Celebrating 50 years of medicine at Brown, by honoring the past and embracing the future

Members of the Warren Alpert Medical School community, including graduates from classes ranging from 1972 to 2022, gathered to commemorate the history and look to the future of Rhode Island’s first and only medical school.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — “The present never tells us the whole story. We must acknowledge the past to define what the present and what the future will tell us.”

This was the advice of Dr. Jeffrey F. Hines, a 1986 graduate of the Warren Alpert Medical School, to the members of the medical school community gathered to commemorate a half century of Brown’s impact in medical education and research. Hines borrowed from Shakespeare's concept of "what's past is prologue" as he addressed hundreds of past and present students, faculty members and staff, as well as parents, friends and community partners. 

The Friday, April 29, event — hosted by the University under a balloon-festooned tent on Pembroke Field — served as the Opening Celebration for 50 Years of Medicine at Brown, a 15-month series of celebratory, reflective and scholarly activities planned to honor distinctive and innovative elements of Brown’s approach to medical training and biomedical innovation.

Fifty years ago, in March 1972, the Corporation of Brown University approved the creation of a four-year medical education program, paving the way for Rhode Island’s first and only medical school. The celebration honors the decades of impact in medical education and research since, the contributions of the 3,893 physicians who have earned M.D.s from Brown and the innovative path ahead for the Warren Alpert Medical School.

The mood at the kickoff event was festive, like a family reunion, as medical school alumni (and soon-to-be alumni) and former colleagues from across the last five decades greeted each other joyfully and shared stories while sampling Providence-themed treats like Del’s Lemonade cupcakes and cannoli. Many elements of the Opening Celebration built on the school’s distinct approach, characterized by a unique focus on promoting the health of individuals and communities through service to society. Acknowledging the brave and selfless work of frontline health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic was a theme throughout the evening — frontline workers were given white ribbons to wear in recognition of their service.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who has represented Rhode Island in Congress since 1991, recalled growing up in Cranston in the 1950s and 60s when expert medical care was unavailable locally. But that all changed with the launch of Brown’s medical education program, he told the audience.

“For 50 years, the medical school has served this community — the state of Rhode Island,” Reed said. “It’s turned out generations of exceptional doctors and leaders in the field, advanced discovery and innovation, and responded to evolving health care needs. And it has shared new knowledge with medical students and doctors worldwide. This institution has had a tremendous impact here in Rhode Island and far beyond.”

Reed noted that the medical school started from humble beginnings, with 16 students in 1972. He channeled the words of the school’s late founding dean, Dr. Stanley Aronson, who years ago described asking early medical students at Brown why they would gamble on a nascent M.D. program that had no building of its own and no accreditation, especially when the students’ academic credentials could have likely landed them at Harvard.

“Well, I’m certainly glad they gambled,” Reed said. “The bet paid off big time for everyone. A talented faculty of 43 professionals launched the school, and Dr. Aronson himself wisely led it. They laid a strong foundation for what today is a preeminent medical school in the world, not just this country... You are training the next generation of physicians and professionals here today, and you're doing it extremely well, but you're also enhancing research and breakthroughs in science and medicine... The Warren Alpert Medical School has been a real game-changer.”

Celebrating 50 years of impact

Brown President Christina H. Paxson offered opening remarks, focusing, like Reed, on the significant positive impact that the medical school has had in Rhode Island. Brown prepares students to solve problems in service of the nation and the world, she said — but just as importantly, in service of the local community.

“The work of the Warren Alpert Medical School matters, and it matters to the lives of real people who live in this area, every day,” she said. “Our medical school students, researchers and physicians work to improve the care of patients across the state, tackling issues like the health challenges of aging, to reducing maternal and neonatal mortality, to reducing health disparities…

“As we’ve strengthened the fabric of health care in our state, we’ve also continued to work to increase the quality of our health care workforce in Rhode Island, bringing in top talent,” she added, noting that 60% of doctors in the state are affiliated with the medical school. “These soon-to-be physicians, our medical students and residents, come here to learn, but they stay here for the people of Rhode Island.”

Paxson said it would be impossible to celebrate the 50-year milestone without recognizing what the community’s health care workforce has been through over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown-affiliated physicians, medical students and alumni have been on the front lines of the response, she noted, both locally and globally.

“The work of the Warren Alpert Medical School initiates in Providence and Rhode Island,” she said. “From here, it radiates to serve the nation and the world. What we have witnessed over the past year is the power of translational research — the rapid transformation of basic science into treatments and vaccines — that will ultimately get us out of this pandemic. It’s also going to be the way we get out of so many other health care problems we’re facing. I love what the medical school does, and I can’t wait to see what the medical school is going to bring in the future.”

