Mount Sinai School of Medicine Honors Leaders Who Challenge the Boundaries of Science at 2012 Commencement Ceremony

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Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons, PhD, Delivers Keynote Address and Receives Honorary Degree

Mount Sinai School of Medicine honored pioneers in discovery and innovation at its 43rd commencement ceremony at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. A total of 224 degrees were granted, including 141 MDs, 39 PhDs, and 44 Masters degrees. Ruth J. Simmons, PhD, President of Brown University, addressed the Mount Sinai graduates as commencement speaker.

Dr. Simmons received a Doctor of Humane Letters for championing diversity and inclusiveness in higher education. Also honored were Ada Yonath, PhD, the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize, for her pioneering work in developing novel antibiotic drugs; Harald zur Hausen, MD, a Nobel Prize-winning virologist who established that HPV, the human papilloma virus, is the leading cause of cervical cancer; and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD.

This year’s commencement reflected Mount Sinai’s commitment to translational medicine: bringing research breakthroughs made in the lab into clinical practice. The medical school and its Graduate School of Biological Sciences collaborate closely in education, patient care, and therapeutic discovery, forming a foundation that defines Mount Sinai. This unique integration gives students the chance to work in interactive, multidisciplinary teams so they have a better scientific understanding of diseases and how research can benefit patients and improve their care.

In her address, Dr. Simmons of Brown University challenged the graduates to embrace their roles as advocates for change and to use their influence to trigger that change, whether through scientific discovery or providing health care to the community. She urged them to not settle for the “status quo,” and to always reflect on why they chose a career in health care.

“As you go out from Mount Sinai, I extend to you my heartfelt congratulations and my very warmest wishes for glorious years ahead in which you have the intellectual and moral challenges you are qualified to meet and deserve to have, the fortitude to weather the difficult periods in which doubts inevitably arise, the good sense to meditate frequently on what matters and what does not, and the heart to love with the full measure of commitment that you can possibly give,” Dr. Simmons said.

Dennis S. Charney, MD, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs of The Mount Sinai Medical Center, said in his address that discovery and innovation are encoded in Mount Sinai’s DNA, exemplified by the opening later this year of the Leon and Norma Hess Center for Science and Medicine, which will open during a time of fierce competition for scarce research funding. One of few research centers opening at an academic medical center in the United States, this new building will bring nearly a half-million square feet of state-of-the-art medical research and clinical facilities to the area and expand Mount Sinai’s research program space by about one-third.

Dr. Charney encouraged the graduates to carry on the legacy of the scientific pioneers who grace Mount Sinai’s history. “More diseases and clinical syndromes have been named after Mount Sinai physicians than those at any other medical center. Mount Sinai surgeons have a long history of developing and perfecting new procedures that save thousands of lives. Through advances in genomics, systems biology, and bioinformatics, Mount Sinai will be at the forefront of a revolution in personalized and precision medicine. Stand shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, and heart to heart with those who have come before you – your loved ones, your mentors, and the giants of Mount Sinai.”

Peter W. May, Chairman of the Mount Sinai Boards of Trustees, discussed the changing landscape of medicine and the increasing importance of collaboration with philanthropists and lay leaders.

“In today’s world, your role is more complex,” he told the students, “and you must adapt to the responsibilities that your training carries. You have learned the value of productive collaboration with your colleagues across disciplines during your time at Mount Sinai — that philosophy is fundamentally embedded in every program, every laboratory, every operating room, and classroom at our institution. Do not overlook the importance of partnering with nonmedical professionals who have the vision, influence, and willingness to support your endeavors. I urge you to understand, appreciate, cultivate, and nurture these relationships. What you hope to achieve for your patients and for the future health of generations will rely on the strength of these partnerships,” Mr. May said.

Kenneth L. Davis, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Mount Sinai Medical Center, stressed the critical need for a team approach to medicine.

