From Gail Morrison, M’71, FEL’76:
As we get set to embark on the next 250 years of Penn Medicine, ushering in the next class of talented Perelman School of Medicine students, I am happy to introduce this issue of our online alumni publication Pulse. I am also proud to reveal that alumni fundraising and participation in our 250th year were truly remarkable, as the following numbers indicate: $12.76 million was raised for medical education, with a 28.8% participation rate of MD alumni giving to Penn Medicine. In that spirit, you will hear from some very actively engaged alumni in this issue.
I enjoyed reading the reflections of Howard J. Eisen, M’81, INT’84, new chair of the Medical Alumni Advisory Council (MAAC). He provides his vision for MAAC and really crystallizes some of the vast changes he’s seen at the Perelman School and in medicine—including some truly fascinating ones in cardiology—since he began his career.
Neha Vapiwala, M’01, one of the first Gamble Scholars, provides a touching perspective on the role of this scholarship in her life. Among the various “hats” that she wears at the School now, including Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, she serves as Advisory Dean for the John Morgan Virtual House. Coincidentally, one of her Morgan House advisees, Jason Han, M’17, appears in this issue to share some of his thoughts on his Penn experience and his ambitious plans as the new president of Penn Medical Student Government (MSG).
Also in this issue, we congratulate Jonathan A. Epstein, MD, for his promotion to Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer at the Perelman School of Medicine, and present his engaging message for alumni. We also look back at the well-received “Tech and Tacos” event sponsored by the Healthcare Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology (H-MET) program.
Please enjoy this issue of Pulse, as well as the rest of the summer! And please don’t hesitate to write to tell us what you would most like to see covered in your alumni online newsletter (firstname.lastname@example.org).
P.S. If you haven’t yet purchased a copy of To Spread the Light of Knowledge, a limited-edition book filled with nearly 200 pages of history celebrating the 250th birthday of the nation’s first medical school, I recommend taking a look. This wonderful book, which includes photos dating back to the founding of the School, really elicits a deep appreciation for the pioneering role our School has played in American medicine. To order a copy, click here and make your selection.
Getting to Know You:
A Q&A with Your New Medical Alumni Advisory Council Chair
Pulse invites you to meet the new Medical Alumni Advisory Council (MAAC) chair, Howard J. Eisen, M’81, INT’84. He recently spoke with us about his agenda for MAAC, as well as the changes he’s seen in the Perelman School, medical practice, and cardiology over 30 years. Dr. Eisen is Chief of the Division of Cardiology and Thomas J. Vischer Professor of Medicine at the Drexel University College of Medicine.
Q: How would you characterize the changes that you’ve seen in the School since your days as a student?
A: Penn Medicine is physically a much bigger place than when I went there as a student. And it seems to be operating—pun intended—at the highest levels in every realm.
The School has a new state-of-the-art educational facility in the Henry A. Jordan M’62 Medical Education Center, which defines how to provide the very best medical education in the 21st century. The School continues to be ranked among the top five, and is a major draw to the most talented students.
Research funding has continued to grow and, with it, there are new research buildings, and, of course, world-class investigators who expand what we know medically and how we treat disease. Carl June’s research is an example of the exciting work being done at the School that has the potential to revolutionize patient care.
The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which anchor the school clinically, have new in- and outpatient buildings and translational research centers that did not exist years ago. Building on a stellar tradition, the evolution has just been amazing.
Q: What should the School be addressing that you think it thus far has not?
A: Medical school tuition is exorbitant and the anticipation of staggering debt upon completion of one’s MD has no doubt played a role in steering an increasing number of graduates away from certain specialties. So I believe what remains unfinished at the School is the realization of Anne and Walter Gamble’s vision of increased accessibility by making the School tuition-free for all students.
By bolstering financial aid, students would come to Penn because of its excellence—and the opportunities now available to them. Importantly, without distressing financial burdens on the horizon, students would feel more unencumbered in pursuing their path in medicine without excessive concern for future earnings.
Q: What is your outlook on MAAC as you take the helm? What do you hope to accomplish?
A: There have been so many wonderful developments at Penn, and my goal is to introduce—or re-introduce—the School to alumni and engage as many of them as possible. I hope to further increase alumni involvement in the School, including realizing the goal of making the Perelman School fully tuition-free.
Q: Are there notable trends in cardiology practice that you view as positive or negative?
A: Cardiology has been transformed since I was a medical student. Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the drop in cardiovascular mortality as a result of changes in lifestyle, reduction in rates of smoking, medical treatment of heart failure, coronary artery disease, hypertension and hyperlipidemia, and prompt therapy to open arteries in patients with heart attacks. Of course, more should and will be done, but the progress has been stunning.
