We challenged Professor José Fernandes e Fernandes, at the time the Director of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon, to remember the year of the start of a pioneering idea, the Newsletter of his Faculty. As soon as we contacted him, he responded immediately to the “kind invitation to remember the time” and only asked for one condition, to reread the first of all editions, in November 2008 .
And this was how our conversation began.
What memories are rekindled when rereading this edition where it all started?
Fernandes e Fernandes: When reading the first issue and the news, comments and interviews, it is worth remembering the context in which the initiative arose.
It was a context of change and illusion that it would be possible to reform many aspects of academic institutions.
First, it was the dynamics introduced by the then Rector António Sampaio da Nóvoa, who was interviewed for this initial issue and whose statement deserves a reading it again. This dynamic began with a great reflection meeting - Estados Gerais da Universidade - and culminated with the approval of the new Statutes of the University of Lisbon. In this exercise, the Faculty had the active participation of several lecturers, namely Professor João Lobo Antunes, delegate elected by the Faculty and me, as Director, who had the opportunity to speak at the opening session chaired by President Jorge Sampaio.
It was a period of renewal at the University and at the Faculty of Medicine, with two initiatives by the Faculty Management Board that are worth remembering.
The first was the Syllabus Reform of medical teaching at the Faculty that began in 2007 after a lively and controversial discussion with students and with some Professors. It was preceded by an evaluation of teaching by an international Independent Commission chaired by Prof. Fernando Lopes da Silva (unfortunately already deceased) and which included two Professors, one English from Sheffield and another American from Philadelphia, made possible due to the financial support of the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Oriente Foundation. It was an innovative and... brave exercise, for which the support of Deputy Director Professor Alexandre Ribeiro was decisive. It was a very significant change, approved by an overwhelming majority in the then Assembly of Representatives, not without a lively discussion and some controversy, and it was a tremendous challenge to the Faculty’s habits.
I recall the study that Professor Carlota Saldanha undertook at the request of the Board to understand the impact of the Reform on academic achievement, which was published in this first issue. It confirmed the maintenance of the pedagogical requirements and the students’ good performance, comparable to previous years. There were those who feared excessive simplification or inadequacy of students and/or lecturers, which was not confirmed.
Obviously with the adaptations that are always necessary as it is a dynamic process, the Reform continues 13 years later, without substantial changes in its philosophy and structure, which is gratifying and was favourably evaluated by the higher education evaluation agency.
The second initiative Faculty's Board was the launch of the Lisbon Academic Medical Centre, whose objective was to foster cooperation with our Santa Maria Hospital - before 2005 there was a very serious conflict situation that we resolved with Professor Adalberto Campos Fernandes, who was meanwhile appointed President of the Hospital's Board of Directors and whose cooperation was invaluable - and also with the Institute of Molecular Medicine, which was created out of the Faculty but had administrative autonomy conferred by its status of Associate Laboratory. The cooperation of Professor Lobo Antunes was also very important.
It is interesting to reread the two statements in this first issue of the Newsletter.
The Lisbon Academic Medical Centre was an innovative project for the reorganization of institutions aiming at their convergence for the promotion of teaching and research. It also allowed better management of common initiatives and above all the scientific development of Clinical Medicine. It promoted greater interconnection of clinicians with the IMM, in the unique context of a large academic and hospital institution - the largest in the country - which aspired to be a national and international reference.
The process was unconditionally supported by the Minister of Research and Higher Education, Mariano Gago, and by the Minister of Health. In October 2008, the Memorandum for its constitution was signed and the statutes were approved.
It is not necessary to list its objectives here. Political change and the financial crisis hampered its expansion and development, but, curiously, in 2015, at the end of the legislature and with a new board in the Faculty, the government extended the concept of Academic Centre to all hospital institutions associated with Medical Schools. As is often the case in Portugal, the name changes, but the substance does not always change, lacking the necessary reformist spirit that should be the government's mission.
As far as I know, the idea and the concept persist. I hope that they will finally make the career, and administrative and functional structure reforms that are indispensable.
So this was the context. The Newsletter would also be a vehicle for disseminating and promoting the faculty and some reformist attitude of that time.
Why an electronic newsletter?
Fernandes e Fernandes: I answer with a text that I then wrote. Modernity and economy were decisive.
At the Faculty, there was previously a scientific journal that never gained dimension because it did not have a fixed and constant periodicity and was never indexed, so it was not a vehicle for the publication of scientific works of greater importance that aimed to be disseminated in indexed, national and international scientific journals. Then, there was an Agenda, which was useful and where essentially pedagogical aspects were circulated and academic activities reported.
They had a very high cost and a no cost-benefit ratio. In almost daily meetings with Secretary Dr David Xavier, we often discussed the need to change the model for divulging the institution's activity.
Thus, thanks to the enthusiasm of Dr David Xavier and a group of members of staff, the idea was created and the project, which the Board approved without hesitation, started.
I remember having requested an additional expense: the edition should be bilingual in Portuguese and English, so that it could be disseminated to international counterparts. This required hiring professional translation services and I remember that this additional cost was perhaps the only difficulty raised by David Xavier. But he ended up agreeing and I had many colleagues and friends from various countries who emailed me to thank and congratulate me for the initiative.
As a director, what were your perspectives for this bold new project?
Did you encounter obstacles to creating a more modern and visible means of communication for the institution?
Fernandes e Fernandes: Over time, the memory of minor incidents is lost and the memory of good times remains.
There were rules. First, editorial autonomy. Professor Vaz Carneiro was the lecturer who supervised and approved the initiatives and texts, so I do not recall any situation when I had to make any recommendation.
There was a huge spirit of collaboration, very informal, in which ideas were debated and suggestions were made, and I think it was very positive.
I don't remember that moment. Perhaps I made a couple of recommendations, but nothing much.
Twelve years have passed. What is your assessment of this teenage project that was once your baby?
Fernandes e Fernandes: I think it was not my project, but our project in which everyone was very committed to giving their best.
If it survived and entered adolescence, I hope it will be rebellious and innovative, as is typical of its age. It will survive because it has quality and provides a good service.
I always read the News and so I follow the life of the Institution. And this is also a mission of this type of communicational vehicle: to take to the doctors who graduated at the faculty and to those who worked there the news of the time that goes on and thus ensure the umbilical connection is never broken.
I wish News and its editorial team the best of luck and my best wishes for continuity and success.
Allow me to make a final note. The initial issue mentioned the death of Professor Luís Silva Carvalho, Full Professor of Physiology.
He was a great figure of the Faculty, Professor and Researcher of national and international recognized merit, a Good Friend and a Good Man. His support in that initial period of the Board I chaired was very important and I have not forgotten it.
Allow me to recall him on this occasion.