Louise Aronson, MD ’92, MFA

These updates from the Harvard Medical Alumni Association President previously appeared in Harvard Medicine magazine.

Louise Aronson smiling at the cameraSpring 2024 Meeting

The spring 2024 HMS Alumni Council meeting covered many of the issues facing universities and health care systems nationwide, including campus protests, hospital mergers, student debt, and the effect on admissions of the 2023 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that effectively ended affirmative action.

Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91 PhD, spoke at length about the challenges that Harvard and HMS leadership face regarding the crisis in the Middle East, emphasizing the need to recognize all suffering and advocate for nonviolent resolutions. Regarding public discussion of what universities should say and do at such times, he said that where there are issues directly relevant to the school’s mission, the leadership reserves the right to have a voice, but that the schools do not have a foreign policy. He also noted that Harvard leadership has created task forces to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim bias, met repeatedly with student groups, and held more than forty forums to facilitate respectful discussion.

Bernard Chang, AB ’93, MD, MMSc ’05, HMS dean for medical education, reported that medical students were not involved in the encampments at Harvard College, but HMS students and faculty have participated in peaceful, nondisruptive protests and gatherings on the Longwood campus. He shared his intent to create curricula that both acknowledge tensions and help community members gain or hone skills in civil discourse and intentional discourse.

We also discussed seismic changes to health care and medical education with Dean Chang. Reflecting national trends, Mass General Brigham is consolidating its clinical departments, a move that could affect both student learning and the teaching burden on clinical faculty. To help prepare students for the new world of health care, HMS has developed a program for students focused on management practices and clinical service delivery and convened the Task Force on Teaching Faculty Experience, which will focus on promotion, compensation, and recognition of teaching.

Associate Dean Andrea Reid, MD ’88, director of the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs (ORMA), detailed the impact of the Supreme Court decision on the admissions process, noting that information on applicant race and ethnicity is not provided to screeners or considered by interviewers. The new policies have affected the school’s ability to recruit a diverse class, but on a positive note, ORMA supports a robust array of programs that offer information and inclusion to all applicants.

And what have we on the Council been up to? The Awards Working Group selected A.W. Karchmer, MD ’64—a beloved faculty member and tireless volunteer and fundraiser—to receive the Distinguished Service Award. The Slate Committee successfully executed a transition from our traditional contested Alumni Council elections to approval by acclamation, a process that is better aligned with the approach of other schools. The change was passed by alumni vote at Reunion in early June. The Engagement Working Group has reenvisioned Reunion for younger graduates, improved the swag(!), and developed a plan for virtual Reunions between the five-year in-person reunions. 

Although it may be hard to imagine that Alumni Council meetings could be interesting, much less fun, they are both, and for the same reason that Harvard Medical School itself is both interesting and fun: the people—thoughtful, good-natured Council members; members of the school leadership, who contend with fiscal, social, and educational complexity; and the alumni office staff, who work behind the scenes with competence, generosity, and collegiality. Together, these fantastic humans make my twenty-four hours in Boston and fifteen hours in transit feel entirely worthwhile—and that’s no small feat!

  • Some changes to Council’s roster yet commitment to HMS students, leadership remains strong

    Fall 2023 Meeting

    The fall 2023 meeting of the HMS Alumni Council included members from the classes of 1964 through 2020—a 56-year range—and a resident whose dedication to HMS is such that she flew cross-country after an overnight shift. The day’s topics offered similar diversity, including the use of artificial intelligence in medicine and medical education and the humanitarian crisis brought about by the Israel-Hamas war to how consolidations of hospitals and medical centers affect medical education.

    Each Council president spearheads a project during their term. Mine has two parts, one that takes a multipronged approach to leveraging the skills, talent, and experience of Council members to better support HMS and a second that seeks to better prepare current students for the care of older adults—it’s focused in part on the Council’s “functional status” and in part on aging; in other words, just what you’d expect from an academic geriatrician!

    Among the updates I offered were the following changes to Council structure and activities: 1) expand the vice president’s role to include defined activities and responsibilities such as participating in monthly Council leadership planning calls and heading up the slate committee; 2) create multigenerational focus groups to facilitate connecting alums to the School, each other, and students; and 3) create an easy, time-efficient way for alums to volunteer at HMS, for an hour, or for a year, in existing programs, such as a serving as a mentor to groups underrepresented in medicine or as an advisor to MD students, or those emerging from the School’s Office for Community Centered Medical Education and the medical student core curriculum.

