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Always put the patient first

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2006 - Autumn


Doing what’s best for the patient will require courage, education dean says at Commencement.

The pressures of the real world will challenge their graduation-day idealism, Herbert S. Chase Jr., M.D., told the 101 members of the Class of 2006 in his Commencement address. Speaking on Harkness Lawn on a flawless spring day, the deputy dean for education offered a cautionary tale.

At another institution Chase reviewed a colleague’s research proposal: the trial would replace a known diabetes medicine with an experimental drug. Half the elderly patients in the study would get the new medicine and half would get a placebo. Chase rejected the proposal, disturbed that a respected physician would propose a plan that could cause harm. Later, remorseful, the doctor called to explain. The pharmaceutical company behind the experimental drug was subsidizing his salary. “He had let it blind him to the obvious fact that taking elderly patients off their diabetes medicine was unambiguously unacceptable,” Chase said. “He had opted to protect himself rather than his patient.”

Chase urged the graduates to adopt “a mantra, a talisman in the face of the challenges you will inevitably encounter. ‘Do what is best for the patient.’ ” That will require the courage to resist pressures to rush, to save money, to discharge patients quickly. “You will sometimes have to take some risk to do what is right for the patient.”

Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, honored Howard Levitin, M.D., professor emeritus and senior research scientist in medicine, for 50 years of service to the School of Medicine. Alpern also honored Thomas L. Lentz, M.D. ’64, professor of cell biology and associate dean for admissions, noting that as a member of the admissions committee since 1968, Lentz had read more than 100,000 applications.

The Bohmfalk Teaching Prize went to Chase for basic science teaching, and to Andre N. Sofair, M.D., M.P.H. ’97, assistant professor of internal medicine, for clinical teaching. Mark D. Siegel, M.D., FW ’95, associate professor of internal medicine, won the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award.

Two people won the Leah M. Lowenstein Prize for promoting humane and egalitarian medical education: Nancy R. Angoff, M.P.H. ’81, M.D. ’90, HS ’93, associate dean for student affairs; and, for the second year, Catherine Chiles, M.D., HS ’86, associate clinical professor of psychiatry. The Francis Gilman Blake Award for outstanding teacher of the medical sciences went to Interim Chair of Internal Medicine David L. Coleman, M.D. ’76, HS ’79; and the Betsy Winters House Staff Award went to Robert W. Chang, M.D., chief surgical resident. Professor of Medicine Fred S. Gorelick, M.D., FW ’79, received the Alvan R. Feinstein Award for outstanding teacher of clinical skills. The graduating class presented $6,000 to the Society of Distinguished Teachers, which supports faculty in educational initiatives and development.