MEDx Reflects: Exploring the medicine and engineering intersection with Dean Mary Klotman

Dean Mary Klotman

Mary Klotman, M.D., Dean of the Duke School of Medicine and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, is an accomplished clinician and scientist. Her research interests are focused on the molecular pathogenesis of Human Immunodeficiency Virus 1 (HIV-1) infection. As Dean, Klotman works with a leadership team comprising nine vice deans, a chief diversity and communications officer, as well as department chairs and center and institute directors.

Why are you interested in research at the intersection of medicine and engineering?

I have an interest in this intersection both as Dean and as a researcher. As Dean, we’ve always had the good fortune of having a top medical school and a top engineering school. That being said, because of everyone’s busy schedules, it’s becoming harder and harder to make those interactions just happen, so having a formal umbrella program helps bring together skilled faculty who, in our current busy world, may not have met each other otherwise. Having a formal program enhances those interactions and starts to build some really interesting programs, particularly tapping into the students. It’s a great way to purposefully bring together trainees and faculty with great ideas for joint problem solving.

As a researcher, there’s no question that the opportunity in science today is driven by technology, and engineering is at the center of that technology. As a scientist, I am trying to problem solve. I want to be at the front-end of technology, whether it’s really cool single-cell technology or it’s the ways we analyze complex data sets. I know I can’t do it all myself, so knowing throughout the institution, particularly in the School of Engineering, where I can find that expertise is really important.

How are you pursuing this intersection within Duke as Dean?

Besides MEDx, leadership across Duke, including the Dean of Engineering, the Provost and Vice Provost, we all buy into the same concept that if we leverage everything across Duke, we will be better. As Dean, I’m constantly looking for opportunities that are unique and that allow us to get faculty. An attractive part of Duke is that you might get hired on at one school, but you can have major collaborations and contact with other schools. It’s around faculty hiring and formal programs like MEDx that help us build new ideas that become grants. For a dean, this is a great opportunity to leverage another school at Duke. I recently looked at the research portfolio that’s shared between the Schools of Medicine and Engineering and it’s big! Nothing speaks closer to a dean than enhancing their funding impact, and that’s substantial.

How do you see the intersection between research, medicine and engineering playing out over the next few years?

It’s just going to grow, and I hope it grows based on the foundation MEDx has already built. I had the pleasure of presenting some of the concepts and programs in MEDx to a national forum – 16,000 people at the American Thoracic Society. I focused on partnership and used MEDx as an example of how you build effective partnerships. Many of the programs that we’ve built just need to keep going, whether it’s MEDx Café or dinners between medicine and engineering or partnerships between medical students. This all leads to things we can measure: new ideas that end up becoming exciting funded projects or discoveries that are commercializable.

Do you think there is a place for interdisciplinary training and education within the School of Medicine and Pratt School of Engineering?

One opportunity is the M.D./Ph.D. program both in terms of people with undergraduate engineering degrees going into the M.D./Ph.D. program and students already in the program developing projects that go across the two schools.

In medical students’ third year, there is a lot of room to build out the intersection between medicine and engineering. Their research year is not limited to the walls of the School of Medicine, which is an opportunity unique to Duke. Students have the full third year and they have all of Duke, so whether it’s global health or engineering, that’s an exciting opportunity to build projects that go across the two schools. The best way to build projects is through student engagement because the students keep everything going. The more third-year students who really love that intersection of medicine and engineering and find co-mentors, the greater that connection will be.

What is your vision for the future for MEDx and Duke?

We will continue to build the medicine and engineering intersection. MEDx is a part of that, but there are also joint hires with the Science and Technology Initiative across campus and continuing to build off of the theme that you come to Duke as a trainee or student and you have the opportunity to live in both worlds – technology and medicine – and so I see it as one of our core strengths and anticipate we will grow it and people will come here because of it. This goes along with my One Duke and really not being bound by the formal distinctions of your department, school or campus. Leverage everything you can at Duke to be more successful and break down barriers that may have been up for many years. We can work on breaking down barriers one at a time.

Read Dean Klotman’s Strategic Plan