By Jamie Ducharme, Time, November 24, 2020
In February 2019, the Kaiser Permanente health system announced a new kind of medical school. The school would be built “from the ground up” to prepare students for the complexities of the U.S. medical system. The curriculum would emphasize cultural competency, patient and provider well-being, and the elimination of socioeconomic disparities in the medical system. Students would see patients right away, and hands-on learning would replace many lectures. What’s more, the first five graduating classes would pay nothing to attend; Kaiser hoped this would attract a student body more diverse than the typical U.S. medical school.
“The school will help shape the future of medical education,” promised Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson, who died unexpectedly, reportedly of a heart attack, about nine months after the announcement.
That future felt a good deal more urgent by the time the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine opened its doors in Pasadena, Calif., in July. The COVID-19 pandemic had put a hold on almost every facet of “normal” life, and the medical system was scrambling to treat millions of patients with a new and terrifying disease, a disproportionate number of them Black and brown. The streets were filled with people protesting police brutality and racism, as a nation that had long overslept awoke to the disparities woven into almost every American institution. “Our country doesn’t just have a pandemic; it also has a renewed recognition of centuries of racism,” says Kaiser’s founding dean Dr. Mark Schuster. “We need to make sure that our students understand our history.”