OHSU School of Medicine History and this video which shows a series of photos starting in 1920.

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