What's Behind Cellular Morphing?
Bloom Gives IOM Crash Course on Public Health
Boning Up on Diversity
Rare Books Settle into New Quarters
New Vaccine Works Better Using Infection-Specific Antigen
Nerve Regrowth Suggests New Research, Therapies
Collaring Suspect Protease Slows HuntingtonŐs in Mice
Toy Muscles Linked To Harmful Image of Male Body
Taming T Cells May Enlarge the Bone Marrow Donor Pool
Faculty Council Hears On-line Issues
Fourth Annual A. Clifford Barger Lecture
Faculty Awards for Excellence in Teaching
Honors and Advances
Future Discussed, Past Honored in Affirmative Action Program
Minority Grads Have Aspired to Give More than Good Medicine
Minority Grads Have Aspired to Give More than
This is the third and final set of profiles
of HMS minority alumni who graduated during the three decades since
affirmative action began at the School in 1969. The series is part
of the 30th anniversary celebration of affirmative action at HMS.
This final installment tells the story of graduates who have represented
HMS in a variety of roles during the 1990s. One is a faculty member,
and next month, one starts an HMS residency. (The first set of profiles,
on 1970s graduates, appeared in the April
16 Focus. The second set, covering alumni who first came
to the School in the 1980s, appeared in the May
At age 30, Patrick Linson, a Navaho and Taos
Pueblo Indian who was admitted to HMS through affirmative action,
has made his own contributions to the School on behalf of diversity.
He attracted three fellow Native Americans to HMS, whose circumstances
had limited their ambitions enough that without his intervention,
they probably would not have pursued professional careers of any
sort, let alone medicine.
In his first year, Linson, HMS '97, was one of
three Native American students who established the Four Directions
program, which brings talented Native Americans to the School during
the summer for an eight-week exposure to science and medicine. These
are people, Linson emphasizes, who have potential but lacked the
resources to seek a science or medical education on their own.
Many of the students who gained admission to
Harvard through affirmative action are notable for their altruistic
motives. Paula Johnson, HMS '85, is an African American who grew
up in Brooklyn and who is now medical director for quality improvement
at Brigham and Women's Hospital and professor of cardiology at HMS.
She is also a clinical epidemiologist who conducts research on issues
of access to cardiology care for minorities and women. Daisy Otero,
HMS '90, who grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City, the
daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, is a clinician in a poor section
of the Bronx, and assistant professor of medicine at Montefiore
Medical Center/Albert Einstein Medical School.
"If you are talented in science, and want to
follow an altruistic line of work, a natural melding of the two
is medicine," says Johnson, who came to this conclusion in junior
high. Her parents had inculcated altruism. Coming from humble beginnings,
they had achieved working class status and felt there was much to
be grateful for. They impressed upon her early that "doing good
deeds was a critical part of one's existence. In my junior high
and high school years, I did volunteer work in a nursing home, and
I worked on fund-raising projects for groups in need, such as disadvantaged
children and the United Negro College Fund."
For Linson, public spiritedness was part of the
culture. "We're not raised to think about ourselves. You are raised
to take care of your family, and to think about the people around
you." Native American prayers, he says, encompass "all my relations."
But becoming a professional wasn't even on the
radar screen when Linson was growing up. He says, "I watched people
work really hard and have a difficult time making it without education."
After he graduated from high school, he worked with two of his older
brothers, one a wood gatherer and the other an upholsterer. The
hard lives of his brothers and his good grades in science convinced
Linson to go to college. He thought he would become a chemist, but
one of his professors at San Diego State, a Native American, introduced
him to a Native American doctor who inspired him to seek a medical
That, in turn, led Linson to work at an Indian
Health Service clinic for three years during college, where he trained
teenagers to educate their peers about how to prevent HIV/AIDS and
substance abuse. He says he grew close to many of these teenagers
and that "when I left for Harvard, I felt like I was leaving them
behind." That unhappy feeling was the germ of Four Directions.
Daisy Otero, HMS '90
As far back as Daisy Otero can remember, she wanted to be a
doctor. Otero was exposed early to medicine, since her mother was
a receptionist at Bellevue Hospital. She had always imagined herself
practicing "in a neighborhood that needed physicians, where my being
bilingual and bicultural would make a difference, where I could
serve the community and serve as a role model to young kids. This
means the world to me."
Otero's empathy for patients became obvious when
she was volunteering in the ER while attending Barnard College.