    Among the highlights of the day were meetings with the new HMS Dean for Medical Education, Bernard Chang, AB ’93, MD, MMSc ’05, a neurologist and former advisory dean of the Francis Weld Peabody academic society. While Chang’s predecessor, Ed Hundert, MD ’84, is a very hard act to follow, it took only a few minutes for the new dean to reassure us that HMS is in good hands. He began by telling us about himself, setting a tone of honesty, humor, and humanism. He then talked about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action; his vision for medical education at HMS and certain areas of focus, including incorporating AI into the curriculum; and some current challenges facing medical education, among them the increasing pressures on affiliated faculty to teach, publish, and practice, and how these affect students.

    A second highlight was both predictable and, at least in my experience, unprecedented. The Council has the great fortune of speaking with Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, at each meeting. Usually he updates us about the key issues he’s managing and we offer feedback and ask questions. Although that happened at this meeting, most of the time was spent discussing how Harvard and HMS had responded and should respond in the future to the Israel-Hamas war. It was a difficult conversation at times, but everyone participated, and moments of meaningful disagreement were handled with the blend of insight, generosity, and intelligence that reminded us all why we’d chosen HMS and agreed to serve on the Council.

  • Our Continuing Dedication to HMS and Its Students

    Spring 2023 Meeting

    “If you can see it, you can be it” is at the soul of the initiative to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds and expand diversity at HMS. Alumni mentoring broadens students’ professional horizons and opens vistas to unforeseen career opportunities. This year, in partnership with Andrea Reid, MD ’88, associate dean in the Program in Medical Education and director of the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs, alumni greatly expanded participation in promising programs of student support and in mentoring. Students were universally enthusiastic about these programs; the office plans to sponsor additional programs for other members of our richly diverse student body.

    At the May 2023 Council meeting, David Nierenberg, AB ’71, MD ’76, chair of alumni giving, reported that because of the outstanding level of individual donations from alumni, FY23 projections would be met or exceeded. Expansion of the number of alumni donors is a key objective going forward.

    In his final report as chair of the slate committee, Douglas Chin, AB ’88, MD ’94, MMSc ’94, updated the Council on the results of the elections, which were finalized on June 2. New members of the Council include Kirstin Woody Scott, MD ’20 (first pentad), Nancy Wei, MD ’06 (fourth pentad), Timothy Jenkins, MD ’92 (seventh pentad), Kalon K.L. Ho, MD ’87 (eighth pentad), and Laura Torres, MD ’88 (councilor-at-large). Retiring Council members are Numa Perez Jr., MD ’15, Coleen Sabatini, MD ’04, Margaret Liu, MD ’81, David Cohen, AB ’82, MD ’86, PhD ’87, and Larry Paul, AB ’86, MD ’90. Chasity Jennings-Nuñez, MD ’95, will serve as slate committee chair for FY24.

    Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, reviewed the continuing drive for scientific excellence at HMS, including the new Blavatnik Harvard Life Lab Longwood, which provides incubator laboratory space with dedicated technical support staff to identify and accelerate ideas by integrating therapeutics science from the earliest stage and supporting collaborative science across institutions and disciplines. He also updated Council members on efforts to explore options to reduce student debt, including debt-free medical education. While the latter will require a significant gift, likely from a major donor, the generous donations that alumni continue to make remain key to sustaining important student support programs such as the REACH Scholarship, a need-based four-year scholarship that provides funding to a select group of incoming MD students.

    Finally, Louise Aronson, MD ’92, MFA, the incoming Council president, outlined her vision for a central portal to channel student and alumni engagement opportunities and to foster greater intergenerational relationships at multiple levels. This would build on ongoing work by the Council and provide a platform alumni could access to enhance their working relationships with many programs within the HMS community. 

    As my term on the Council and as HMAA president closes, I am humbled by the dedication of HMS and its alumni to improving the student experience. The School’s commitment to continued excellence and inclusion means that HMS will remain the world’s flagship in biomedical science, health care, and education.

  • A Strong Future for Our School and Our Students

    Winter 2023 Meeting

    The Alumni Council opened its virtual winter meeting in early February with the selection of Neal Baer, EdM ’79, AM ’82, MD ’96 (Class of 1995), as the 2023 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for HMS Alumni. Given in recognition of outstanding commitment to the School, including volunteerism, peer/community engagement, and enrichment of the student experience, the award will be presented on June 2, Alumni Day, at HMS.

