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Portrait Unveiling Honors Former Dean Robert J. Alpern

April 25, 2024
by Isabella Backman

Members of the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) community gathered at the Sterling Hall of Medicine on Tuesday, April 23 for the portrait unveiling of Robert J. Alpern, MD, Ensign Professor of Medicine (Nephrology), professor of cellular and molecular physiology, and past dean of YSM.

The unveiling, hosted by Dean Nancy J. Brown, MD, took place in YSM’s historical library. Painted by Alastair Adams, the portrait honors Alpern’s contributions as a scientist, clinician, educator, and administrator.

“As the successor to someone, you learn a lot about them, and how they’ve changed the arc of the school,” Brown said at the unveiling. “I really admire everything that [Alpern] has done over the years.”

Celebrating over a decade of achievements

Alpern served as YSM’s dean from 2004 until the beginning of 2020. During this time, he oversaw the establishment of numerous prestigious hubs for groundbreaking research, including the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, the Yale Stem Cell Center, the Human and Translational Immunology Program, and Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration, and Repair.

He worked closely alongside Marna P. Borgstrom, MPH, then president and CEO of Yale New Haven Health System, to promote the growth of the hospital system and its closer alignment with the School of Medicine. “I had the privilege of working the majority of my career, and the majority of Bob's tenure as dean, as partners,” Borgstrom said. “And it evolved in so many ways on a professional basis and on a personal basis. We became very good friends.”

Alpern also made strides in enhancing the education that is available at YSM, launching an ambitious initiative to offer medical students a debt-free learning experience.

His efforts also helped YSM grow into a more inclusive environment. He recruited Darin Latimore, MD, as the school’s first deputy dean for diversity and inclusion. He instituted in-depth salary reviews of medical school faculty to improve financial equity, and he also invested in childcare at YSM in unprecedented ways.

Portrait captures Alpern’s down-to-earth nature

Early in the process, Alpern decided he didn’t want to be portrayed in a suit or any academic regalia. “There were a few things that were important to me for the portrait—one is being down-to-earth,” he said.

“[Alpern] is very much approachable — if you’re just walking up to the school and come across him, you would feel comfortable stopping for a quick chat,” said Adams. “One thing I’ve learned about him is that he’s always smiling. For me to not have captured that wouldn’t have done him justice.”

Alpern concluded the unveiling with his optimism for the future of YSM under Dean Brown’s leadership. “[When I was] dean, we did so much to transform the school over 15 years and eight months,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure to see what [Brown] has done since I stepped down, and the upward trajectory has just continued.”

Submitted by Robert Forman on April 25, 2024