If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to be vigilant. New cases, hospitalizations and deaths have dipped, leveled off and, in some places, climbed again. We continue to face many uncertainties — even as vaccination rates climb — including high case numbers, new variants of the virus and constantly evolving public health guidance.
Despite the uncertainty and the terrible toll, I am hopeful that we are turning a corner. I am optimistic for a bright future for improved access, health and well-being. Advancements in genomic sequencing, which enabled quick work in deciphering the virus genome, and the speed of vaccine development, production and efficacy — all give me hope.
The resolve demonstrated by our scientific and healthcare community over the past 15 months tells me that we will be successful.
Throughout the pandemic, our university community persisted in fulfilling our mission of education, research and service. We prioritized the health and safety of our campus community at the same time we helped to care for our larger community. Hundreds of faculty, students and staff volunteered in providing personal protective equipment, served as translators, worked phone banks for contact tracing and helped in public health education efforts. Finally, we joined the vaccination effort in partnership with the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center and our own Rosalind Franklin University Health Clinics.
This issue of Helix reflects our deep commitment to the future of health care. We stand in solidarity with the dean of our Chicago Medical School, Dr. Archana Chatterjee, as she continues to serve on the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, and to fulfill the many demands on her time as she strives to educate the public about the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines. Dr. Chatterjee, along with so many of our faculty, students and alumni, is helping to build mutual resilience through service and advocacy.
Our planned College of Nursing, led by Interim Dean Dr. Sandra Larson, will help address a tremendous community need for a highly educated and diverse nursing workforce. It will also strengthen our interprofessional culture and mission. Nursing, the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, is the most trusted profession in the United States. The compassion and competence so central to nurses’ identity is also vital to the care they provide patients fighting the deadly coronavirus.
Our Innovation and Research Park, which we celebrated in a virtual grand opening on Jan. 28, also offers a vision for improved health and economic development for our surrounding communities. A collaborative environment for academic and industry scientists and entrepreneurs, it will help accelerate our nationally recognized research into treatment and prevention of disease.
We must develop a cohesive plan to address the many challenges that lie ahead, including equitable vaccine distribution, funding and development of new treatments for COVID and its lingering illnesses, and a cohesive response to the many indirect harms caused by the pandemic. The resolve demonstrated by our scientific and healthcare community over the past 15 months tells me that we will be successful.
The lightning pace of the development of the COVID vaccine is a reminder that some of our greatest innovations come in response to our greatest crises. Strengthened by our faith in scientific discovery and in each other, I believe we can make changes that improve our resilience and sustain our health and well-being.
Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP, DipACLM
President and CEO