    Turning to financial commitment, David W. Nierenberg, AB ’71, MD ’76, chair of alumni giving, reported the receipt of $5.3 million in pledges from MD alumni through December 31 of the current fiscal year. This amount exceeds the gifts and pledges received at a comparable point in fiscal year 2021. Further, 2023 Reunion giving, currently at $5.1 million, is on track to meet or exceed its $7 million goal. 

    Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, updated the Council on the search for the next dean for medical education, being led by Jules Dienstag, MD. Edward M. Hundert, MD ’84, who previously held this post, will now focus his talent on working with the HMS alumni office while maintaining his faculty role at the Center for Bioethics

    The dean also noted that the HMS curriculum continues to evolve with the completion of the first phase of the Sexual and Gender Minorities Health Equality Initiative, which will broaden student and faculty clinician training in that arena. In addition, HMS has approved a new curricular societal theme of climate change and health

    The dean said that recent gifts will allow for the renaming of Building C as well as a restructuring of a courtyard area to produce twenty-five thousand square feet of added space. Other major gifts include $50 million to establish the Paul Farmer Collaborative between HMS and the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda, along with an anonymous $10 million gift of an endowed chair in Farmer’s name for the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine

    The meeting concluded with an update on the URiM mentorship project, including insights from Tola Ibikunle, a third-year medical student, and Kyeisha Laurence, a first-year medical student, co-presidents of the HMS chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). Both found mentors and advisors at HMS to be highly accessible and dedicated to student professional development and noted that the HMS Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs created a welcoming and supportive environment at HMS, counterbalancing some of the lingering negative perceptions of Boston for people of color. Both continue their undergrad advocacy and activist efforts at HMS through programs like the HMS Chapter of SNMA and its Empower Conference, a symposium on underrepresented voices in medicine. Both programs help URiM students understand what is necessary to successfully apply to medical school. 

    Intellectual depth, broad global ken, and diverse composition continue as mainstays of the School’s strength. 

  • Our Support for Diversity, Research, Leadership Remains Strong

    Fall 2022 Meeting

    Eight distinguished alumni joined the Harvard Medical Alumni Association Council at our October 2022 meeting, including president-elect Louise Aronson, MD ’92, MFA; Elbert S. Huang, AB ’92, MD ’96, MPH ’01; Chasity D. Jennings-Nuñez, MD ’95; Kristy Rialon, MD ’08; Michelle L. Rivera, MD ’92; and Douglas P. Zipes, MD ’64. In addition, David W. Nierenberg, MD ’76, the chair of alumni giving, and Shira Sivan Simon, AB’04, MD ’12 (Class of 2011), MBA ’12, an HMS-appointed director to the Harvard Alumni Association Board of Directors, began their new duties. Doug Chin, AB ’88, MD ’94 (Class of 1993), MMSc ’94, chair of the Slate Committee, continued the drumroll of volunteers with an outstanding group of Alumni Council candidates for selection by HMAA membership. The election of new members will begin in April 2023 and close in late May 2023.

    In his HMS overview, Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, noted that the School’s leading position in virtually every aspect of biomedical science and research reflects the time-tested tradition of stellar work and leadership by a stellar faculty. The HMS curriculum is being remolded to expand opportunities for students to tap more readily into this deep reservoir of research expertise. The HST curriculum likewise is evolving to encompass a broader array of disciplines, including artificial intelligence, health technology, and clinical informatics. These innovations mesh with the work being done at the newly opened Blavatnik Harvard Life Lab Longwood and the Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence. Both will create exciting new arenas of research and learning. Finally, the dean reiterated Harvard’s unshakable commitment to a diverse student body as a fundamental pillar of institutional excellence.

    Andrea Reid, MD ’88, MPH ’01, HMS associate dean for student and multicultural affairs in the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs (ORMA), and Christopher De La Cerda, ORMA’s assistant director, continued the theme of diversity by reviewing efforts to connect alumni with prospective medical students, with matriculated HMS students, and with underrepresented students of color and LGBTQ students. The office will encore last spring’s webinars, which drew interest from hundreds of premed students and scores of HMS alumni. One program will target students who are gathering general information, while another will focus on medical school applicants. This past fall, ORMA partnered with Csilla Kiss, HMS assistant director of student affairs, on more than 250 mock residency interviews with HMS students. The effort involved 146 students as well as more than 90 volunteers and 20 alumni. This well-received experience allowed recent alumni in particular to share insights into the nuances of residency programs and selection. ORMA continues to explore additional means of supporting students during their tenure at HMS, including URiMs, for whom the experience can be at times lonely and frustrating. Connections to URiM alumni can be especially helpful in smoothing the often trying journey toward careers in medicine.

