Last month’s Corporation meetings, alumni reunions, and Commencement ceremony were exciting and bittersweet because they were Ruth Simmons’ final events. There were many celebrations of her presidency before and during the week. The Medical School Commencement took place in the Unitarian Church as usual. The graduating class numbered 78 because many students deferred for one or more years to do research projects, overseas work, and advanced degree work (such as MPH). Graduation is a wonderful event at our School. Our outside speaker was Dr. Joe Martin, former dean of the Harvard Medical School. Joe has recently written his biography, From Alfalfa to Ivy and he generously gave a copy to every graduating senior. He also gave a great talk titled Bend the Curve. I think Joe might have been a bit surprised at the enthusiasm of our students and their families during the diploma and hooding part of the event. One family even brought horns to blow when their daughter/wife/mom received her diploma and hood. I am not sure the enthusiasm is so manifest at Harvard.
During the week I went to two talks, one given by Art Horwich, a graduate of the first medical school class in 1975, and the second by Nick Carter, a student who will graduate next year. Art Horwich spoke at the annual Ruth B. Sauber Distinguished Medical Alumni Lecture. Art graduated first in his class and described his time at Brown as very exciting and in fact transformative. He described reading in the musty, decrepit original medical school library on the first floor of Arnold Laboratory and being thrilled by the classic articles on genetics. Next door was Ruth Sauber’s office leading to Dean Stan Aronson’s office. Both individuals were always available and important in their own ways for the students. Art went on to a career in pediatrics and research in genetics and cell biology. He has made one of the truly fundamental discoveries on the mechanism of protein folding within a cell. His work has potential importance to such diseases as Alzhiemer’s disease. His many awards include the Lasker Award in 2011, one of the most prestigious in biomedical science and for some a prelude to a Nobel Prize.
The second talk was given by Nick Carter, a fourth-year medical student. Nick took a year off to work with Patrick Moynihan ’87 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at St. Luc’s Hospital. Patrick is president of the Louverture Cleary School, a secondary school for poor Haitian students who would otherwise not be able to get an education. More than 90% of the students go on to University, and many become doctors. Nick Carter, a graduate of Williams College (my alma mater), was mentored by Patrick. Nick plans to go into surgery and practice in Haiti. During the past year he worked in the wound clinic and the intensive care unit in St Luc’s Hospital. Unlike many who have worked for a short time in Haiti, Nick talked about the most important health problems facing that country. They are not what you expect, i.e. cholera, HIV, tuberculosis. The real and long term problems for the country include nutrition for children. Much of the food consumed in Haiti is imported (ironic for a potentially rich agricultural country). It consists of processed food, hot dogs, and food rich in fats and carbohydrates. Obesity and hypertension are significant problems with the resultant diabetes and cardio/cerebral vascular disease being major growing scourges. Care that we take for granted, such as the availability of insulin, is lacking. On the other hand, many children from the countryside don’t have enough to eat and are malnourished which comprises the end of the spectrum. When I was in Haiti I went to a ward in St. Damien’s Pediatric Hospital where I heard the constant cry of children with kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition resulting from a lack of protein in the diet. Women’s and maternal health are significant issues. Pre- and peri-natal care is lacking. There are not enough doctors to perform life-saving Caesarean sections. Injuries resulting from automobile, industrial, and cooking accidents are common. Again there are insufficient resources to care for people adequately. Nick is the first person I have heard coming back from Haiti to correctly identify the most significant problems that need to be addressed. I predict that Nick will be one of the leaders in health care in Haiti in the future. Art and Nick are two Brown medical alumni, the earliest and the latest, making their marks in two entirely different areas but both showing the creativity and the special spark that characterizes our students.
We are planning for a School of Public Health and a formal proposal will be brought forth in the fall. The process entails approval by the Biomedical Faculty Council, the Academic Priorities Committee, the Faculty Executive Committee, the full Faculty and the Corporation. At points in the approval process, the Provost and the President will review and approve the proposal. Provost Schlissel and I have had lengthy discussions concerning the structure of BioMed and the administrative and financial plan going forward. We are working hard with the Provost and President-elect Paxson to mitigate any negative effects on Alpert Medical School of separating a School of Public Health from BioMed.
This week Phil Gruppuso, Associate Dean for Education, held the Sixth Annual Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Awards reception at the Hope Club. More than 115 people attended the event to honor our faculty who teach and mentor our students and residents. Two medical students, Sheela Krishnan, MD ’14 and Tom Anderson, MD ’13 gave moving testimonials to the truly outstanding teachers at the Alpert Medical School. As Sheela said “They are our almost like rock stars for us.” Both students noted that the faculty are their role models as well as their teachers. The future patients of our students will benefit from how our superb faculty teach and mentor our students. The acknowledgment by the school and the students of our faculty, plus pretty good food and drink, gave the whole affair a wonderful feeling.