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The New Issue: The Past, the Present, and the Future

PTSD cover

As the Perelman School of Medicine continues its yearlong celebration of its 250 years, the Summer 2015 issue of Penn Medicine looks back at its illustrious history and looks ahead to some promising developments. The issue’s topics include celebrations, acknowledgments of achievement, and a close look at a center we would all prefer did not have to exist: the Penn Center for Youth and Family Trauma Response and Recovery.

Steven J. Berkowitz, MD, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the Perelman School, came from Yale to Penn in 2009 as founding director of the center. Although he specializes in treating children and adolescents, he has a highly regarded track record of assisting communities at large in the wake of violent tragedies. Earlier in his career, he worked with Vietnam veterans. One insight he had was that early childhood trauma is the greatest risk factor for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after combat. Focusing on children and adolescents, Berkowitz developed the Child and Family Traumatic Stress Intervention with a Yale colleague. The unique four-session intervention, provided within 45 days of a child’s exposure to a potentially traumatic event, seeks to enhance two crucial factors that help to prevent trauma: social or familial support on one hand and coping skills on the other. In 2011, when the pilot study was published, it showed that those receiving the intervention were 65 percent less likely to develop PTSD.

On the lighter side, the new issue includes a photo showing a group of excited graduating medical students who had just received the letters telling them where they would be pursuing their training. There is also coverage of this year’s more elaborate and more fully attended Medical Alumni Weekend. Activities for returning alumni ranged from marching in parade, gathering by class, attending a variety of presentations, and visiting the newest of the school’s educational sites. The weekend culminated in what J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, dean of the school, aptly called “a once-in-a-lifetime gala event” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The glorious fireworks at the gala -- proceeds from the event are supporting medical scholarships -– can be seen on our back cover.

History? Of course. One article, “Founders . . . and Feuders,” describes the friendship between the medical school’s first two professors, John Morgan and William Shippen Jr. They had talked about starting a medical school. But after returning from Europe, having earned his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh, Morgan took the first step by himself and convinced the trustees of the College of Philadelphia to support such a school. Shippen felt he had been betrayed. Fortunately for the new school, however, he asked for and received an appointment as the College’s first professor of anatomy and surgery. Another article in the issue provides more detail about Morgan’s travels in Europe, during which he met influential people and accrued several honors. Those could not fail to impress the trustees of the young Philadelphia college!

In more modern times, I. S. Ravdin, MD, one of Penn Medicine’s legendary figures, received an unusual form of appreciation: he was transformed into a comic strip character. Ravdin, a chairman of the department of Surgery, had gained a wider reputation after serving as chief administrator of the 20th General Hospital in Assam, India, during World War II. In October 1957, the nationally syndicated comic strip Steve Canyon inserted a figure who looked remarkably like Dr. Ravdin into the story line. It was set at “University Hospital,” and “The Man” was treating Steve Canyon’s ward for anorexia nervosa. Milton Caniff, the artist and writer of the strip, was greatly impressed by Ravdin when he had a brief stay as a patient at HUP. Although Ravdin’s name was never used, many readers of the strip recognized him.

Turning to what’s happening today, “Technology for a Healthier World” describes how Penn Medicine’s faculty and staff are creating and adapting information technology to serve clinicians, researchers, and patients more effectively. As Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, a professor of epidemiology, notes: “In today’s world where we have technology in the palm of our hand that lets us watch live TV, set DVRs, and control home-security systems from anywhere in the world, it’s crazy that we’re still using paper flyers to conduct what is basically a series of simple surveys and questionnaires.” Schmitz was involved in developing a modern alternative: an app that allows women living with breast cancer and survivors to answer questions about their health, perform activities related to clinical trials, and generate real-time data wherever they are. The app provides a source of information that is more objective than ever before. Another of the innovations allows doctors to check patients’ vital signs and see how they’re trending quickly and easily with their smartphones. No more laboriously assembling charts.

And according to William Hanson, MD 1983, vice president and chief medical information officer of Penn’s health system, in the not-too-distant future medical professionals will be using health care information technology and computers to deal with the massive amounts of genomic information that will become available.

In alumni news, J. Kelly Parsons, MD 1997, has published a medical thriller that has earned praise from one of the giants in the field -- Stephen King. Parsons made use of his experience as a surgeon and as a citizen of academic medicine to shape Doing Harm. Parsons, an associate professor of surgery at the Moores Cancer Center of the University of California, San Diego, will have a second novel appearing next spring.

Finally, despite being 280 years old, John Morgan, MD, was a very lively presence during Medical Alumni Weekend. You can find him popping up throughout the pages of the new issue.


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