    Daley noted the importance of philanthropy to the fiscal health of HMS and to a budget that is currently nearing a state of balance. Nierenberg emphasized the point in a report of overall alumni giving of $19 million in FY22, a significant increase over FY21 and FY20. The 2022 Reunion campaigns raised $5.7 million, a sum substantially exceeding the total given by these classes when they last met for a Reunion in 2017. HMS giving societies honoring loyalty, leadership, and legacy—the Federman Loyalty Circle, the Dean’s Council, and the Ezekiel Hersey Council—continue as keys to success. FY23 goals include increased alumni participation rates, improved donor retention, expanded membership in giving societies, and greater awareness of options for bequests and tax-friendly approaches to donations.

    The School’s continued leadership in intellectual as well as societal arenas is the fruit of ongoing visionary stewardship, for which all alumni are grateful.

  • Resolve and Resilience

    Spring 2022 Meeting

    “RESOLVE” and “RESILIENCE” best capture the spirit of the Spring 2022 meeting of the HMAA Alumni Council. Throughout the year, I was humbled by the unstinting dedication of departing Council members Oni Blackstock, AB ’99, MD ’05 (Class of 2004), Tamara Callahan, MD ’95 (Class of 1993), MPP ‘95, Carmon J. Davis, MD ’90 (Class of 1989), MPH ‘94, Erik Gaensler, AB ’79, MD ’84, Elizabeth Garner, MD ’94 (Class of 1993), MPH ’94, Anthony H. “Tim” Russell, MD ’74, Nina Tolkoff-Rubin MD ‘68, and student representative, MD candidate Nicky Joseph. Typical of this great alumni body, however, new councilors are poised to move our mission forward. Resolve.

    Members reflected on the loss of the innovative and resourceful leadership of Paul Farmer, MD ’90 (Class of 1988), PhD ’90, and the establishment of a memorial scholarship fund in his name. At the same time, they were heartened by the creativity of Council student representative and MD candidate Lash Nolen whose We Got Us community empowerment project weaves a tapestry of support organizations into a coherent force for health care education, awareness, and activism. Resilience.

    Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, reviewed the HMS Vision for 2040, which includes the Blavatnik Harvard Life Lab Longwood. This facility will cement the School’s leadership as a builder of partnerships between academia and industry in the life sciences. Moreover, anticipated Gordon Hall renovations, which highlight accommodations for flex work and other sweeping hybrid workplace changes, will ensure HMS retains and attracts a workforce that will sustain its continued primacy in health care innovation and implementation. The reimagined Countway Library embodies the emerging work/study/relaxation concept for communal spaces with meditation rooms, holographic anatomy projections, and parallel study spaces that join computer stations with the venerable stacks of journals and books.

    The dean also reflected on the sobering Report of the Presidential Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery. Unvarnished and searing, the report goes beyond a tally of bondsmen held in Cambridge and highlights a lasting legacy that includes Harvard endowments derived from fortunes amassed from the sweat and suffering of enslaved men, women, and children. Addressing lingering effects will require resolve.

    Persistent underrepresentation of people of color at HMS is one lingering effect of that legacy. It is a problem that is being tackled resolutely. Led by Andrea E. Reid, MD ’88, MPH ’01, associate dean for student and multicultural affairs, a new mentoring partnership between the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs and HMAA already is paying dividends, with a webinar for pre-med students drawing 27 alumni, six HMS students, and 167 pre-med students from 38 different institutions, including at least five historically Black colleges and universities. A networking event for alumni and HMS students from underrepresented minority groups included 34 alumni and 49 students. Participants in both events were enthusiastic; future participation surely will grow. The partnership will explore additional in-person connections and mentorship opportunities that can enrich the HMS experience for all, exemplified by the advocacy and mentorship work of DeWayne Pursley, MD ’83 (Class of 1982), MPH ’83, for which he received the 2022 Distinguished Service Award for HMS Alumni. Resilience.

    Our spring meeting was the first in-person program in two years, but prudent safety measures allayed concerns and rewarded attendees with an event that warmed the hearts of all. Resolve and Resilience.

