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Winter 2014
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Doctor's Progress
Associate Dean Philip Gruppuso helped to transform medical education at Brown.

This summer, Philip Gruppuso will step down as associate dean of medicine for medical education. But he’s not going far.

You’ll still be able to follow the sound of Gruppuso’s tinkling jazz piano to downtown Providence clubs, where he’ll continue to indulge his 30-year passion for bringing syncopated vitality to the city’s soundtrack—and to the occasional on-campus gig. You’ll find him in the classroom, where he’ll continue to deliver 20 or so lectures every fall on topics in biochemistry and nutrition. And you’ll find him in his lab, where he’ll continue his NIH-funded research on regulation of cell growth.

At press time, he’s waiting to hear about another major grant that will allow him to collaborate with colleagues at Brown to study environmental factors in fetal development. And, oh, there’s also the 200-year-old house just over the line in Massachusetts, where he and his wife, Martha Manno, raised their two daughters—the one that serves as a really interesting continuous restoration project.

Gruppuso approaches life as a rich blend of interlocking passions—all built on the foundation of a three-decade career in pediatric endocrinology. It’s a worldview that has informed his leadership during a time of unprecedented growth and ferment at Alpert Medical School.

Transformation

“Phil has been responsible for some major changes and transitions,” says Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Edward Wing. “He and his team have transformed the first two years of medical school here, developing an integrated curriculum that follows a systems approach. For instance, students might study a blockage in the GI system through the lenses of anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry all together. And they’ve built in a robust feedback loop, using student focus groups, so that we have a continuously improving curriculum. We’re now in the midst of implementing changes of a similar scale for the third and fourth years—giving students shortened and more consolidated clerkship periods and more flexibility in focus.”

Curriculum innovations—along with admission policy changes, an “academy structure” that organizes the student body into three tightly knit “academies,” overseen by advisers and mentors, and the transformative gift from The Warren Alpert Foundation that made the Medical School’s state-of-the-art physical home possible—have turned Brown into a magnet for creative, mission-driven medical students. Class size has increased from 70 to 120 students, about half of whom enter via the Program in Liberal Medical Education (where Gruppuso also made changes to enhance students’ preparation for medical school), with the rest arriving from other top universities and via unique life and career paths.

“Our community is more diverse, dynamic, and exciting than ever before,” says Wing, “and our culture is one in which students support each other and compete with themselves. I think Phil has done a lot to advance that.”

New Paradigm, Enduring Values

Gruppuso has been a valuable mentor as well as a talented leader, Wing says. “Our students really respect him. They know how much he supports them.”

That’s probably because Gruppuso’s such a fan. “It’s been an extraordinary opportunity, working with our students,” he says. “They come to us so accomplished, and they’re all so brilliant and committed.” It’s also because he’s walked the walk; Gruppuso knows what it takes to build a successful career in academic medicine.

Gruppuso came to Providence for a pediatric residency at Rhode Island Hospital in 1977 and built a career at Brown—complementing his clinical practice and leadership roles first by teaching biochemistry, then by leading the MD/PhD Program, and finally by becoming associate dean of medicine for medical education eight years ago.

When then-Dean Eli Y. Adashi recruited Gruppuso, today’s Alpert Medical School was still a dream.

“I was recruited before the Alpert gift, so—although everybody knew we needed a new building—there was nothing definite,” Gruppuso remembers. “I was hired with the charge of leading a comprehensive redesign of the curriculum. But the scope of what has happened here over the last eight years has been beyond what any of us could have anticipated.”

Gruppuso points to the structural changes in the curriculum—particularly the launch of the integrated curriculum, the introduction of the scholarly concentrations program, and an incipient major initiative in training future leaders in primary care—as his major contributions. But it’s all built on a single mission: educating the best doctors possible.

“Our job is to provide our students with the fundamental skills they need and to instill values that will dictate how they take care of patients—being a gifted communicator, being altruistic, putting the patient first,” he says. “It’s also increasingly imperative now, in the midst of this explosion in knowledge that we’re experiencing, to teach them how to keep up with the science over the course of their careers, how to find and manage information.”

 


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