AFTER SIX YEARS AS DEAN OF THE DAVID GEFFEN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT UCLA, Kelsey C. Martin, MD, PhD, stepped down in September to serve as director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative in New York City.
Dr. Martin was the first woman to lead UCLA’s medical school — and among only a handful of female medical school deans nationwide — serving first as interim dean in 2015 before being appointed permanent dean in 2016. Her time at UCLA began in 1999, when she joined the faculty as an assistant professor in psychiatry and biological chemistry, became chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry and moved up through a number of senior leadership roles. Among her key priorities as dean was precision health.
“How do we, in this modern world, where we have tools and technologies that allow us to gain so much information about individuals and about populations, leverage that to tailor health care to individual patients?” she said in an interview shortly after she became permanent dean.
“How do we make sense of all that information so that we can really develop a new kind of medicine?” That vision came to fruition during her tenure when she helped to establish the Institute for Precision Health at UCLA, as well as the Department of Computational Medicine and a master’s program in genetic counseling. The events over the many months of the COVID-19 pandemic also brought to the forefront concerns about racial disparities in health care, and issues of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion became another key focus for Dr. Martin.
“Our community’s eternal well of creativity and altruism has carried us through an unimaginable global health crisis,” she wrote in a letter to the school of medicine community announcing her decision to step down. “You mobilized and solved problems and showed up for those in need. You asked pivotal questions and discovered new ways to identify and cure disease. You had the courage to be honest, with me and with each other.” Among the significant steps forward that emerged from that effort was creation of the Anti-racism Roadmap, a framework to guide how the school thinks about and implements change toward greater equity.
But the foundation of that effort began even before the pandemic gripped the country, and the world, with a program spearheaded by Dr. Martin called Cultural North Star, which set forth a framework and set of shared values to guide decision-making, problem-solving and collaboration and foster an inclusive environment within the medical school.
Other achievements over the course of Dr. Martin’s tenure include implementation of a new admissions process; redesign of the medical school curriculum; restructuring of the school’s Global Health Program, with an enhanced focus on building partnerships in low- and middle-income countries; and creation of a new research theme for the school: Health Equity and Translational Social Science. The foundation that Dr. Martin joined was establ ished in 1994 to suppor t basic-science research, which has been an important priority for Dr. Martin throughout her career as a neuroscientist and as dean. In addition to the Autism Research Initiative, Dr. Martin will oversee the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain and the Simons Collaboration on Plasticity and the Aging Brain.
“While I am looking forward to a new chapter dedicated to advancing transformational brain science, I will deeply miss our work here together and, above all, the incredibly passionate, brilliant and beautiful people who make up our [medical school] community,” Dr. Martin wrote in her letter. “As I reflect on my last six years as dean, I am filled with a resounding sense of admiration and gratitude for all that we have accomplished together.”