  • Our Continued Commitment to Excellence

    Winter 2022 Meeting

    Although the continuing social disruption caused by the COVID pandemic required that the winter meeting of the Harvard Medical Alumni Council be held virtually, the discussions by members of the Council showed that HMS alumni remain united in their strong commitment to a student experience of uncompromising excellence. Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, outlined the School’s efforts to maintain students’ invaluable in-person learning outside the clinics even as they staff the health care frontlines and support a strained patient care infrastructure during their hospital training. 

    The report on alumni financial donations indicated they remain robust by all metrics. In fact, the upward trajectory of MD alumni giving through the second quarter of FY22 was steeper than that seen during the past two years, a rousing endorsement at a critical time from those of us who benefited from an HMS education. Importantly, the Dean’s REACH Scholarship Award Program continues to support a select group of incoming MD students by providing need-based four-year scholarships that help ensure their enriching presence in the student body. 

    HMS continues its commitment to an ethnically and racially diverse student body. Alumni support for this goal is shown by the enthusiastic embrace of the Alumni Council Recruitment and Mentorship Project, which was launched last fall. This project aims to bolstering recruitment to HMS of students underrepresented in medicine. The effort is a cooperative venture with the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs, headed by Andrea Reid, MD ’88, MPH ’01, HMS associate dean for student and multicultural affairs. 

    The program provides medical school applicants with alumni perspectives that supplement information from current HMS faculty and students. The rapid and robust response to an email request for alumni help in mentorship and recruitment showed broad interest across gender, ethnicity, and pentads. Nearly one-third of respondents were the first in their family to pursue medicine while 6% identified as being part of the LGBTQ community. Although 45 percent of respondents were from the Northeast, the West and South each rang up 21%. The breadth of alumni background provides applicants with an important lens into the richness one experiences as a member of the HMS family. The fact that alumni participants represented more than thirty-one specialties further cements the value of the program.

    This program is one step in a broader effort to encourage alumni engagement with students during three key stages of their HMS experience: as applicants, matriculating students, and recent graduates. The aim over the coming year is to examine ways in which alumni can enrich the experiences of the latter two groups by learning from and partnering with existing support programs.

    We look forward to seeing as many alumni as possible at the 2022 Reunion and Alumni Day events. The exciting program will include the presentation of the HMS Alumni Distinguished Service Award to DeWayne Pursley, MD ’83 (Class of 1982), MPH ’83, and should not be missed! 

  • Preparing to Continue Our Good Work

    Spring 2021 Meeting

    Gratitude and admiration are the words that occupy my thoughts as my two-year term as Alumni Council president ends. Although a small group, the councilors very well represent the talent, values, and dedication of HMS alumni. I’m grateful to each member, but I especially want to thank departing members Mimi Choi, MD ’09, Allison McDonough, MD ’97, Ted Kohler, MD ’76, Al Sommer, MD ’67, and student representatives Shivangi Goel and Derek Soled.

    I found the two-year term for Council president, a relatively new institution, to be very useful for it allowed me to choose an ambitious long-term project: making HMS debt-free for students with financial need. This goal will not be met overnight. Nevertheless, the Council was able to form and launch the initiative. Now, two donor streams will drive us toward that goal.

    One stream involves Harvard University leadership, which has made this goal a University priority—a key step toward identifying someone who will make a transformative gift of approximately $300 million, which could be developed through an endowment mechanism. Another involves the REACH program and the alumni donations that help reduce the need for student loans. Alumni gifts under $1,000 already constitute support for an average of eight financial aid packages annually. The REACH program helps the School achieve its diversity goals and fits well with the agenda being developed by my successor, Kenneth Bridges, MD ’76. In addition, benchmarks for the debt-free initiative are being developed by Dean George Q. Daley, MD ’91, and the School’s development group.

    Meeting with HMS leadership is critically important to the Alumni Council’s success, so we welcome the fact that Dean Daley attends every Council meeting and updates members on HMS, the University, and the world of science and medicine. Our discussions are candid and highly interactive. At our meeting in May, Dean Daley told the Council about progress on HMS’ anti-racism initiative and about HMS alumni and faculty who have joined the Biden administration. I hope that this special relationship between the dean and alumni will remain strong.

