At the Perelman School of Medicine’s White Coat Ceremony in August, Gail Morrison, M.D. ’71, G.M.E. ’76, the senior vice dean for education, stated that one of the primary reasons for the ceremony is to emphasize humanism. As she told the incoming students, humanism may be “the most important and fundamental value in medicine.” The annual ceremony, she continued, highlights “the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship.”

It was appropriate that Paul Lanken, M.D., G.M.E. ’77, delivered this year’s keynote address. He was Penn Medicine’s first associate dean for professionalism and humanism, named to the position in 2004. This year, he became an emeritus professor of medicine and stepped down from his administrative role. But he was a champion of those quali­ties long before he was associate dean. In his address, he mentioned that during his work in HUP’s Intensive Care Unit, he often encountered medical and ethical challenges. It was evident to him that the struggles medical professionals were facing were not going to go away. Medical schools, he believed, should start ethical training as soon as possible. 

In the mid-1990s, when Penn’s medical school began an extensive rethinking of its curriculum under the overall su­pervision of Dean Morrison, Lanken was instrumental in designing and implementing a new module on the profes­sional development of the students. The ultimate goal: to underscore the importance of being a compassionate, empathetic, and caring physician.

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