Prof. Marco Montorsi’s speech for the opening ceremony of the academic year 2021/2022
Prof. Marco Montorsi’s speech for the Opening Ceremony of the Academic Year 2021/2022:
“Signora Ministra dell’Università e Ricerca, Signora Ministra degli Affari regionali, Autorità, Magnifici Rettori, care colleghe e colleghi, care studentesse e studenti, signore e signori, it is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all here for the opening of the New Academic Year of our University, a very significant ceremony that we are recommencing today after last year’s cancellation. We are not in safe waters yet– and indeed all safety measures are still in place – but after two intense years that have profoundly changed our lives, we are able to restart, thanks, above all, to the Covid vaccine. The mRNA technology used in the vaccine is the subject of a lifetime study by Professor Katalin Karikò to whom, as a credit to her achievements, we are delighted to award the first Honorary Degree in Medicine and Surgery from our University. I would like to thank you for being here with us on this important day.
We cannot, however, look ahead without considering what has taken place and the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on all of us, remembering that it is not yet defeated. Some conditions have marked our lives forever: the total closure of public spaces; the feeling of fragility and precariousness as well as the fear dictated by the health situation of an unknown pathology that seemed out of control; the coexisting collapse of a global economic system; new forms of poverty; physical and moral isolation; and the lack of socialization.
The university system has demonstrated a strong ability to react to these phenomena by, for example, transferring all its courses to distance learning in just a few days, exploiting digital technology and thus facilitating a transformation that was already taking place, but without this urgency and speed.
While our hospitals were fighting the pandemic, the University, too, played its part and fought its own battle – continuing to train students in the best possible way. We acted as a community and kept a cool head. As a community we made decisions, and as a community we worked together to overcome obstacles and misunderstandings.
From an educational point of view, the challenges for a medical school have not been easy. Our courses are highly practical and in addition to a solid theoretical knowledge, they require an equal amount of training directly in the hospital.
Starting in summer 2020 we allowed small rotational groups of students to attend University, increasing simulation training in our Simulation Center. We also reestablished clinical training in the hospitals, a fundamental part of the study path for all professionals of life sciences, not only from a technical point of view, but also for the relational impact with the patient, which we must not lose sight of by falling into what we may call ‘the digital trap’. This was an important challenge for which I would like to thank all my colleagues in the Humanitas Group hospital network. Furthermore, we managed to establish new agreements with some hospitals abroad to allow foreign students, unable to reach Italy, to carry out clinical training in their own country.
We have all rediscovered the importance of socialization and the physical and relational dimension, which have deeply impacted young people and their personal growth. For this reason, we set up a psychological counseling service for our students, online and offline, to combat self-isolation and anxiety, which was found in roughly one third of our students according to a study we recently published.
Students enrolled at medical school during a pandemic era are fully immersed in a real world opportunity for professional identity formation. The pandemic intensified the sense of solidarity and community and developed a desire to help and contribute. Many decided to serve as volunteers in hospitals or in our vaccination center together with residents and faculty members. And in this period of struggle, never have we better understood that no-one can walk alone. We cannot walk alone.
Some of the significant changes in actions and behaviour introduced during the pandemic are related to the rise of digital technology, which is here to stay. This new hybrid-form of teaching favours the characteristics of our students, who are part of the so-called Generation Z; growing up in the midst of the turmoil of a climate emergency and a global pandemic, they are certainly more digitally connected young people than any previous generation, but they are also more aware of environmental and social issues, and more optimistic about the opportunities presented by a world that is evolving faster than ever.
Distant learning activities have to be specifically designed to maintain interest and create a dynamic and collaborative environment. In fact, not only does the technology need to be reviewed, but also the teachers themselves need to re-imagine the educational process. To this end, we organized a teaching observation project, under the supervision of experienced education managers. We also developed an experimental Honor Track Program for medical students, allowing them to gain further experience in specific clinical areas of interest to better prepare for future career choices in post-graduate specialties.
Without a doubt, the limitations imposed by Covid in attending clinical units have further emphasized the role that simulation plays in preparing students and residents in the Life Sciences. I’m pleased to say that, specifically related to the integration of simulation in our curriculum, Humanitas University, received the 2021 ASPIRE-to-Excellence Award, promoted by the International Association for Medical Education. Post-graduate training is a fundamental issue where we have a clear responsibility towards the professionals of the future. And thanks to the commitment of our Ministries of University and Health, the number of contracts has increased over the last two years with a favourable impact on the ratio between applications and available places.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all our residents for their continuous efforts during the pandemic, particularly for their work in clinical areas, far from their specialties. The ever-closer collaboration with the hospitals of the Humanitas group and the attention to the process of education and clinical quality has also allowed us to obtain the seventh consecutive JCI accreditation since 2002, the second as an Academic Hospital, where the integration between Hospital and University has been marked as excellent. I consider this one of the main reasons why postgraduate doctors placed the majority of our specialty schools (with over 400 active residents) in their top three choices of their specialty area. And still on the topic of training, I sincerely hope that the regional authorities will finalize the project related to the progressive autonomy of post-graduate doctors to help bring us into line with the European models that our young colleagues have repeatedly requested.