    The updates from leadership throughout this past year showed Council members that, despite the tragedies it brought, the pandemic also led to several stunning successes for medicine, medical research, and medical education. We witnessed the profound impact of collaborations. We learned how HMS acted locally and globally to improve the health of patients by contributing to our understanding of COVID-19, developing vaccines, and convening collaborations across research disciplines. We admired the agility of our medical students as they surmounted the pandemic’s obstacles. And we experienced the bewildering human behavior regarding masks and vaccines, behavior that undermines efforts to save lives and defend against disease.

    Next time, will we be prepared, and will science rescue us so quickly?

    The humbling experience of the pandemic also sounded cautionary notes. We should not be too self-congratulatory. HMS, great as it is, doesn’t have a birthright to its top-ranked position. It needs to earn it continually, and it needs to be mindful of and learn from the competition. This is an arena where alumni, based throughout the medical world, can help.

    It’s a special moment in history and an extraordinary time to be a physician.

    I am so pleased to pass the gavel to Ken Bridges, a clinical researcher who translates science into new therapies.

    I thank the alumni for having given me the opportunity and honor to serve.

  • Our Sense of Purpose Unites Us

    Winter 2021 Meeting

    The HMS Alumni Council held its winter meeting virtually on February 5. Despite our still being in the grip of the pandemic, the gathering seemed particularly energized.

    We declared our experiment of inviting class presidents to join us a success. Current participants are the fourth-year co-presidents, Shivangi Goel and Derek Soled, and the third-year president, Nicholos (Nicky) Joseph.

    Our conversation with Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, is a consistent highlight. He provided updates on the pandemic: the student experience and the impressive contributions HMS is making, including to the development of two vaccines. Collaborations across the local-to-global spectrum have been key to the success of these efforts. And HMS faculty are assuming leadership and advisory roles in the Biden administration, extending the School’s impact.

    Daley also described antiracism initiatives being made on the Quad. Aligned with these efforts are plans for the upcoming Reunion and the Alumni Day symposium. The latter, being planned by A.W. Karchmer, MD ’64, chair of alumni relations, will examine health care, medical education, and systemic racism through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Reunion and symposium, scheduled for June 3 and 4, will be virtual again this year.

    Progress is being made on our main project of achieving a debt-free medical education for students with financial need. Lisa Boudreau, HMS dean for alumni affairs and development, told us about collaborative efforts with Harvard University’s development office to obtain a transformative gift. Promising avenues have opened, but the effort is still in its early stages. This project is a marathon, not a sprint!

    The debt-free medical education goal aligns with plans that president-elect Kenneth R. Bridges, MD ’76, outlined for his term: a focus on mentorship and recruitment of prospective students from groups underrepresented in medicine. These are timely issues for HMS and medicine in the United States. The work will partner with that being done by other alumni and by the School’s Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs.

    A highlight of the Council’s agenda was selecting the Distinguished Service Awardee. The award, now in its third year, is becoming established, and there has been a rapid growth in the number of nominees across class years and geographic area. Eleanor Gossard Shore, AB ’51, MD ’55, MPH ’70, was selected as the 2021 recipient. Daley will describe her contributions during the Alumni Day program on June 4.

    Erik Gaensler, AB ’79, MD ’84, chair of alumni giving, reported that alumni giving has increased over the past year and that the number of Reunion donors is also ahead of last year’s. The Council heard from a few members about their motivation for giving. The personal stories were touching and illustrated our links to the past and aspirations for the future.

    As always, I invite you to send me your suggestions or comments at hmsalum@hms.harvard.edu. Stay healthy and safe!

  • Our Continued Commitment to Our Students and to HMS

    Fall 2020 Meeting

    By now we’ve adapted to life in a pandemic. I hope that, along with challenge and loss, there have been unexpected bright spots for you—and perhaps the feeling that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    More than one crisis is underway. In addition to the pandemic, there is an economic meltdown and the issue of racial injustice.

    Dean George Q. Daley’s leadership team is addressing these crises for the HMS community thoughtfully. At its October meeting, Daley, MD ’91, briefed members of the Alumni Council who attended. He reported that HMS students had developed a COVID-19 curriculum being used in more than 100 countries. Locally, HMS is leading a multi-institutional collaboration, the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness, that aims to address the current and any future pandemics. More than sixty projects have been funded through MassCPR by grants totaling over $17 million.

    Daley also told the Council that HMS has established “Better Together,” an anti-racism task force focused on promoting a more diverse, inclusive, and respectful community at the School. Progress on this effort will be monitored and measured using several parameters.

    Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the finances of the school just as HMS was on the cusp of eliminating a 10-year structural deficit. A new operating plan has been generated to reduce expenses while still making key strategic investments in diversity, education, and science.

