Nothing trivial about house staff reunion

More than 225 former residents in medicine return to New Haven for program’s first reunion.

What is the name of the dog on the Cracker Jack box? How many movies did Tracy and Hepburn make together? Who was the first TV sitcom couple to share a double bed? How many points did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar score during his NBA career?

In the intellectually rigorous world of medical scholarship, you might not think this information would matter to the well-trained resident in Yale’s Department of Internal Medicine. But these facts proved vital at the first alumni reunion of house staff and fellows, held on campus October 25 and 26.

Free of the stress and exhaustion that dogged them during their residency years, more than 225 alumni—spanning the decades since 1935—showed up to reconnect with classmates and faculty and revisit the place where they launched their careers. “It’s very sentimental,” said Sanjivini G. Wadhwa, HS ’00. “When I talk to [fellows from other programs] they describe horrendous, nightmarish times. I don’t remember it that way. I remember a faculty that really got to know us and made us feel we could achieve something.”

Robert H. Gifford, M.D., HS ’67, had a similar experience. “It was like a big family,” he said. “It was a very enriching and supportive place.”

Welcoming the alumni gathered in the Fitkin Amphitheatre, Dean David A. Kessler, M.D., noted the dual role residents played. “You were students learning medicine and—whether it was as colleagues teaching fellow students, or residents teaching medical students or faculty teaching everybody—you were our teachers at the medical school. You are all part of the Yale family,” he said.

Ralph I. Horwitz, M.D., then-chair of the Department of Internal Medicine (See Faculty), praised Yale’s residency program, saying, “The house staff program has helped to shape American medicine through the contributions of its students, its residents, its fellows and its faculty.” He also expressed concern for what he sees as an erosion of the doctor-patient relationship. When he needs to seek out a resident, he said, the last place he looks is the patient’s room. “We must unburden doctors from their clerical duties and return them to the bedside,” he said.

But the seriousness was leavened by many lighter moments, most notably Quiz Bowl, a Trivial Pursuit-type contest between two teams of alumni and one composed of current house staff. Questions ran the gamut from popular music (In what year was “Duke of Earl” released?) and sports (What’s the width of a football field?) to geography (After Toronto, what’s the largest city in Canada?) and popular culture (In Gone with the Wind, how many months passed during Melanie’s pregnancy?) Questions about the medical school (What year was it founded?) stumped current house staff and alumni, while queries about the human body (How many permanent teeth does an adult human have?) were easily answered.

Who won? The house staff team’s correct answer to the question—How many states border Florida?—put them over the top. But it didn’t seem to matter, thus confirming what one returning alumnus said about the place: “There was very little one-upmanship. You were always made to feel you were part of the team.”

The answers to the trivia questions are as follows: Bingo; nine; Lily and Herman Munster; 38,387; 1962; 53 1/3 yards; Montreal; 22; 1810; 32; two. Although during the Quiz Bowl the Munsters were credited with being the first sitcom couple to sleep in the same bed, according to the Morty’s Fun Facts and Useless Information website, that distinction properly belongs to Darrin and Samantha Stephens in Bewitched.

  • Tags:
  • Internal Medicine
  • Residency
  • Reunion

Related People

Ralph Horwitz

Professor Emeritus of Medicine (General Medicine)

Robert Gifford

Professor Emeritus of Medicine (General Medicine)