When Justin Dimick, M.D., M.P.H., was elected to the National Academy of Medicine this year, he was continuing a streak of Michigan Medicine Department of Surgery Chairs holding positions in the body. The two previous chairs, Michael Mulholland, M.D., Ph.D., and Lazar Greenfield, M.D., had been elected in 2004 and 1995, respectively.
That continuity of representation comes down to a dedication to the scientific study of problems relevant to the field of surgery, Dimick says.
“We have a lot of surgeons in our department who are rigorously pursuing scientific and clinical endeavors, and that rigorous science is really important to who we are. Having three consecutive chairs reflects a commitment to leadership that understands science at the highest level.”
A working group, and an honor
The National Academy of Medicine is one of three academies that make up the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The body, through its members, serves as an objective advisor to the government on matters of health and health care.
Mulholland, now the Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs for the Medical School and Executive Director of the University of Michigan Medical Group, stresses that while it’s an honor to be elected, membership means work; the group produces reports on various topics of interest to the government.
“They may range from how to handle the Covid crisis to vaccination policy to disparities in healthcare to errors in medicine to where the US should invest in coming medical technology,” Mulholland says.
When Mulholland was a member, he focused in part on medical errors and resulting deaths and injury, which had been highlighted in the famous publication “To Err is Human.” The publication started a dialogue about the problem and resulted in interventions to try to make medical care safer.
“Because surgery is an active intervention and errors can cause harm, surgeons were prime movers in that area,” Mulholland says.
Dimick is honored to be a part of the group, and eager to get to work—particularly in areas around patient safety, health care disparities and health care policy, areas he has scientific expertise in.
“Some of their landmark reports set the tone nationally for important topics relevant to health care and health. I'm excited to get more involved in setting the agenda, helping to shape the direction and make sure that important topics are addressed,” Dimick says.
A legacy of contributing and advising
That Dimick is ready to contribute is no mistake. The National Academy of Medicine taps members who have a demonstrated track record of advancing science, and a clear capacity to keep contributing.
Mulholland sees the Michigan Promise, which he spearheaded, in action. He also sees a culture at work that allowed the Michigan Promise to take root before it had been clearly articulated.
“Nobody develops by themselves. It requires an environment and a culture and a team that permits that to happen. The fact that Dr. Greenfield was here for a long time before he was elected reflects both those things. I was here for many years before I was elected, and Dr. Dimick even longer. His talent and the environment permitted him to become a person that the National Academic of Medicine would want to attract and make contributions going forward,” Mulholland says.
The other thing it reflects is an overall tradition of excellence in the Department of Surgery.
Before Dimick was the Chair of Surgery, he held the George D. Zuidema Professorship in the Department of Surgery.
Zuidema, who died in July, was a pioneering surgeon who began his academic career at the University of Michigan Medical School as an assistant professor in 1960. He returned to Michigan in 1984 after a remarkable stint at Johns Hopkins University to assume the post of Vice Provost for Medical Affairs and Professor of Surgery, a position he held until 1994.
Among the many honors Zuidema collected during his storied career was election to the National Academy of Medicine in 1971.