On Turning 250

Ready for a Changing World

Q&A with Alumna, Outpatient Dialysis Pioneer, Curriculum Buster, Penn Parent, and Senior Vice Dean for Education Gail Morrison

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“I have had phenomenal opportunities to create innovative programs in the School of Medicine and at Penn Medicine,” said Dr. Morrison, M'71, FEL'76.  “Being creative with other creative individuals, thinking it through carefully, but with the willingness to take big steps, allows you to do something that really makes a huge difference for training the next generation of physicians.”

1.  How did you get your start at Penn?

Unexpectedly. I had all but signed on the dotted line for attending Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Penn was my last interview. I lived in Boston, and I had never even been to Philadelphia.

But I was surprised by the innovation of the curriculum at Penn even then. It was very different from the curriculum at Columbia. Even in the late 60s you got in the hospitals, with the patients, early in the first year of medical school.  

As a Penn medical student, I worked with amazing, brilliant people. I started in the surgery department which was composed of phenomenal leaders in surgery and did research with Stan Dudrick on hyperalimentation.  I ended up in nephrology working in the world-class renal and electrolyte division with Bud Relman, Sam Thier, Donna McCurdy, Marty Goldberg, and Bob Narins.

This pattern of working with extraordinary physicians led me to unexpected opportunities.  At NIH after my internal medicine training, I participated in the first study to prove that lowering blood cholesterol (LDL) reduced heart disease risk, and I travelled around the country with Bob Levy, setting up lipid research clinics.

As a fellow at Penn, I was given the opportunity to start the first outpatient dialysis service including getting approvals from the state, training the staff and developing the curriculum for incoming renal fellows. This began my path in medical education and resulted in my becoming associate chair for medical education in the department of medicine and then associate dean for curriculum for the School of Medicine.

2.  How did the Perelman School’s streak of top 5 ratings begin?

Dean Kelley wanted to revisit the curriculum.  He had already put a lot of resources into rebuilding the research and clinical programs, and he started a search among internal candidates for an individual to lead the change for medical education.

I thought, "This is Bill Kelley. He likes revolution not evolution." In the mid 90s, that seemed right. I told him we had to redesign the entire 4 years, develop a new educational model, and to do that we had to involve a large contingency of the faculty to get buy-in.

He’d been thinking of using a committee-based process. But he said ok – here’s your timetable. I had 9 months to present the “new curriculum model” to the medical faculty senate for approval, and if approved, 2 years after that for implementation.

That was in July 1995. I called Russ Ackoff, a founder of management science and emeritus professor at Wharton. His message to corporate America was to recognize when change was needed or become obsolete. In September of that year, I had him address close to 225 faculty members and leadership in the School of Medicine, those particularly involved with the medical curriculum.

He talked about why change is necessary, why it is difficult, but what happens if  "a company" doesn’t do it. He mentioned Kodak and Ma Bell, and how one-third of Fortune 500 companies had disappeared in only a dozen years because they refused to “see the writing on the wall.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium.

I followed and said that the prospects for medical education are no different. Department boundaries were becoming blurred because of translational research. All we do is lecture. The Internet is coming. People are going to have information. We have to integrate, be flexible, consider technology and move from a passive to an active educational model.

I asked everyone present to go off and think about what they had heard. I indicated the process for developing a new medical education model was to begin and that the “bus was leaving the station.” I  wanted them to be on the bus with me.

I got phenomenal emails. A few people were concerned that I would destroy our wonderful medical School. But  the majority said “I thought this would be the most worthless meeting ever, that there was no way I would be a part of it. But now I’m willing and convinced we need to move in a different direction!”

I got an awful lot of people on the bus. We not only won the approval in April from the Medical Faculty Senate, but we were ready to implement Curriculum 2000 in just one year, 1997, not two. With the research and clinical reforms already in place, curriculum 2000 helped us get the first of our current streak of 17 years in the top 5.

This integrated, modular curriculum has become the model for medical education. Flexibility throughout, but particularly at the end in the last year and a half, lets students pursue areas they are excited about – research, global health, dual degrees, and certificates – and develop the skills that make them physicians and leaders in medicine.

3.  What is most exciting to you about 250th Celebration?

The Jordan Center ribbon-cutting is one highlight and the fulfillment of a long-held wish for me. It will be the ideal environment for small group workshops and IPE training interwoven with the latest in technology. It will also be a fantastic tribute to Henry, who was such a good friend to me, the School, and Penn Medicine. No one loved the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine more.

This year is also a time to think about Penn’s past and current breakthroughs across research, patient care, and education and how dramatically all these areas are evolving.  Now we tell students they’re likely to be practicing for the next 50 years, and no one knows what medicine will be like then.  We need our students to recognize that medicine is a dynamically changing world, and to continually be expanding their skills and knowledge and their creativity, so that as the world changes, they will be there at the forefront helping to make those changes.   For me, that’s the really exciting part of medicine.


