Unmasking Elusive Enzyme Reveals Known Villain
Cancer Risk May Be Higher for Young Smokers
Use of Hormone Replacement Therapy
Not Determined by Clinical Factors
Sowing Better Seeds
Angiogenesis Inhibitors May Slow Clogging of Arteries
Nipping Anorexia in the Bud
Vitamins May Protect Against Heart Disease
Choosier than Believed
Conference on Academic Values Set
Town Meeting on Gay and Lesbian Issues To Be Held at HMS
Appointments to Full and Endowed Professorships
In Memoriam: Robert A. Dorwart
To Speak at Soma Weiss Day Program
Honors and Advances
Students Teach Community Youngsters About Good Oral Health
Why Not Harvard Medical?
Why Not Harvard Medical?
Some Minority Graduates Would
Not Even Have Considered the Question if HMS Had Not Asked It
(left), Woody Myers (right), and Guadalupe Sanchez (photo
unavailable) have built exemplary careers, facilitated
by affirmative action.
On May 24, 1968, six weeks after the assassination of the Reverend
Martin Luther King Jr., HMS faculty initiated an affirmative action
program at the School, voting to admit 15 African Americans and
increasing class size from 125 to 140 to accommodate the change.
In the fall of the following year, 16 minority students joined the
This year, HMS is celebrating the 30th anniversary
of affirmative action at the School to call attention to the accomplishments
of its minority graduates. As part of the celebration, Focus
is running a series of profiles, each covering representative
graduates from one of the three decades since the affirmative action
program began. Below are the stories of minority graduates from
For 30 years, Harvard Medical School has
been seeking applicants like Talmadge King Jr. and Woodrow "Woody"
Myers, both African Americans, and Guadalupe Sanchez, a Hispanic,
who are graduates of the 1970s. King, HMS '74, is now chief of medical
services at San Francisco General Hospital and vice chairman of
the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San
Francisco. Myers, HMS '77, is director of health care management
for Ford Motor Company. And Sanchez, HMS '78, is a clinical instructor
in dermatology at the Washington University School of Medicine and
a solo practitioner.
For Sanchez, a career in medicine was not even
on the radar screen when she was growing up. Her family had immigrated
from Mexico to Florida when she was four. Every year from May through
October, until she was in fourth grade, they had worked as migrant
Without the intervention of several teachers,
Sanchez might never have gone away to college. In her tightly knit
community of Hispanic immigrants, responsibility to family came
before education. And for a female, boarding at an educational institution
was tantamount to compromising one's virtue.
But her teachers, all graduates of Berry College,
a teacher's college in Georgia, insisted on taking Sanchez there
for a visit, and she loved it.
"When you are
living on a tight budget, if someone has to go to the doctor, it
blows your budget."
At Berry, Sanchez became premed only after she realized she was
doing better than the other premed students. Her attraction to medicine
had to do with the difficulties of growing up in a large, poor family.
"There was always a child who was ill," she says. "When
you are living on a tight budget, if someone has to go to the doctor,
it blows your budget. My dad would come home and say, 'Is anybody
sick?' Growing up with that anxiety made me want to conquer it."
Sanchez also says that as a small child, she had "operated"
on her dolls.
When the time came, Sanchez applied exclusively
to Southern medical schools. Then, Alvin Poussaint, now an HMS clinical
professor of psychiatry at Judge Baker Children's Center and faculty
associate dean for student affairs, telephoned her out of the blue
and invited her to consider Harvard.
Like Sanchez, King's horizons had been limited
growing up in a "tiny" Southern town, his located in Georgia.
Unlike Sanchez, he had expected to go to college, and had even aspired
to being a doctor or getting a PhD in psychology.
But King says he never would have thought of
going to Harvard without Harvard's intervention. The University
sponsored the Health Careers Summer Program for minority students,
mostly from predominantly black, Southern colleges. "We [the
Southern blacks] were a small group among all the people taking
classes at Harvard summer school. Succeeding at Harvard made me
feel it would be possible to compete anywhere," King says.
"Also, meeting HMS professors and hearing them encourage us
to go forward was a subtle but tremendous boost to all of us."
The Need to Favor Diversity
Myers was the only one of the three students who had actually
planned to apply to Harvard. Myers had attended Stanford University,
where he became chairman of the black premedical organization.
Yet Myers insists he would not have been accepted
without affirmative action. "The smart African Americans did
not just appear in 1969. Harvard made a decision at that point to
increase its diversity.
"Had it not been for the hard work of Al
Poussaint and [former medical dean] Bob Ebert, there would not have
been the affirmative action effort that resulted in my coming to
Harvard," Myers says.
Myers's interest in medicine began early. His
father, a small businessman, would take Myers to the pediatrician,
where they would sit in the waiting room calculating the throughput,
his father extolling the benefits of practicing medicine in terms
of money, status, and scientific interest.
