Some 1,700 miles stood between Lisa Kutner, MD ’88, and Alumni Weekend 2013. But distances near and far seemed easily overcome by those faced with an opportunity to reconnect. Two alumni, Irun Cohen, MD ’63, and George Schmid, MD ’73, MSc, were so motivated to attend the festivities for their 50-year and 40-year milestone reunions that they traveled from as far away as Israel and Kazakhstan, respectively.
“I came back for the chance to see old friends and what’s new on campus,” says Kutner, a psychiatrist living in San Diego. “My husband and I toured the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and I was simply astounded. It looks like the entire campus has changed since I was last here.”
More than 600 alumni, guests, faculty, and students took part in the annual celebration of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine graduates April 19-20.
Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for medical affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean, welcomed members of the community, including the oldest graduate in attendance, Frank Padberg, MS ’42, MD ’43, GME ’52. Standing some 500 feet from the planned site of the medical school’s new research facility, Neilson gave his unique insight into how the medical enterprise will grow.
“On our campus sit three U.S. News and World Report Honor Roll hospitals, placing us in the center of a very unique environment,” Dr. Neilson said. “A $1 billion-plus commitment to research means we will remain focused on issues regarding neuroscience, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more, while also cultivating as much intellectual diversity as possible.”
In introducing keynote speaker Rear Admiral David J. Smith, MD ’81, FACOEM, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force health protection and readiness, Dean Neilson commended Smith for his numerous high-level posts within the Department of Defense and thanked him for his service overseas. Recounting his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan, Dr. Smith discussed how lessons learned on the battlefield are saving lives around the globe.
“More soldiers are being saved even as the severity of injuries is increasing,” Smith says. “If you arrive alive at one of the facilities in theater, you have a 98 percent chance of surviving.”
He credits some of those gains to a realization that the use of tourniquets should not hold to the old dogma that they be used with precaution.
“The combat-application tourniquet is clearly saving lives on a daily basis in Afghanistan,” he said. “Today, every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine that is deployed has one of those tourniquets as well as combat gauze in their first-aid kit.”
Friday’s events were highlighted by the dean’s medical school update presented in front of a capacity crowd inside Hughes Auditorium and punctuated by 11 class dinners.
Saturday began with a panel discussion featuring some of the medical school’s top scientists discussing new paths being chartered at Feinberg.
“The quality of the presentations by some of our leading researchers stimulated a great deal of interest,” says said Rex Chisholm, PhD, vice dean for scientific affairs and graduate studies, who moderated the program. “Many of the audience members stayed after the formal program had ended to have informal discussion with faculty presenters.”
At the annual Commitment to Scholarships Luncheon, the 50-year class was honored for creating the Class of 1963 Endowed Scholarship to help future medical students fund their educations. More than 50 percent of the class made a contribution to the scholarship.
Throughout the weekend, those in attendance remembered alumni who have recently passed away, including Cliff Raisbeck, MD’53, GME’61, who served as class representative for the past 60 years.
Mentoring the Next Generation
Medical students at Feinberg find mentors in the many on-campus faculty members, but they are also able to tap into a wide variety of other practicing physicians across the country. Each Alumni Weekend for the past seven years, a growing cadre of alumni volunteers have spent a few hours sharing their personal career paths. Representing as many as 15 specialties, these Northwestern graduates hold court with small groups of inquisitive students who have an interest in finding out about what it’s like to practice different types of medicine.
“As an alumnus of Northwestern I really enjoy being able to give back to the university and mentoring is one way of doing this,” says Julie Melchior, MD ’91, former co-chair of the National Alumni Association Board’s Mentoring Committee. “I think it’s very valuable as well as a lot of fun.”
According to Dr. Melchior, both students and alumni derive benefit from the experience. Alumni learn about the school and student life; students hear about how current physicians selected their specialty and what they like or dislike about their chosen fields.
“As a student, it really helps to be able to talk to people who are already in the field,” says second-year student Chelsea Williams. “While a certain specialty may seem interesting at first, you may find out that it doesn’t really allow for the kind of lifestyle you want.”
According to Dr. Melchior, who has participated in this event over the past six years, keeping these sessions with students low-key is one factor in the success of this ongoing program.
“The mentoring we do is in a really relaxed setting and I think the students feel comfortable asking lots of questions,” she explains. “I often have one-on-one conversations after the ‘official’ session ends, with students wanting to talk more about work-life balance and being a surgeon. They often ask, ‘Can you have a family and a fulfilling practice, too?’ To today’s students, I think this is more important than when I was in med school.”
James Hill, MD ’74, GME ’79, who now will co-chair the Mentoring Committee with Bonnie Typlin, MD ’74, hopes to expand alumni mentoring activities with current medical and physician assistant students. Stay tuned for ways you can get involved.