Now turning to research activities, it cannot be denied that the pandemic produced a remarkable increase in scientific productivity shining the light on the critical importance of research in ensuring the health and well-being of our society. Indeed, our faculty, which has increased by 17% over the past year, more than doubled the quality of its scientific production, with papers equally distributed between Covid and non-Covid research. It has been said that we need to avoid a lurch to the “covid-isation” of research if it comes at the expenses of all the other scientific areas.
A great boost to research can also be attributed to the wider adoption of the open access policy with a greater free exchange of data. To guarantee such excellence and maintain a constant pipeline in research, it is of paramount importance to train students from the very start of their university career. That’s why we developed the Virgilio Programme, designed to train physician-scientists, managed in partnership with the Universities of Milan and Milano-Bicocca, and financed by a Fondazione Cariplo grant. The recent graduation ceremony of the first cohort and the feedback from our students confirmed the importance of this project. It is now a shared belief that expertise and critical reasoning are more crucial than ever before but to cultivate public awareness and avoid misunderstandings, we must strive to create a culture of scientific method and process, a real mission of health and scientific literacy as recently discussed and approved at T20 meeting.
As a result, the third mission may be the key to bringing real benefit to society. We are increasingly engaged in public activities and events strongly rooted in the territory, such as health prevention campaigns or awareness-raising events on issues of public health interest. We should encourage open and evidence-based discussions countering misinformation and falsehoods.
Over these past two years, we have continued to increase student enrollment, maintaining a roughly 40 percent ratio of foreign students from around the world. An analysis of the most recent data seems to confirm that the Covid pandemic has further increased the appeal of medical schools, perhaps suggesting that whenever there is a period of uncertainty, with individuals worrying about the likelihood of getting a job, medical school applications tend to increase. People recognize that regardless of what’s going on around us, we always need physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to look after our well-being- and that contributes to a sense of job security many find desirable. Additionally, in the field of Medicine, gender equality is a topic of serious debate and we are about to finalize our Gender Equality Plan in order to effectively address related issues with a series of targeted actions to be implemented in the very near future.
Another important area to address is the evolving needs of the population and how the life sciences can respond by remodulating their courses. If we consider the statistics from the Health at Glance Report 2021 by OECD, the number of nursing graduates in Italy is well below the average of participating countries. Furthermore, the course contents need to be more closely aligned with the hospital requirements and clinical competences. As a first response to these shortfalls, we have opened a degree course in Nursing at Humanitas Mater Domini in Castellanza, in collaboration with l’Università LIUC and its teaching staff and developed a Master’s degree in Nursing Sciences with differentiated pathways in the light of the new needs of the ageing population, the increasing impact of technology and importance of cultivating soft skills.
In a world of healthcare where digital technology and innovation are progressing at impressive rates, educational projects that can incorporate different skills and integrate well with the biotechnical sector must be increasingly valued. The first MEDTEC degree course, created together with the Politecnico di Milano, now in its third year, is heading in this direction. To date, some 200 students from all over the world have chosen this transdisciplinary course, which aims to be the tangible answer to the needs of new skills within the medical sector. The purpose of this degree course is to open new opportunities for students, even outside the hospital, perhaps in industry. This is also reflected in the active participation of some innovative companies in the field of biotechnology.
In the last two years, other universities have started similar initiatives that recognize the interest in the connection between medicine and technological innovation, although with different structures and curricula.
It may now be appropriate to establish a sort of national coordination to compare our best experiences and present ourselves in Europe with a winning and innovative model. In this new learning perspective, the University must be the home in which to grow and stimulate ideas, and above all to help put them into practice. The history of universities and their evolution is closely connected with their ability to project and play their part in building the future. Italy still has a long way to go in this area if we also consider recent data that see us among the countries with a moderate rate of innovation.
With this objective in mind, the Innovation Building, which President Rocca has just mentioned, will be built. An example – if there were still the need – of how initiatives, where private capital is placed at the service of the public sector, can and should be seen as virtuous collaborations in achieving a constant improvement of our system of higher education and continue to network and reach out as a single national academic system.
And let me add one last point on the topic of connection between universities and local territories. If the future regeneration of our metropolitan cities were to include the great cultural settlements of the university centers in their plans, certainly our geographical area would be a good candidate, with a very large number of researchers, doctors, students, and citizens circulating every day in this area.
Hence, when designing the future developments of the underground network of the great Metropolitan City, I sincerely hope that even the south-west part will not be forgotten. Covid-19 has accelerated changes which will have a long-lasting impact in the future; Universities should be at the forefront and lwad the vision of the future!
And it is now with great joy and emotion that I declare the 2021/2022 Academic Year of Humanitas University open.”