In fact, in just the past 30 years, we’ve seen the rise of so many new techniques, drugs, and devices that we may actually take some of them for granted. These advances include the development of pacemakers and heart transplantation; stents and angioplasties; defibrillators; ablation therapy to cure arrhythmias; ventricular assist devices; less invasive surgical techniques; and new treatments for high cholesterol.
Today, the effort to develop personalized medicine is accelerating. We’re looking toward identifying patients’ genes as well as influences on them—known as epigenetics—and how these impact susceptibility to cardiovascular disease, risk, and responsiveness to therapies. The pace of change in cardiology has been truly incredible.
Q: How would you more broadly characterize modern medical practice? What do you perceive as the major hurdles? How has modern practice changed since you started your career, and how would you like to see it change in the future?
A: Modern medical practice is fascinating, rewarding, and complex, and allows us to more effectively treat patients than when I started my career.
Major hurdles include improving accessibility to excellent health care for everyone, as well as improvement in health care for the underserved. This is underway with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, but a lot more needs to be done.
Paying It Forward: A Gamble Scholar Passes the ‘Hat’
“Incredulous,” said Neha Vapiwala, M’01. “That was my reaction to finding out that I would be a 21st Century Scholar. Truly incredulous. I will never forget that phone call.”
Neha was teaching science and algebra at St. Timothy’s for Girls in Towson, MD—after graduating with a double major in Hispanic studies and biology at Johns Hopkins in three years—when she received the call from the Perelman School’s Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, Gaye Sheffler.
“I appreciated all that my parents had sacrificed in order to send me to Hopkins. That year I was trying to save money for medical school and also to pay off some of my undergrad debt, and I fully anticipated that medical school debt would be a tremendous burden,” she said. “Getting that phone call didn’t motivate me to come to Penn… I was already eagerly on board. But it enabled me to come here.”
“Imagine getting everything you’ve ever wanted: it was like my birthday, Christmas, and winning the lottery all in one.”
Dr. Vapiwala, who fell in love with Penn at her medical school interview and had such emotions reinforced at Penn Preview, now wears many hats here. She is Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Vice Chair of Education, Residency Program Director, Senior Editor of OncoLink, and Advisory Dean for the John Morgan Virtual House at the Perelman School of Medicine.
Her gratitude for her scholarship, while abundant, had no natural outlet at first. Fortunately, before she graduated in 2001, she was able to thank her “fairy godparents” when Anne and Walter Gamble, M’57, were revealed to be the donors. Subsequently, the 21st Century Scholars became better known as Gamble Scholars.
Dr. Vapiwala was not only able to thank the Gambles personally for their incredible support but, as one of 224 Gamble Scholars, she also embraced the idea of giving back to the School. Through casual conversation and in email appeals, she is encouraging her fellow classmates, Gamble Scholars, and other alumni to do the same.
“The Gambles helped introduce me into the Penn Medicine family, and we have also become part of each other’s families. They attended my wedding in 2008; they visit with me and my family here in Philadelphia,” Dr. Vapiwala said.
“And, Walter taught my eldest child, Sophia, her first word during a memorable visit with them at their retreat in Maine. Sophia was admiring a mirror with hooks on the wall brimming with the Gambles’ outerwear, and she pointed and very purposefully repeated after Walter: ‘hat.’ I will never forget that.”
Dr. Vapiwala and the Gambles, besides sharing parts of their personal lives and a lengthy Penn history, share an abiding passion for medical education. “I support Anne and Walter’s vision for eventually achieving free medical education for all Perelman students through philanthropy.”
“The fact that they give so much yet expect nothing in return just inspires me to give more. I feel so fortunate for my Penn experience, and feel a responsibility to give back. So, I encourage all of our alumni readers here who cherish their Penn experience to consider supporting future Penn Med students today.”
For information about contributing to a scholarship or providing other philanthropic support to Penn Medicine, please contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at 215-898-0578.
To make a gift, please mail your check made out to The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania to:
Penn Medicine Development and Alumni Relations
3535 Market Street, Suite 750
Philadelphia, PA 19104-3309
To make your gift online, please visit: www.alumni.med.upenn.edu/gifts
Han at the Helm: Meet the New MSG President
Jason Han, M’17, who is on hand to lead the Penn Medical Student Government (MSG) as president, knows that when it comes to Penn, he can count on his instincts and passion for the School.
Jason interviewed at several institutions after graduating from Columbia University. One of his earliest sessions took place at the Perelman School, and the positive, even “mood-elevating,” impression left by Penn stayed with him, making his intuition-based decision easy.
Jason confirms that his lofty expectations have been exceeded. “The positive, supportive, and multidisciplinary culture here, as well as its clinical prestige, and dynamic student body are truly inspiring,” he said. Today, he is a member of the John Morgan Virtual House and the School’s a cappella group the Ultrasounds.
