KPSOM Spotlight

A Fond Farewell for Founding Dean and CEO Mark Schuster

KPSOM leaders, students, faculty, and staff gather for a celebration of Dean’s accomplishments and leadership

June 27, 2024

Founding Dean and CEO Mark Schuster with school leaders at the event.

Founding Dean and CEO Mark Schuster with school leaders at the event.

Members of the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine community gathered last week to pay tribute to Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, who will step down on June 30 after nearly seven years as the school’s Founding Dean and Chief Executive Officer.

School leaders, students, faculty, and staff members celebrated Schuster’s achievements, which include safely opening the new medical school at the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic and shepherding the institution to achieve full accreditation from the Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME).

“The list of accomplishments goes on and on and on,” KPSOM board chair Holly Humphrey, MD, said in her remarks. “Mark, your greatest legacy will clearly live on in the lives that you have touched, the hearts you have inspired.”

Schuster was appointed in October 2017 by the KPSOM board of directors, which had embarked on a nationwide search for a leader to bring the school from the concept stage to reality. Schuster was a renowned professor of pediatrics, researcher, educator and health policy expert who had served as the William Berenberg Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and chief of general pediatrics and vice chair for health policy in the Department of Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital since 2007. 

However, Humphrey recalled that the search committee, even more than Schuster’s credentials in academic medicine, were impressed by the comments that Schuster’s colleagues offered in support of his candidacy. “They said things like this is an exceptionally bright, exceptionally caring man,” Humphrey said. “This is a man who provides energy, intensity, and mentorship to everyone he touches. This is a man who is fair. This is a man who places high demands on his students but even higher demands on himself. This is a man who attracts talent all around him.”

KPSOM Board President Holly Humphrey, MD, speaking at the event.

KPSOM Board President Holly Humphrey, MD, speaking at the event.

Under Schuster’s leadership, construction of the school’s four-story Medical Education Building, located in Pasadena, California was completed in early 2020. The building includes large floor-to-ceiling windows, a rooftop deck, open floor plans, and high-tech facilities such as the Anatomy Resource Center and the Simulation Center that were designed to reflect the school’s forward-thinking approach to medical education. In 2021, the “boundary-breaking” design of the building would be honored at the Los Angeles Architectural Awards. 

Schuster then oversaw the recruitment of the school’s leadership team, and together they built key relationships throughout Kaiser Permanente and community partner organizations across the region. The team appointed talented faculty and brought on staff skilled in relevant academic areas to launch the school and embark on the initial phases of accreditation with both the LCME and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior University Commission (WSCUC). 

Then, in July 2020, KPSOM welcomed its 50-member inaugural class under the challenging circumstances of a once-in-a-century pandemic, creating unprecedented obstacles for students and faculty. The school had to recalibrate everything from admissions interviews to instruction to safe use of the space. While many medical schools and universities were adopting a virtual-only learning environment during the crisis, Schuster and the school’s leadership decided after consulting with deans, medical education experts, and local and national public health officials to pursue a hybrid method of instruction that would help facilitate stronger interactions between students, and between students and the entire school community, during the inaugural class’s critical first year. Memorably, during this time Schuster arranged for the school’s September 2021 White Coat ceremony to be held in person, outdoors on the front lawn of his nearby home, because public health protocols precluded holding the event indoors on campus.

Since then, the school has welcomed its second, third, and fourth classes and grown to include 198 students . With its inclusive admissions process, KPSOM has consistently been ranked among the most diverse medical schools in California and the nation. The school now has more than 1,600 full- and part-time faculty and more than 150 full-time and contingent staff members. Its curriculum is built on the three pillars of Biomedical Science, Clinical Science, and—unique among US medical schools—Health Systems Science. KPSOM sets itself apart from traditional medical schools that are affiliated with a university by leveraging the technology and resources of Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s leading integrated health system. KPSOM provides students with immediate hands-on clinical training that emphasizes teamwork and interaction with patients from the beginning of the first year. During the first two years, students complete a Longitudinal Integrated Clerkships at one of eight Kaiser Permanente medical centers in Southern California, and in years three and four they have access to additional Southern California clinics and dozens more nationwide, giving them opportunities to serve a diverse range of patients and be immersed in hands-on patient care. 

Numerous milestones have been achieved as well. In March, KPSOM held its first-ever Match Day celebration, and all of its eligible graduating students were successfully matched to residency programs across the country. Last month, the Class of 2024 graduated and the school’s inaugural commencement ceremonies were held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Through the years, KPSOM successfully navigated through the long accreditation process; just this month, it was announced that it has achieved full accreditation status from the LCME. 

At the farewell celebration, colleagues commented not only on these accomplishments but also the personal relationships and the community culture that Schuster worked to establish at the school. Schuster became known, among other things, for his informal, biweekly email updates to the entire school community in which he celebrated accomplishments by students, faculty, and staff; reflected on events of the day; and offered tips on his favorite movies, TV shows, and local food. He hosted small-group “Lunch with the Dean” meetings to become acquainted with students, faculty, and staff on a personal level. And he took particular pride in knowing and connecting with each and every one of KPSOM’s students.

“The opportunity you have given all of us students is something none of us would have ever dreamed,” student Trevor Marshall said during remarks at the celebration. “But the thing that you bring to the school most, that makes this place so special, is your emphasis on the interpersonal relationships. It’s not just the education you give us, it’s that you want to get to know us individually. And that is just what life is all about.”

Founding Dean and CEO Mark Schuster addresses the KPSOM community at the farewell celebration.

Founding Dean and CEO Mark Schuster addresses the KPSOM community at the farewell celebration.

During his tenure, Schuster was elected to the Administrative Board of the Council of Deans of the Association of American Medical Colleges. He was recently elected as a member of the Council for the National Academy of Medicine. He has received multiple awards and recognition for lifetime achievement from leading academic and healthcare organizations. This year, in his honor, the KPSOM board, in consultation with the awards and recognition committee, announced that The Mark Schuster Pillar Award for Service to the School will be awarded each year, in perpetuity, to a student, faculty member, and staff member who exemplify Schuster’s commitment to KPSOM’s mission, vision, and values.

In his remarks at the event, Schuster recalled when he was first contacted in 2017 by an executive recruiter, asking if he would be interested in exploring the possibility of leading the new medical school. Although he was satisfied in his then-current position and had no desire to move away from Boston with his husband and two sons, the possibilities of a new, non-traditional medical school inspired him. ‘I became totally caught up … in a school that was going to focus first and foremost on education,” he said. “A school that was going to emphasize person- and patient-centered care and population health, community health, equity and inclusion, and lifelong learning. And all of this would be wrapped up in a school that would seek to address student health and well-being.”

Rather than focus on accomplishments, Schuster devoted his remarks to acknowledging the contributions of KPSOM’s board of directors, its leadership team, students, faculty, and staff members who helped bring that vision to reality. “In reflecting on this journey that we’ve taken together,” he said, “the one thing that I feel above all else is appreciation.”