One of the nation’s leading medical school deans spoke frankly of the need for America’s future doctors to change course in practice and research, in order to sidestep a looming healthcare debacle.
Highlighting a Fordham University event on Oct. 6, Philip A. Pizzo, FCRH ’66, dean of Stanford Medical School and a practicing physician for nearly five decades, praised the funding of broad scientific research, which, he said, often leads to important medical discoveries with multiple applications.
Unfortunately, research innovation in the nation today is “shockingly limited,” he said. Many pharmaceutical companies have moved away from research and development altogether, while governmental agencies are tending to limit funding to application-based, or evidence-based, research alone.
“We in the United States are looking at a period coming when funding is going to be dramatically constrained,” said Pizzo, a Bronx native who earned degrees in philosophy and biology before entering medical school. “Fundamental discovery is important. If everything has to have an application, we are going to miss that critical insight that doesn’t yet have a fit.”
Dr. Pizzo gave as an example medical research on retroviruses—or RNA viruses—in the decades before HIV/AIDS began appearing in the population. Such completed research on retrovirus behavior, he said, made it all the more possible to develop critical AIDS treatments relatively quickly, staving off what could have been a major epidemic.
“New diseases will astound us,” Dr. Pizzo said. “But basic science and queries, unlinked to what we are facing today, could provide solutions to tomorrow’s problems.”
While the United States is a great nation—one that enabled Pizzo to be the first in his family to graduate from high school and college—its healthcare system based on a fee-for-service model is bankrupting the government. Currently, the U.S. spends a whopping 17 percent of Gross Domestic Product on health care, twice the amount of any other developed nation, and it is rising.
“We are not first in anything other than administrative overhead,” said Pizzo, noting that the nation’s costly and disproportionate healthcare system falls behind in both longevity and disease outcomes.
“We have embraced technology in ways that are overexhuberant, and they have increased the cost of care and created distance between physicians and those that they care for. It is all too easy to just order a test.”
Tomorrow’s doctors, said Pizzo, will have to fight the perception that being a good doctor means ordering test after test on patients. More emphasis, he said, should be placed on familiarizing themselves with patient histories, and looking at and listening to their patients.
“Strong science must have strong humanism,” he said.
The doctor credited his time at Fordham, where he studied science, philosophy and theology, with helping him frame the way he thinks about science today.
“I learned something more important (than science) at Fordham—critical thinking,” he said. “I learned to be reflective, to listen, and to continue to explore.
“Those skills are still inspiring today’s Fordham students.”
In addition to serving as dean, Dr. Pizzo is Stanford’s Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology and Immunology. He has held positions at the National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health, and chaired Harvard Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics from 1996 to 2001.
He is the author of more than 500 scientific articles and 15 books and has received numerous awards and honors for his work—including an honorary degree from Fordham.