Myers was unmoved until the time he stepped on
a nail at age 10. His pediatrician was unavailable that day, so
he had to go to the ER at the only hospital in Indianapolis that
treated blacks. "They wanted me to soak my foot in water with
Epsom salts," Myers says. "I put my foot in the water,
and it was ice cold. I jerked it back. The nurse looked up at me
and said, 'We ran out of hot.'
professors and hearing them encourage us to go forward was a subtle
but tremendous boost to all of us."
"That was when I first became sensitized
to equity and fairness in medicine. I saw medicine as an opportunity
to change things."
After Harvard, Myers got an MBA at Stanford.
Subsequently, he became chairman of quality assurance at San Francisco
General Hospital, an experience that once again placed medicine's
inequities in stark relief. Then he spent five years as commissioner
of health for Indiana, where he helped create a state law to ensure
that Ryan White and others like him could not be barred from school
for having HIV. He then served as health commissioner for New York
City under Mayor Dinkins.
At Ford, Myers manages health care benefits for
the company's 680,000 U.S. employees. His goals, he says, are to
"buy better health status for employees," instead of buying
procedures and servicesand to eliminate unnecessary costs.
Information technology is critical to these efforts.
For example, the claims data show that many women of appropriate
age do not receive mammograms. Also, many patients with mild gastroesophageal
reflux disease are inappropriately receiving Prilosec, a new, costly
drug for severe disease that has been heavily advertised. Myers
deals with these kinds of problems by figuring out why they exist
and determining the best way to change doctorpatient behavior.
Caring for People
Sanchez says she was strongly influenced by her Harvard adviser,
Irwin Freedberg, a dermatologist. When she initially met with him,
the first thing he did was to suggest that they make an appointment
to treat her acne. "He cared," she says, simply. Her own
gift with patients received recognition during a rotation on urology.
"I had a physician adviser who had a reputation for being a
misogynist," she says. "At one point, he pulled me aside
and said, 'You should think about being a urologist because you
are very good with patients.' Coming from him, that was a really
In 1985, Sanchez went to
Washington University in St. Louis. There she published research
on epidermolysis bullosa with Eugene Bauer, who is now dean of medicine
at Stanford University. But Sanchez says that she loved the clinic
so much she decided to devote herself to patients.
Sanchez says her background is invaluable for
dealing with the poor immigrants she sees as a clinical professor
at Washington University and in her private practice. She describes
the discomfort of an immigrant's teenage son, who had to interpret
for his father during a medical examination. "You could tell
he was embarrassed and impatient. I told him I'd had to do the same
thing as a child and had also been embarrassed about it. That opened
Working in private practice allows Sanchez the
time to understand the context in which her patients' problems arise.
Since she often treats whole families, she says, her understanding
of her patients' medical needs is increased, and her treatments
are more effective.
Sanchez's career could have served as a model
for King's original aspirations. He had intended to return to Georgia
to work in underserved communities. But as a pulmonary fellow at
the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, he got caught
up in a medical mystery. He treated a woman who had interstitial
lung disease (ILD), a progressive, scarring process that led to
her death. "Nobody knew what to do, or even what it was,"
King joined the Colorado faculty in 1979, where
he established himself as an independent investigator, funded since
1980 by the NIH. He also co-authored the first major textbook on
"The smart African Americans
did not just appear in 1969. Harvard made a decision at that point
to increase its diversity."
King soon became active in the American Thoracic Society, a 13,000-member
international professional and scientific society, and is the organization's
immediate past president. King's presidency occurred at a critical
juncture for the society. As it grew, the society's mission became
increasingly constrained by its relationship with the American Lung
Association, the parent organization. King focused on gaining independence
for the society while maintaining ties with the lung association.
King also served as executive vice president
for clinical affairs at the National Jewish Medical and Research
In the mid-1990s, King grew restless. The looming
milestone of his 50th birthday placed his original goals in sharp
relief. "Working at National Jewish, I saw early the problems
of managed care. I worried that the working poor would suffer as
this system spread throughout the country."
In 1997, King moved to the University of California,
San Francisco, and San Francisco General Hospital. "San Francisco
General is the safety-net health care system for the city. I felt
that given the strong commitment to health by the city and county
of San Francisco, the outstanding faculty, and one of the best training
programs in the country, the hospital could find better ways to
manage the care of this segment of the population."
Nevertheless, in working toward this goal, King
must deal with badly strained finances: although patients are "sicker
than ever before," they are sent home sooner, "often without
the back-up care that would keep them out of the hospital."
If all this sounds daunting, it clearly energizes
"We're emphasizing prevention of disease
and management of patients outside the hospital setting," says
King, who visited HMS in March to speak to students and trainees
about lung disorders. "All of us get discouraged, but we have
a fantastic staff. I know I can't change the world by myself, but
I think collectively we can do a lot."
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