UCSF Cares

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

After reading Aaron Mattingly’s recently published Synapse article “Leadership or Lip Service?” about his disappointment in Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Daniel Lowenstein, Dr. Dan Lowenstein, during the Annual Chancellor’s Leadership Forum on Diversity and Inclusion, I’m compelled to weigh in.

I too have had the opportunity to rant about things related to UCSF, and mental health has been one of them. In last March’s article “Living the Dream,” I highlight the issue of perpetual fatigue caused by UCSF’s stressful work environment. I state that in truth, the dream of coming to UCSF can sometimes feel like a nightmare.

Unexpectedly, I received a formal response to that article. And lo and behold, who did it come from? The same antagonist from Aaron’s article: Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Daniel Lowenstein. This is what he wrote to me:

Dear Ray,

What a great “rant” and compelling read. The picture alone speaks volumes, and having been there myself (although many years ago) I absolutely identified with your fatigue and observation that UCSF is not a place of rest. Yes – UCSF attracts passionate students, trainees, staff, and faculty who work incredibly hard to accomplish lifetime achievements for the betterment of others. Yes – UCSF people are uber accountable, reliable, and responsible in their labors and quest to produce great work. And, yes – I agree that a little more cushion for our trainees (maybe even access to on-campus laundromats along with free yoga) is worth investigating. My door is open. Let’s talk.

Best wishes,


The email was sent to me on April 7, less than three weeks before the Annual Chancellor’s Leadership Forum on Diversity and Inclusion. So when I read Aaron’s article, I was confused. The Provost and I had talked about student dissatisfaction, and even about the recent increase in suicides among medical students nationwide. Each time we connected, I came away feeling that this was someone who genuinely wanted to change our school’s environment.

Having seen the video of the exchange Aaron referred to though, I do see where he’s coming from. The Provost’s responses to the pharmacy student’s questions were quite terse and seemed far removed from the kind person who wrote that email. It was hard for me to see his intent to change the issues at our school. I can’t blame Aaron for writing that article.

I do however want to address one thing that I have come to believe: Dr. Lowenstein empathizes with us.

When we stepped into this institution we, maybe unbeknownst to us, accepted the challenge of fulfilling great expectations. We are expected to absorb and master research that took centuries of trial and error to achieve. We are expected to understand the pain our patients are suffering. We are expected to find a cure.

These are by no means easy tasks, but neither was getting into UCSF. Attracted by a school that could potentially enable us to achieve the unfathomable, we were selected. And I want to say this: I truly believe that UCSF inspires, and is at the forefront of change. If there’s one place that can spread awareness and achieve answers to the universal problem of mental health, it is UCSF.

One of my takeaways since starting to write my rants for Synapse has been that UCSF is great at quickly tackling student issues. Look at the changes that were implemented since last year:

2/25/2016 Rant: UCSF: Under Construction… So Forever? — I wrote about our school’s constant construction and the lack of information about it.

Resolved: Long descriptions at construction areas now tell students and faculty what’s happening.

3/10/2016 Rant: Muni Money, Maybe? — I say it would be amazing to receive funds to offset the high cost of living in San Francisco.

Resolved: The Cost of Living Stipend was introduced to all students living outside of school housing.

4/20/2016 Rant: No Student Is An Island — I vent my frustrations over the lack of true relationship building in our Interprofessional Education Sessions.

Resolving: An Interprofessional Committee was formed to guide the IPE sessions in integration, promoting material relevance, and bonding with each of the programs.

5/12/2016 Rant: Dreading Error 404 — Our old email system was so bad we couldn’t even add attachments on Chrome.

Resolved: Moving the entire email server to Outlook, we can now use attachments for a nice, clean email service.

These are just a few things I’ve noticed over the past few years, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see each school rigorously adapt and change for their students.

I’ve never seen a school so persistent in listening to student feedback while truly meaning well for its students. We still have a long way to change the nationwide issue of mental fatigue, but if there’s anywhere that can make it happen, it’s here at UCSF.