“Today, we pursue excellence in a culture of cooperation because the best way to address the needs of our patients is within a team, and because of the complexity of the problems we face. We treat patient populations, not just individual patients; multiple organ systems not just single diseases; drug interactions, not just a single medication; and today, we must use not just the most effective treatment, but the most efficient treatment,” Dr. Davis said. “Most patients have comorbid conditions and a host of factors — environmental, social, genetic, therapeutic — that greatly influence every aspect of care. When you encounter similar challenges to delivering health care at the institution where you work, we hope that the culture we have immersed you in, of working closely with all kinds of colleagues, will guide you.”

Dr. Davis offered Mount Sinai’s Preventable Admissions Care Team (PACT) as an example of this collaborative spirit. PACT was formed at Mount Sinai in 2010 by a team of nurses, physicians, and social workers to reduce Medicare re-admissions rates. PACT developed a program of engagement that bridges gaps in care and strengthens hospital-community relationships in a variety of ways, including improved processes for appointments, expanded visiting nurse services, and outpatient programs and support groups. All of these efforts resulted in a 45 percent reduction in re-admissions.

Honorary degrees were given to pioneers in education and discovery and innovation in disease prevention:

  •     Ruth Simmons, PhD, (Doctor of Humane Letters) is the first African American to lead an Ivy League institution. Under her leadership, Brown has solidified its reputation as one of the world’s finest research universities and integrated principles of diversity and opportunity in every dimension of the university’s culture and practice. Her expertise has been widely sought on an array of educational and public policy issues including institutional governance, foreign language study, diversity, liberal arts, science education, leadership, and women in higher education.
  •     Ada Yonath, PhD, (Doctor of Science) is a Nobel Prize-winning structural biologist and biochemist whose pioneering work in ribosome crystallography has given scientists new insight into how bacteria acquire resistance to antibiotics — widely acknowledged to be one of the most pressing medical challenges of this century — and paved the way to developing novel bacteria-resistant antibiotic drugs that have the potential to save countless lives in coming generations. As the first Israeli woman to receive a Nobel Prize, and only the fourth woman ever to receive the award in chemistry, she has been a champion for the role and contribution of women in the sciences.
  •     Harald zur Hausen, MD, (Doctor of Science) is a Nobel Prize-winning virologist, whose pioneering research established the human papilloma virus (HPV) as a key cause of cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers afflicting women, and paved the way for the creation of a preventive vaccine that has since transformed women’s health and continues to save innumerable lives. His research challenged the widely held belief that the herpes simplex virus caused cervical cancer and went on to identify HPV16 and 18 as the types that account for most incidences of the disease.
  •     Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, (Doctor of Science), an expert in community health, disease prevention and control, and bio-defense, and one of the youngest members ever elected into the prestigious Institute of Medicine, has devoted her career to pioneering innovative programs that protect and promote the public health. Appointed by President Obama in 2009 to serve as the 21st Commissioner of the FDA, she is only the second woman to serve in this capacity. Dr. Hamburg is an outspoken advocate for systemic changes in the nation's public health policies and infrastructure that meet the challenges of the modern era, including global health and the growing threat of deliberate and naturally occurring infectious diseases.

About The Mount Sinai Medical Center
The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses both The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Established in 1968, Mount Sinai School of Medicine is one of the leading medical schools in the United States. The Medical School is noted for innovation in education, biomedical research, clinical care delivery, and local and global community service. It has more than 3,400 faculty in 32 departments and 14 research institutes, and ranks among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and by U.S. News & World Report.
The Mount Sinai Hospital, founded in 1852, is a 1,171-bed tertiary- and quaternary-care teaching facility and one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. In 2011, U.S. News & World Report ranked The Mount Sinai Hospital 16th on its elite Honor Roll of the nation’s top hospitals based on reputation, safety, and other patient-care factors. Of the top 20 hospitals in the United States, Mount Sinai is one of 12 integrated academic medical centers whose medical school ranks among the top 20 in NIH funding and US News & World Report and whose hospital is on the US News & World Report Honor Roll. Nearly 60,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients last year, and approximately 560,000 outpatient visits took place.
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