    The Alumni Council renews perennially. The Slate Committee, led this year by Ted Kohler, MD ’76, is systematically analyzing alumni demographics to make sure that the composition of Council will be balanced in its representation of the alumni community.

    Erik Gaensler, MD ’84, chair of alumni giving, has established new approaches to foster alumni engagement and giving that have yielded strong results despite the economic upset triggered by the pandemic.

    The centerpiece of the Council’s efforts remains the initiative to make education debt-free for our medical students who have financial need. The Council re-affirmed its unanimous vote to pursue and prioritize this goal, which is admittedly aspirational; success will take time and sustained support from alumni. One means to achieve a short-term effect is to support the REACH Scholarship Program. REACH, which stands for Resilience, Excellence, Achievement, Compassion, and commitment to Helping the underserved, has an impressive record of recruiting students from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine. The program depends on philanthropy, which has come from HMS alumni and faculty. But the need for support for this and other programs that can help reduce student debt, and keep our recruitment efforts competitive, remains. To help support these efforts for the longer term, alumni can make bequests to the financial aid endowment.

    For the debt-free initiative to succeed, it’s clear that HMS also will need to attract philanthropy from beyond the alumni community. Therefore, the Council was pleased to learn from Lisa Boudreau, dean for alumni affairs and development, that the University is helping to identify potential donors outside HMS.

    I remind you that suggestions from our fellow alumni are welcome, and I hope that 2021 brings you peace and joy.

  • Our Strength and Purpose During Trying Times

    Spring 2020 Meeting

    These are extraordinary times: a pandemic, a tide rising against racial injustice, a global economic crisis, and deep divisions in U.S. society. Many of our fellow alumni are helping to address the huge challenges before us. We are indeed grateful to those serving on the frontlines to combat COVID-19, develop vaccines and treatments, and improve access to health care. The Alumni Council is acting, too. It hopes to contribute by helping to create equal opportunity for students.

    The Council held its first virtual meeting this spring. It was frustrating to not be able to say “good-bye” in person to Robert Barbieri, MD ’77 (eighth pentad), Jacqueline Boehme, MD ’16 (first pentad), Toren Finkel, MD ’86, PhD ’86 (seventh pentad), Lakshmi Halasyamani, MD ’93 (councilor-at-large), and Jennifer Mack, MD ’98, MPH ’05 (fourth pentad)—all of whom ended three-year terms. I also thank fourth-year class co-presidents Troy Ameen and Vartan Pahalyants, who joined us this year as inaugural student representatives.

    And I want to welcome our newly elected members: Kenneth Bridges, MD ’76 (president-elect), Douglas Chin, MD ’94 (councilor-at-large), David E. Cohen, MD ’86 (seventh pentad), Margaret A. Liu, MD ’81 (eighth pentad), Numa Pompilio Perez Jr., MD ’15 (first pentad), and Coleen S. Sabatini, MD ’04 (fourth pentad).

    During our spring meeting, Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, talked about the financial impact of COVID-19, including lost tuition revenue, increased financial need among MD students whose parents may become unemployed, and the diminished endowment. Following this news, the Council reexamined the wisdom of pursuing the goal of a debt-free MD education for students with financial need while also remaining sensitive to the changed financial circumstances for many alumni. After discussion, we reaffirmed the goal unanimously, and we confirmed the appetite among HMS alumni to help.

    We have chosen to focus on financial aid for several reasons: 70 to 80 percent of students require some form of financial aid to attend medical school, young alumni accumulate interest on their debt during their training, and debt likely steers students away from primary care fields and public service. If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is that society wants and needs doctors on the frontlines.

    We also realize that although HMS has one of the most generous financial aid programs in the country, several top-tier medical schools are lowering student debt dramatically. We must remain competitive if we are to continue to attract the best students.

    The Council will continue to work closely with Dean Daley and his team and with University leaders. Our aspirations may take time to be realized.

    My thanks to all our alumni who are doing so much to make our world better, healthier, and more just. Please contact me at hmsalum@hms.harvard.edu with questions or comments.

  • A Goal of a Debt-free Medical Education

    Winter 2020 Meeting

    I am pleased to report that the Alumni Council reached an important milestone in its initiative devoted to student financial aid: Council members unanimously approved the goal of pursuing debt-free medical education for students with financial need. For now, the goal is aspirational. But the historic unanimous vote gives the Council a green light to work with alumni colleagues and HMS leadership in developing a plan to achieve this worthy goal.

