“Professor Angoff, you are the heart and soul of Yale School of Medicine. Thank you for everything you’ve done for generations of our students and thank you for being a wonderful member of our faculty.” Patrick O’Connor, MD, MPH, Dan Adams and Amanda Adams Professor of General Medicine and section chief of General Internal Medicine, shared these remarks in a video that was shown at the November 3, 2021 celebration of Professor Nancy Angoff, MD ’90, MPH ’81, MEd. The event marked her stepping down after 23 years as associate dean for student affairs at Yale School of Medicine (YSM). Around 80 YSM students, alumni, faculty, and staff colleagues—as well as family—were present in the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, with more than 50 joining by Zoom, to thank and honor Angoff.
While each speaker shared very personal remarks, there were common themes related to Angoff’s being a role model, her passion for supporting students and ensuring their well-being, her impact on generations of students, and her commitment to social justice and addressing power dynamics in medicine—issues she succeeded in embedding into the YSM curriculum.
In her welcoming remarks, Jessica Illuzzi, MD, MS, deputy dean for education and Harold W. Jockers Professor of Medical Education stated, “The large number of people joining today reflects the deep appreciation so many members of the YSM community feel toward Nancy for pouring herself into her role. Nancy has always been there for students, staff, and faculty, offering thoughtful guidance, empathy, and kindness—as well as being a role model for many of us.” Illuzzi added it was fitting that the celebration was shortly before Power Day, “because Nancy epitomizes someone who uses power for good and who is driven to make our school and society more just and equitable.”
“Years from now there will be alumni in the office of the dean talking about what you gave to them and asking how they can give back to the school,” Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine, told Angoff.
Illuzzi read aloud US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s, MD '03, MBA ’03, entry on the Kudoboard for Angoff, which many people contributed to: “You were a voice of humanity during those years, and you always reminded me to focus on the heart of medicine—the care and compassion we provide to those whose lives we are privileged to touch as doctors.”
Fourth-year MD/PhD student Jane Abbottsmith, who is a peer advocate—Angoff created this advising program over 20 years ago—described how Angoff sees and understands the challenges of medical school and has made it her mission “to help students feel less alone as they navigate their growth from students to physicians.” Abbottsmith continued, “What a gift you have given us, Dean Angoff, in turning your care for us into policies and programs to support student wellbeing. It has made all the difference to us, and it will continue to make that difference now because of the culture you have created here of advocacy and support.”
Similarly, Professor Emeritus of Medicine Peggy Bia, MD, a long-time colleague, mentor, and friend of Angoff, described how Angoff took her love of being a doctor and the privilege and responsibilities it entails and translated that into pieces of curriculum that would allow students to acquire the same values—for example, Power Day and Introduction to the Profession (iPro)—creating a legacy that will have a long-lasting impact on YSM.
Beyond impacting students, Terri Tolson, who Angoff hired 21 years ago as registrar for the MD Program, described how in 2005, Angoff asked her to read the names of the graduating students at Commencement. Tolson was extremely anxious about doing this, but Angoff had such confidence in her and practiced with her every day for three weeks, that Tolson was able to read the names flawlessly—and has continued to read them annually. Tolson views Angoff as a mentor, teacher, sometimes mother, and friend. Similarly, Associate Dean for Curriculum Michael Schwartz, PhD, told Angoff she was “the most important mentor I’ve had at Yale, even though we are contemporaries.”
In what was labeled “Surprise” on the ceremony program, Angoff’s two children, their spouses, and Angoff’s grandson, expressed their deep admiration of and gratitude to their mother/mother-in-law/grandmother in taped video clips. Robert Rohrbaugh, MD, associate dean for global health education; deputy dean for professionalism and leadership, thanked Angoff’s husband Ron Angoff, MD, and the rest of her family “for sharing Nancy.”
The celebration included the presentation of a mosaic portrait, by local artist Beth Klingher, honoring Angoff that is located outside the Team-Based Learning Classroom in the medical library. Klingher described how elements that Illuzzi and colleagues thought were important to include in the mosaic were Angoff’s white coat and iconic jewelry, a stethoscope, the YSM shield, the number 23 to signify Angoff’s years as associate dean, and figures representing the students, staff, and colleagues with whom Angoff has engaged. The piece also includes the phrase “The Spirit Catches You,” a nod to Anne Fadiman’s book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which Angoff discussed with first-year medical students annually in iPro.
Although Angoff was scheduled to say a few remarks at the end of the ceremony, mid-way through the celebration, poking fun at herself, Angoff stood up and stated she cannot sit still for so long without saying something. “Everything this school, this role, has meant to me is because of all of you. It is the people who make your job and your life worthwhile,” she told the crowd. She described how all the people who joined in person and on Zoom are people who have touched her. “By being here today, you are letting me know I have touched you,” she added. The response was a prolonged standing ovation.