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Family Ties

Hours before the start of the annual George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) White Coat Ceremony Aug. 8, when the school welcomes first-year medical students to the SMHS community, presents them with their white coats, and launches their academic medical careers with a recitation of the M.D. program oath and signing of the Honor Code pledge, a special gathering of incoming first-years and alumni took place at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS, welcomed each family to the school’s fifth annual Medical Legacy Brunch. The annual event, which is sponsored by the SMHS Office of Development and Alumni Relations, began in 2010 to honor the continued connection between alumni and their institute.

“This brunch is meant to be a celebration of the legacy and linkages between our students and their alumni parents and family members,” Akman told the group of students, alumni, family, and friends, “but it has evolved over the years to include our new students and their parents who may be on the faculty, as well as a celebration of our Adopt-A-Doc program — those alumni and friends of the school who “adopt” a student or students and help support them by paying a portion of their medical school tuition.”

Seven members of the incoming class of medical students have a legacy connection to the school. Overall, legacies represent almost 5 percent of the total medical student body. This year’s gathering exemplified that broadened definition of legacy perfectly. Many of the alumni and patrons represented the university’s current and former faculty and staff, including a department chair and a member of the SMHS Dean’s Council.

Merry Adler, M.A. ’83, B.A. ’82, a non-medical alumna who worked at the old GW Hospital, attended the annual event with third-year medical student and Adopt-a-Doc scholar Smita Patel. “I’m just crazy about GW; it’s my heart,” Adler said, as she described why she decided to become an Adopt-a-Doc donor. “Now that I am retired, I decided something I could do was help a student. There is nothing greater than education, and in my view there is nothing better than medical education. I have worked in health care forever and loved every bit of it.”

Among those attending the legacy brunch, none could claim an extended relationship with the university to rival that of SMHS Dean’s Council member Kerry Kuhn, M.D. ’73, RESD ’77, B.A. ’70. “I’m a life-long GW alumnus,” he laughed, having earlier joked around the brunch table that he ought be one legacy shy of a free GW degree. “My grandfather [Lawrence Kuhn] went to dental school here back in 1918, when GW had a dental school,” he explained. “I went here as an undergraduate, a medical student, and a resident. My sister [Debra Kuhn Veltri, B.A. ’74] was an undergraduate at GW.”

Kuhn’s daughter, Dana Kuhn, earned three degrees from GW, a B.A. in 2004, an M.P.H. in 2007, and most recently her M.D. in 2014. Kuhn’s son, Jordan, B.S. ’11, is a third-year medical student at SMHS rotating in pediatrics at Children’s National Health System. And joining Kuhn at this year’s event was the latest family member to join the list of legacies, Kuhn’s niece, Kami Veltri.

“I believe GW deserves to be the medical school in the country,” Kuhn beamed, “and it is getting there very rapidly.”

For Kami Veltri, the day marked her second White Coat ceremony and third Legacy Brunch. She started at SMHS in 2012 but took two years off to work at GW’s Center for Integrative Medicine. In addition to attending the brunch in 2012, she also was present when her cousin, Jordan, was a first year. “It’s very exciting to see what is in store for me under the revised curriculum. It’s very nice to hear everyone talk so highly about their GW experience.”

What he lacked in legacies at SMHS, faculty member David Parenti, M.D., M.Sc., professor of medicine and of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine, made up for in service to the institution. “This is my 32nd year at GW, so I’ve been here for quite a long time,” said Parenti, who joined the SMHS faculty in 1984. His son, Vincent, is among the M.D. Program Class of 2019. “I have always been struck by the warmth that resonates at GW. The collegiality that you see among the faculty members, and the dedication the faculty has toward working with students. That, to me, is a very special part of GW.”

Mike Berrigan, M.D. ’86, RESD ’90, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, and Seymour Alpert Professor of Anesthesiology, was on hand to welcome his daughter, Margaret, into the SMHS community. As the guests around the room took turns describing some pivotal moment in their SMHS experiences, Berrigan used his time to reassure the incoming students that they were equipped to survive the anxiety of starting medical school.

Berrigan, who had been working as a cancer researcher in Buffalo, NY, while completing his doctorate, recalled the 10 days running up to the start of his academic medical career at GW. “I defended my Ph.D. and two days later got into my car and drove down to Washington, D.C. to find an apartment. I started medical school on Monday, went back to western New York on Friday, got married on Saturday, spent the night in Niagara Falls, drove back to Washington, D.C. on Sunday morning — that was our honeymoon — and resumed medical school Monday morning,” recalled Berrigan. “It was a little bit stressful, but we got through it, and you all will too.”