    The decision was informed by a philosophical platform crafted by Dean for Medical Education Edward M. Hundert, MD ’84. An excerpt sums up the argument:

    We strive to encourage idealistic students from all socio-economic backgrounds to become compassionate physicians committed to the highest standards of care, the greatest heights of innovation, and the enormous responsibilities of leadership. Therefore, we are focused on ensuring that admitted students can come to HMS and do not graduate with devastating debt that might push them to select a career path based on their financial needs rather than their true passions. To reduce student debt—with the hope of eliminating it—we are committed to upholding our longstanding twin principles of need-blind admissions and need-based aid, and we aspire to debt-free medical education at HMS.

    The vote came after careful deliberation that also included consideration of other financial aid mechanisms and reports of conversations with HMS and University leadership, including those with George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, and Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, JD ’76, MPP ’76, PhD ’78. In addition, the Council benefited from presentations by two student members of the HMS Financial Aid Committee, each a recipient of a REACH scholarship (Resilence, Excellence, Achievement, Compassion, and commitment to Helping the underserved). The students advocated for expanding the Dean’s REACH Scholarship Award Program by offering it to more students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have a demonstrated commitment to serving underserved populations; using loan repayment (also called loan forgiveness) programs to provide debt relief to graduating students who pursue careers in public service or global health; and using the Middle Income Initiative to support families facing financial burden.

    Other updates from the meeting include:

    • The selection of David J. Brown, MD ’97, as the second recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for HMS Alumni. The award recognizes his dedication to mentoring HMS students and to building a culture of diversity and inclusion at our School.
    • The formation of a subcommittee, led by Councilor for the Ninth Pentad, Ted Kohler, MD ’76, that would explore possible mechanisms for helping alumni who, after interrupting their careers, are now exploring reentry. 
    • A review of the successful efforts by the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development to engage alumni through regional events and reunions. Please get involved! Vote in the annual Alumni Council election, become an MD Alumni Advisor, submit your responses to Rounds in Harvard Medicine magazine, and more.

    Several alumni have contacted me directly regarding issues of potential interest to the Council and alumni. I thank them for their suggestions and wish to remind everyone that we welcome your thoughts and ideas.

  • A Focus on the Future

    Fall 2019 Meeting

    This is my first report on the proceedings of the HMS Alumni Council. I am deeply honored to serve as president of the Council, and I am fortunate to follow the exemplary leadership shown by Lisa Henske, MD ’85, during her tenure.  

    With a two-year term for the president, there is an opportunity to pursue ambitious initiatives. And, for the first time, the Council’s deliberations are informed by the addition of two medical students: the co-presidents of the fourth-year class. 

    I have asked the Council to focus on one major project and only a few small ones for the next one to two years. We have placed financial aid at the top of our agenda. There are several reasons for this, including that the financial burden of attending HMS and other private schools has increased dramatically over the years; that growing student debt may be distorting medical student career choices; and that debt burdens can affect the future well-being of medical families, especially when there are two debt-carrying physicians.

    Recently, several prominent medical schools, after receiving nine-figure donations, have transformed their approach to financial aid. The media has shined a spotlight on these schools and on the larger issue of medical-student debt. One school is now tuition-free for all. Other schools have eliminated student debt entirely. Still others, in an effort to attract students from competitors, are deploying scholarships without linkage to financial need. 

    While HMS’ financial aid program is both generous and need-based, the School’s leadership is actively reviewing its philosophy around such support. Should tuition-free be an aspiration, or does a debt-free approach specifically for those in need fit better with HMS values? Or is it wise for students to have “skin in the game” in the form of some level of debt? If so, would this be equitable, or would it deter qualified students whose families have limited means? Should alumni direct their gifts to student financial aid?

    The Alumni Council is ready to work with Dean George Q. Daley, AB ’82, MD ’91, PhD, and Dean for Medical Education Edward M. Hundert, MD ’84, to provide counsel on these questions, review messaging around our aid packages, and help obtain resources. From the perspective of philanthropic support, no group is more interested in supporting students than the alumni. 

    Student debt is a complicated and pressing matter that will require much bandwidth to address. But there is also room for the Council to work on other matters. Several topics are under consideration; I encourage alumni to send suggestions now while we are still prioritizing the Council’s efforts for the coming term.  

    We look forward to hearing from you.