Hines, a veteran of the U.S. Army Medical Corps who earned a bachelor’s degree from Brown in 1983 and an M.D. from the Warren Alpert Medical School in 1986, delivered the night’s keynote. Now the lead gynecologic oncologist with the WellStar Health System in Atlanta, Hines was a student leader at Brown (with the Third World Center and the Brown Center for Students of Color in particular), served as the founding chair of the medical school’s Advancing Diversity Committee and is a current member of the Brown Corporation.

In keeping with the past/present/future theme of the evening, Hines acknowledged his own past as a medical student and how it intersected with the history of the medical school in a unique presentation reminiscent of a slideshow of family photos — in fact, it started with photos of Hines as an elementary school student, and was organized into three sections: before Hines attended Brown (1764-1979), while he attended Brown (1979-1986) and then after he graduated (1986-2022). There were photos of mentors including Dr. Pierre Galletti, a Brown leader who was instrumental in founding the medical school; Levi Adams, vice president of external affairs for biology and medicine; Dr. Jack Elias, the school’s seventh dean of medicine; as well as Hines’ wife, Dr. Sivan Hines (who also earned her M.D. from Brown in 1986); his medical school classmates; and his classmates’ children — one of whom will graduate from Brown’s medical school next month. 

Hines’ cheerful reminiscing was meant to encourage reflection upon what it means to be a graduate of the school, how alumni can live its values in their professional and private lives, and how to impart them upon future generations of medical professionals.

“Our mission is what we take away when we leave the medical school here —  it's a set of core values,” Hines said. “We learn to lead. We bridge, we broaden, we innovate, we become accountable. We practice humility, we become relational and transformational. We create that value-add that so many of us talk about, we learn to build trust, to display ambitious vision. And these are skills that I have brought to me in my practice in the military, as a gynecologic oncologist, as a member of the Corporation, but most importantly as a citizen.”

Continued contributions to human health and patient care

Fourth-year medical school student Gisel Bello, who served as master of ceremonies for the evening, also shared memories of her medical school experience. Donning the same colorful scarf she’d worn when she interviewed at the Warren Alpert Medical School in 2017 — chosen to “convey all the colorful aspects of my personality and to remind myself how far I had come,” she said — Bello talked about what initially drew her to Brown. In addition to the well-rounded students she met who had interesting, diverse experiences before and during medical school, Bello was struck by something she couldn’t quite identify at the time, but now recognizes as a driving sense of social responsibility. 

“As medical students at Brown, we are leaders devoted to improving the health and wellness of everyone,” Bello said. “That means that sometimes we have to challenge the status quo. That means that when we find inequity in the systems we are a part of, we challenge and hold to account the institutions responsible for those systems. To be a medical student at Brown means to expect more from our institutions, society and the world at large with the intention of leaving it better than we found it.” 

“As we’ve strengthened the fabric of health care in our state, we’ve also continued to work to increase the quality of our health care workforce in Rhode Island, bringing top talent to the state. These soon-to-be physicians, our medical students and residents, come here to learn, but they stay here for the people of Rhode Island.”

Christina H. Paxson Brown University President

Bello said that as a student, she feels bolstered by fellow future M.D.s to act on those principles and supported in that mission by the school and its many resources for medical students. As she embarks upon an obstetrics/gynecology residency at Emory University School of Medicine, Bello said her time at Brown has transformed her into a  stronger, more compassionate and resilient leader. 

The celebration marked one of the first prominent public events for the new dean of the Warren Alpert Medical School, Dr. Mukesh K. Jain, a physician-scientist, cardiovascular specialist and health care leader who came to Brown from the University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. In just two months since coming to Providence to start as dean, Jain said he’s already worked with leaders across the biomedical ecosystem and the Rhode Island community, and those discussions helped give shape to what the future holds for the medical school and its place within the state and beyond. 

While Jain expressed admiration for the school’s “remarkable” history full of impact, it was its future that drew him to Brown. 

“I joined this community because of the bold vision set forth: To shape a world-class integrated biomedical ecosystem here in Rhode Island, with the goal of offering substantial contributions to human health and patient care,” Jain said. 

The school is putting plans in place to support that vision, he noted, investing in critical research areas to decipher disease, develop novel treatments, and address some of society's greatest health needs; renewing the commitment to students by reviewing and revamping the curriculum and student experience to ensure that they reflect the school’s value (and the societal need) of promoting equity; and joining with medical school partners to reimagine and recommit to even more meaningful community engagement.

“We will lean into our mission to improve the health and wellness of all, with the express purpose of improving the quality of life for Rhode Islanders,” Jain said. “Today, our ambitions are perhaps greater than even the founders of this school could have imagined.”