Alumni Weekend 2012 Celebrates Miller School’s Past, Present and Future

Medical alumni from around the country converged on the Miller School campus and the famous Biltmore Hotel—original home to the University of Miami’s School of Medicine—on February 10-12 to take part in Medical Alumni Weekend 2012. The event, which celebrated the Miller School’s past, present, and future, drew a record-breaking 1,500 medical alumni, students, friends, and family members who participated in various seminars, ceremonies, professional workshops, and receptions.

The weekend unfolded with a Friday keynote address by UM President Donna E. Shalala, the former U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, who shared her unique perspective on how health care history affects the present and future.

“Health care itself is changing at such a rapid speed because health policy is changing so quickly,” Shalala, who teaches an undergraduate class on the politics of health care, said to the room full of medical alumni, students, and staff. “Historically, reform has been focused on coverage. Now we have to look at reforming health care delivery. This is the most exciting, and scariest, time to be in health care.”

Later Friday, first-year medical students and their families gathered for the 12th Annual John G. Clarkson Freshman Pinning Ceremony, where Dean Emeritus John G. Clarkson, M.D., gave the keynote address. Echoing Shalala’s observations on the future of health care, Clarkson centered his remarks on the importance of close and meaningful doctor-patient relationships, especially in light of the rapid pace, constant technological advancements, fragmentation, and spiraling cost of health care today.

Saturday morning brought the weekend’s academic component into play with three continuing medical education sessions focused on advances in medical research and patient care. The first session, led by Joshua M. Hare, M.D., the Louis Lemberg Professor of Medicine, professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology, and director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, focused on cell therapy for chronic ischemic heart disease. Alan W. Heldman, M.D., professor of medicine and clinical chief of the Cardiovascular Division, spoke about the cardiac catheterization lab of the future and image-guided, minimally invasive therapies. The medical education sessions wrapped up with a presentation by Susan H. Blanton, Ph.D., associate director of communications and compliance at the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics and associate professor in the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics, who spoke on the present and future of genomic medicine.

The Donor Recognition Scholarship Luncheon Saturday afternoon brought 100 alumni and other contributors to student scholarships and grants together with grateful students, faculty, and staff. Calling a gift to the John K. Robinson Fund for student scholarships and grants “the best gift you can give yourself,” Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., reminded those assembled that their support “allows students to follow their hearts and lets them specialize in what they are passionate about rather than what finances necessitate.”

“I am very thankful for this scholarship,” said Russian-born medical student Ekaterina Kostioukhnia. “In addition to allowing me to attend the school of my dreams, it also let me feel free to study an area I really care about—diabetes—rather than an area that might simply be more beneficial in helping me pay off my student loans.”

Saying a few words about John K. Robinson, for whom the fund is named, Dean Emeritus Bernard J. Fogel, M.D. ’61, the former chair of the John K. Robinson Fund, introduced selection committee chair Kenneth Keusch, M.D ’63. “Since the program began, we’ve distributed more than $62,000 in grants awarded to not only pay for medical school expenses, but to further students’ research and provide them with opportunities to attend conferences to present their findings,” said Keusch. “I have the best job of all because I get to review and recommend grant recipients to the committee. It’s the most rewarding role I can think of.”

Medical student Samantha Block, who received a grant to present her findings on research in dermatology, credited her passion for research to the strong mentor-mentee relationships established between Miller School students and alumni. “Presenting my research gave me a taste of what it means to be a physician-researcher. As alumni, you carry on a fine example, and I cannot wait to officially become part of your noble profession,” Block said.

John K. Robinson Fund recipient Aron Nusbaum, whose parents Lynn Nusbaum, M.D. ’82, and Bernard Nusbaum, M.D. ’79, were students of Dr. Robinson, used his grant to present chronic wound treatment at a poster competition, where he won first place. “The support I received through this grant motivated me and contributed to my research,” Nusbaum said. “Without it, none of this would have been possible.”

Saturday evening marked the weekend’s crowning event, the Alumni Reception and Banquet. Guests gathered under the stars at the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables where they mingled with classmates to reminisce and catch up. As the evening progressed, alumni and friends made their way indoors for the Alumni Banquet and celebrations of the reunion classes of 1957, ’62, ’67, ’72, ’77, ’82, ’87, ’92, ’97, and 2002. President of the Medical Alumni Association, Steven F. Falcone, M.D. ’87, chief operating officer of UHealth Faculty Practice, and associate vice president for medical affairs, welcomed classes celebrating milestone anniversaries, such as the 55th reunion of the Class of 1957 and the 50th reunion of the Class of 1962, and introduced Dean Goldschmidt.

During his “state of the school” address, Dean Goldschmidt encouraged alumni to continue supporting their alma mater’s rise to a top-20 medical school by 2020. Dean Goldschmidt was then joined by Alberto A. Mitrani, M.D. ’84, associate professor of medicine in the Cardiovascular Division and chair of the Alumni Awards Selection Committee, to present the Hall of Fame Award to Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D. ’79, the first director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the NIH. Crediting a quest for knowledge and a supportive family for instilling a commitment to his fellow man, Pettigrew thanked his colleagues, classmates, and the University of Miami for providing him with a unique opportunity to pursue his medical education.

After dinner, UM Trustee Eduard A. Dauer, M.D. ’75, announced that alumni giving was up by more than 20 percent, and urged attendees to seize that momentum. “The University of Miami isn’t just part of your past—we’re part of your future as well,” Dauer said, as he presented Dennis P. Mihale, M.D. ’86, with a special recognition award for his efforts with Frederick Kam, M.D. ’86, to establish an endowed class scholarship five years ago when the Class of 1986 celebrated its 25th reunion.

“Of 6,000 applicants to the Miller School of Medicine, only 320 are accepted. …Support for scholarships allows the Miller School to attract the best of the best. It’s a win-win-win situation… for students, the University, and for alumni,” Mihale said. “You just need to make alumni giving a regular feature in your monthly budget. Even small amounts add up over time. I challenge and encourage the other classes here tonight to follow our example.”

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