In one case, she found herself alone with the patient, a young victim
of spousal abuse who had been unable to explain her troubles to
the doctor or the nurse. The woman began to cry, and Otero asked
her in Spanish what the matter was, and that is when her story spilled
out. The physician on duty was then able to steer the woman toward
the social services she needed.
Otero says she loved every rotation, and could
not decide which branch of medicine she should pursue, until she
rotated at the Indian Health Service clinic in Winslow, Arizona.
There, she says, she realized that she liked developing a long-term
relationship with patients and preferred working with adults. "I
love taking care of my little old ladies," she says.
For Otero, taking care of her patients means
understanding their lives and their families, knowing their dietary
habits, and serving as a "safe place" where they can bring their
fears and disappointmentswhere they can cry if they need to
cry. She jokes about "nagging patients to take better care of their
diabetes," but when asked how she deals with these patients, she
says, "I have a conversation with them to explain that they are
in charge, that I can support them and guide them, that I can be
their partner, but they have to be willing to assume responsibility
for their health."
Otero speaks with reverence of the trust her
patients and community place in her, and says, "It's privileged,
what I get to do." She also says, unabashedly, that she would love
practicing medicine anywhere, but that here, in a poor Latino neighborhood
in the Bronx, she has something special to contribute. Patients
tell her they have never been so thoroughly examined before, and
never felt so well understood. Otero credits the fact that she speaks
their language and shares their culture.
Paula Johnson, HMS '85
While Otero labors on the front line with individual patients,
Paula Johnson strives to improve overall quality of care. The greatest
challenge Johnson currently faces comes from changes in the health
care system. "Academic medical centers are under siege," she says.
"Reimbursements from third party payers often do not cover costs.
Since the Balanced Budget Act was passed, reimbursement from Medicare
has dropped significantly." Clinicians are pressured to be more
productive in their practices, at the expense of teaching.
"As medical director for quality improvement,
my work involves examining and redesigning the way health care is
provided, as well as the systems that support delivery of patient
care," Johnson says. Much of this work is carried out by interdisciplinary
teams. The goals are to improve patient care, outcomes, and patient
satisfaction with hospital procedures from admission to exit, to
reduce utilization, and to reduce health care costs.
Johnson also continues to conduct research on
access to care, which she began during a fellowship with mentors
Lee Goldman (formerly a professor of medicine) and Tom Lee (an associate
professor of medicine at BWH). Her most recent work suggests that
minorities not only undergo fewer cardiology procedures, but may
not receive such procedures when they are judged to be necessary.
Patrick Linson, HMS '97
Otero and Johnson are well into their careers, but Linson is
just embarking on specialty training. This July, he will become
a first-year resident in radiation oncology at Harvard's Joint Center
for Radiation Therapy. Linson loves the science of radiation oncology,
and more importantly, he says he has much to offer the patients.
"Cancer patients are unique in that every single
one, whether young or old, when given the diagnosis, has a complete
change in perception," Linson says. His native traditions make him
well suited to helping patients cope with their sometimes bleak
prospects. "In the native tradition, we talk about the medicine
wheel," he says. "This symbolizes that there is a beginning and
an end, a point at which we will all die. We think of death as a
part of life, and not something necessarily to be afraid of."
Linson also says the physician must provide the
patient with hope and support. "Regardless of how bad the situation
is, you have to let them know you will be there for them 100 percent,"
Linson plans to work on cancer prevention in
Native American and other minority communities. Toward this end,
he earned a master's from the Harvard School of Public Health. He
has already developed a program at the Native American Indian Center
in Boston aimed at reducing cancer among Indians.
Otero, Johnson, and Linson all credit Harvard with fostering
their studies and ambitions. Although Linson's work on public health
predates his matriculation at HMS, he says David Potter's enthusiastic
encouragement was critical to getting Four Directions off the ground.
Moreover, Potter (the Robert Winthrop professor of neurobiology)
financed Four Directions' first year from his NIH training grant.
Paula Johnson credits Carola and Leon Eisenberg
for "reaching out to all students." (They are a lecturer on social
medicine and the Maude and Lillian Presley professor emeritus of
social medicine, respectively.) She says that during the year she
spent at the Harvard School of Public Health between her third and
fourth years at HMS, Judy Bigby, associate professor of medicine
at BWH, allowed her to see patients with her one evening a week.
"That year, I learned a lot about taking care of patients."
Otero describes the Third World Caucus almost
as a family for minority students, in which senior students served
as mentors to their juniors. Johnson says that "the most significant
mentors I had were other African American students who were senior
to me." The minority students, she says, "pulled together to make
sure that all of us did well."