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Time is Right
Two Anniversaries Inspire $250,000 Gift

Louis A. and Lyn S. Matis Name Jordan Center Space

Next year will mark the 40th reunion for Louis A. Matis, M’75, PAR’13, and the sestercentennial – the 250th – anniversary of his medical alma mater. 

To celebrate these occasions, he and his wife, Dr. Lyn S. Matis, named the Matis Family Seminar Room in the Henry A. Jordan M’62 Medical Education Center.  Their gift honors their daughters Elizabeth A. Matis, C’13, Jessica E. Matis, and Emily H. Matis, and Lou’s parents Robert S. Matis, C’44, and Eileen S. Matis, as well as Lou’s 40th Class Reunion and the Matis family’s strong affection for Penn.

This is the second named space the Matises have contributed to – five years ago, as a member of the Reunion Committee, Lou contributed to the drive for the Class of M’75 Study Seminar Room. 

“Henry Jordan was an important influence to me,” said Dr. Matis.  “He was a visionary in many ways and an amazing University citizen.”  A biotechnology industry veteran, who is currently Executive Director at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Matis has made time to volunteer for Penn since 2005.

As a member and former chair of the Medical Alumni Advisory Council (MAAC), among other roles, he has enjoyed both hearing from Penn experts as well as mentoring students.  Dr. Matis has also participated in the HOST (Host Our Students as they Travel) program and donated stethoscopes to several classes of incoming Perelman students.  Stethoscopes for this fall’s incoming class bear the 250th logo of the School.

“Lou is always at the forefront of backing key initiatives of the School,” said Senior Vice Dean for Education Gail Morrison.  “He sets a wonderful example of involvement with our students and the School.”

“This gift by Dr. Matis is the latest in what represents a recent and, of course, welcome surge in giving,” said Martin Kanovsky, M’78, INT’79, RES’81, FEL’83, a current MAAC.

This year is the ideal time to make your own history through a celebratory 250th gift that honors the School’s history, and its place in yours.

For more information on giving to your medical alma mater, please contact Brett Davidson, Executive Director, Development and Alumni Relations at 215.898.9175 or go to http://alumni.med.upenn.edu.


Helping to Realize Their Dreams: Walter and Anne Gamble to Receive Dean’s Medal at 250th Gala for Unstinting Commitment to Students

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“All qualified medical students should be able to choose the profession best suited for them, free from the burden of insurmountable debt,” said Walter J. Gamble, M’57.  Through the 21st Century Scholars program, Walter and his wife Anne have made it their mission to support tuition-free medical education.  Proceeds from the gala will support financial aid at the Perelman School--making the Gambles the ideal choice for recognition that evening. Since 1992, the couple has provided scholarships to 227 medical students at Penn, many of whom have gone on to make their own gifts to support scholarships.  

The Dean’s Medal is presented to individuals whose philanthropic leadership has made an unparalleled impact on Penn Medicine. It highlights the power of giving to shape the field of medicine.

You can help demonstrate that power by joining us at the gala May 15 to celebrate and to support a more promising future for our students.  


 Young Alum Oren Isacoff Makes Annual Giving A Priority

“Others may be able to give more, but I felt that it was important to demonstrate my gratitude to the school that has given me so much,” said Oren Isacoff, W’06, C’06, GR’11, WG’13, M’13.

“As a student, I felt I could reach out and talk with anyone in the School or the Health System. As a graduate, I’ve found medical alumni are extremely welcoming and quick to offer their knowledge and opportunities.”  

Dr. Isacoff embraced the tradition of giving early - and notably -  in his medical career.  He is a member of both the Thistle and Benjamin Franklin Societies.  The Thistle Society recognizes loyal alumni who have given to the School for at least 3 consecutive years.  Young BFS members are distinguished by leadership gifts of $250 and above to the University between the first and fourth years after graduation.  

“Giving to the Annual Fund and joining the Council of Recent Graduates are natural ways to strengthen Penn connections and the School community,” he said.  And with multiple Penn degrees, he has made numerous connections with both faculty and alumni.

After matching at Massachusetts General Hospital for a residency in psychiatry, Dr. Isacoff drew upon his dual degrees as a chief development officer of a software startup aimed at helping physicians optimize treatment decisions for their patients.  Currently, he is transitioning into investment and private equity work and enjoying connections with Penn alumni in San Francisco, CA.

Dr. Isacoff hopes that volunteering with the Council of Recent Graduates will serve to inform young alums what the School means by giving back.  “The School and its students and its graduates benefit so much from the engagement of alumni that comes from volunteering—it’s another way of continuing to build on the lifelong relationships with friends, mentors, and colleagues started at the Perelman School of Medicine,” he said.  “And contributions to the Annual Fund and various scholarships bolster the School in so many ways, helping to maintain its eminence.”

Many share this view.  Alumni giving to the annual fund has shown a steady rise in recent years.  There is no better time than our 250th year to join in and show your support for your medical alma mater.

Give now to the Annual Fund or contact Lauren Zeitlin, Director, Annual Fund and Special Gifts, at 215-898-7048 or lzeitlin@upenn.edu.