The MSG felt like the right place for Jason to channel his strong, heartfelt emotions about the School. “The feelings that I’ve had about my medical school experience, since the interview really, made me want to contribute and be a part of it—to help protect and improve it. That’s why I first joined MSG.”
The mentorship provided at Penn was also highly touted on Jason’s interview day here, and it has only served to reinforce his gratitude. “The School genuinely wants us to succeed and excel as humane physicians, and it very much shows in our treatment and guidance. The warmth and sage advice from my academic advisor, Dr. Neha Vapiwala, has been fantastic, and I’ve received wonderful mentorship from Dr. Pavan Atluri,” Jason said. The third-year student, who began his rotation in Medicine in July, has been contributing to cardiac surgery research in Dr. Atluri’s lab, where he has had the “most challenging yet rewarding research experience of my career.”
For now, Jason is also embracing the challenge of student leadership. His goal as president—with fellow MSG board members JC Lopez, M’17, Vice President; Sara Ginzberg M’18, Vice President Communications; and Michael Furdyna, M’18, Treasurer—is to facilitate and bring to fruition the passions, initiatives, and ambitions of his fellow students.
They are working toward the following goals this year:
1) redefining projects and committees based on student needs,
2) specifically establishing a committee within MSG that listens to student concerns and liaises directly to the administration, and
3) making all student projects and the rationale behind them transparent to the general student body.
“I think we’ve taken great strides toward achieving our first goal, particularly in establishing a student life committee,” Jason said. “We have also formulated questions for leadership on issues such as the timing of clinical exposure in our curriculum and the relevance of the standardized patient program. Along with my fellow MSG board members, I am really excited to tackle the most pressing issues on the minds of the student body,” he concluded.
Expanding Role for an Influential Penn Medicine Leader
On July 1, Jonathan A. Epstein, MD, officially assumed the position of Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer at the Perelman School of Medicine. A truly outstanding academic leader, Dr. Epstein shaped the School’s Department of Cell and Developmental Biology into one of the nation’s finest, served as founding Co-Director of Penn Medicine’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and directed the Clinical Investigator Pathway within the residency program in the Department of Medicine.
“In the rapidly evolving world of academic medicine, Jon has shown himself to be a consummate leader with a truly collaborative spirit,” said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President, University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “I am delighted to be working closely with him to help shape the future of our institution.”
Dr. Epstein will be tasked with advancing the integrated model of Penn Medicine to promote further collaboration, basic discovery and translational research, as well as administrative efficiency. He will work closely with leaders at the University of Pennsylvania Health System to ensure a holistic approach to major decisions and initiatives.
“Our alumni have played and continue to play a vital role in our School’s 250-year history of success. I look forward to engaging with this prestigious group as I take on my new role to help ensure that the School remains at the forefront of medical education, groundbreaking research, and leading-edge clinical care,” Dr. Epstein said.
Dr. Epstein first joined Penn Medicine in 1996 as Assistant Professor of Medicine, becoming one of the world’s most innovative and renowned investigators in molecular cardiology. His lab focuses on cardiovascular development, the genetics of congenital heart disease, and cardiovascular regenerative and stem biology; one of his most recent findings was the focus of a cover story in the journal Science. He has also served as William Wikoff Smith Professor of Cardiovascular Research and Scientific Director of the Penn Cardiovascular Institute.
For more information on Dr. Epstein’s career, background, and new role, see this Penn Medicine news release.
Penn Medicine Alumnus Talks “Tech and Tacos” as Part of an H-MET Evening Lecture Series
The Perelman School’s Healthcare Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology (H-MET) Interest Group and Certificate Program convened for “Tech and Tacos” at 6 pm on Wednesday, April 22 in the Henry A. Jordan M’62 Medical Education Center. Founded in 2013 by current medical students whose particular interests in business and technology lie outside the traditional curriculum, H-MET takes a flexible, interdisciplinary approach to solving medical problems at the nexus of medicine, business, and technology. H-MET also offers an innovative certificate program that explores these intersections.
Lorence Kim, M’99, WG’99, Chief Financial Officer for Moderna Therapeutics, Inc. (Cambridge, MA)—who had earlier toured the Jordan Center—was on hand to speak at the H-MET Evening Series. The more than 40 students in attendance heard Dr. Kim review his career after graduating from Penn and share the background story of Moderna. He also discussed details of his experience in securing funding and spearheading the growth of the Moderna start-up into a mid-stage pharmaceutical company, as well as the tactics required to raise capital and recruit partners for biotechnology initiatives, based on his former experiences with the Healthcare Investment Banking Group at Goldman Sachs.