Culture change is a slow and organic process.

It takes patience, optimism, and an active effort, every day, from every member of our organization.

Jess Cowan at CNS Town Hall

Every time we choose to live by the Cultural North Star, we take one step closer to building and sustaining a inclusive, mission-driven culture.

Culture Audit

At the David Geffen School of Medicine (DGSOM), we believe that a positive, team-oriented culture is not only critical to our ability to achieve our mission, but also vital to our well-being and cohesion as a community.

To enhance our existing culture and improve our strategic impact, the Dean’s Office launched a year-long culture audit in 2017. More than 1,000 DGSOM staff, faculty, trainees, and students participated in a school-wide survey, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews, sharing valuable insights into the strengths of our current culture, as well as key priorities moving forward.

The culture audit revealed three consistent themes

  • More transparent and compassionate communication.
  • Greater diversity, in all its forms.
  • Enhanced collaboration.

These themes led to the development of the Cultural North Star, three pillars and 12 purpose statements that unite us in our shared mission, set clear and high expectations for our actions and interactions, and help facilitate problem-solving, decision-making, and collaboration.

Together, these core principles represent our collective commitment to our mission and each other, serving as a daily guide for the decisions we make, the goals we set, and the work we do.

Do What’s Right

  • We are united by our shared mission of advancing science and medicine
  • We work together to eliminate inequity
  • We are grounded in ethics and data
  • We balance the short and long term effects of our actions

Make Things Better 

  • We come to work to make an impact
  • We are constantly curious
  • We seek out diverse voices
  • We embrace failures as opportunities to learn

Be Kind

  • We are strongest when we show empathy
  • We have the courage to be honest
  • We listen to understand
  • We engage in dialogue even when we disagree


  • Capture and analyze qualitative and quantitative data from in-depth interviews, focus groups and a school-wide survey

  • Culture audit informs development of the Cultural North Star
  • Leadership pressure testing (early experimentation and refinement; identified implications, uncertainties and real-life applications)
  • Development of marketing and communications plans
  • Launch coordinated internal marketing and communications campaign
  • Identify strategic integration opportunities and implement evidence-based practices in key areas: medical education curricula, professional development, rewards and recognitions, orientation and onboarding, recruitment, and HR and Academic Affairs assessments
  • Collect feedback and iterate (quarterly surveys)
  • Continuous improvement and iteration of programs
  • Launch external campaign + partnerships
  • Scale successful pilots
  • Expand HR and Academic Affairs strategy
  • Develop accountability components
  • Develop external marketing and communications campaign


After 18 months of research and development, the Cultural North Star launched in May 2019. Since then, the Dean’s Office has been working with staff, faculty, students and trainees from across our academic and medical enterprise to develop and pilot a range of Cultural North Star programs and practices that – over time – will be embedded in the fabric of our organization.

The overarching goals of the Cultural North Star are very broad and relate to each pillar of the DGSOM’s mission. Over the long term, success will be reflected in increased employee engagement (measured by a Employee Net Promoter Score), decreased turnover and an increase in collaboration and collegiality across the board. These metrics, as well as Cultural North Star awareness and engagement, will be measured quarterly through a pulse survey. Longitudinal data from the quarterly survey will allow us to assess change over time and pivot Cultural North Star programming in response to trends. As the Cultural North Star gains awareness and traction, we expect these – and other mission-related metrics – to improve.

Review results from our surveys: 

First Survey (July 2019) (PDF)

Second Survey (November 2019) (PDF)

Third Survey (October 2020)(PDF)

Many of our colleagues, partners and leaders across campus are working tirelessly to help UCLA and DGSOM meet our noble mission through cultural initiatives.

Looking to the Future

Over time, the Cultural North Star will be embedded in DGSOM’s organizational DNA.

  • Rewards, recognitions and leadership promotions
  • Orientation and onboarding
  • HR and Academic Affairs
  • Hiring, recruitment and search committees
  • MD curriculum
  • Professional development
  • And more!