‘This Connection Is Forever’: Internal Medicine Residency Reunion Celebrates Lasting Bonds of Brigham Alumni
In early May, alumni of the Brigham’s Internal Medicine Residency Program, including some who began their intern year in the 1950s, finally came together to enjoy a much-anticipated and serially postponed reunion. Originally planned to coincide with the program director’s 20th year in 2020, the event was delayed several times due to the pandemic. On May 4, 2023, organizers welcomed 600 alumni, faculty and current trainees for a four-day celebration of their formative time in training and the Brigham’s legacy of collegiality and excellence in medical education.
“Generations of trainees came back to celebrate a shared experience that was likely the most important professional and personal development phase of their lives,” said former program director Joel T. Katz, MD, entering intern class of ’91.
Katz, who stepped down as program director in May 2022, was recognized during the reunion for his many contributions throughout his 22-year tenure. “I was personally less interested in the honoring-Joel events, although I graciously accepted them,” he joked. “To me, the headliner was the Brigham family.”
Indeed, the event felt to many attendees like a family reunion.
“I saw people who trained me, people I trained with and people whom I had trained — some I hadn’t seen in 20 years,” remarked Brigham cardiologist Kathryn Britton, MD, MPH, ’02. “We are all still deeply connected. Regardless of whether someone stays at the Brigham, this connection is forever.”
The Power of Connection
The weekend kicked off with a dinner for chief medical residents on May 4, followed the next day by a “Morning Report” led by master clinician educator and former program director Marshall A. Wolf, MD, ‘63. Class dinners were held on Friday night at various restaurants, private homes and the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport.
These intimate gatherings for residency classes 1950 through 2019 were a highlight for many attendees, including Britton.
“We have clinicians, teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs — all very accomplished people in our class, but no one talked much about their careers,” she shared. “We reminisced about how we supported each other through residency, and we talked about what’s going on now in our personal lives. What makes our training so special was always and still is the human connection — to our patients and to each other.”
Saturday’s agenda was packed with engaging content, including a keynote address by Brigham medicine residency alum and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, ’03, on America’s loneliness epidemic and the importance of rebuilding social connection and community.
“His talk was so personal, so bold, so insightful and so moving,” said Katz.
It was not lost on anyone that the weekend itself was a perfect example of the power of connection. At every event, attendees caught up, relived memories and forged new relationships.
“This event was a reflection that we share a common bond. Events like these are the antithesis of the fragmentation many experienced during the pandemic,” said Britton.
While those connections sparked many joyful moments, they also served as a salve for more poignant ones. During the reunion’s gala dinner on May 6, attendees viewed a video message from the late Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, ’91, filmed in 2020 for the original reunion date. In the recording, Farmer, who died suddenly in February 2022, shared reflections about his time as a trainee, including his friendship with Katz.
“I was moved to tears, frankly,” recalled Katz. “Paul and I were interns together, and he was a dear friend. I’m still heartbroken over his death.”
On Sunday morning May 7, the Residency and the Division of Global Health Equity held a breakfast with the global health equity graduates and faculty to honor Dr. Farmer, which wrapped up the weekend.
Shining Light on Thought Leadership
Following Murthy’s keynote was an educational symposium with four robust breakout sessions featuring thought leaders on artificial intelligence, health care economics, health equity and anti-racism, and advances in molecular therapeutics.
“It was amazing to see the impact our trainees have had on American medicine,” remarked Maria Yialamas, MD, ’98, who was appointed program director in January 2023. “Our trainees are what make this program special. They are so outstanding in the way they care for their patients and each other, and in their passion to make a difference on a larger scale. Marshall created that core ethos of the program, Joel carried it forward even more, and I hope to grow this legacy as much as possible.”
Next up was a “Distinguished Chairs in Medicine” Q&A between Luisa Paredes Acosta, MD, ’19, current chief resident, Bruce Levy, MD, ’88, current interim chair of the Department of Medicine, and the three past chairs: Eugene Braunwald, MD; Victor Dzau, MD, ’73; and Joseph Loscalzo, MD, PhD, ’78.
“Our chairs had advice for young learners, and they addressed important issues about the future of academic medicine and where the Brigham is headed,” said Katz. “It resonated with the audience in very strong ways.”
Passing the Torch
The gala also served as a symbolic passing of the torch from Katz to Yialamas.
“Part of the reason I stepped down is because I felt like young learners need more up-to-date educators,” Katz explained. “Maria is savvy and energetic, and she’s an educator for a new generation. I’ve learned so much from her and I know the residency will be in great hands with our brightest days ahead.”
A few days later, Yialamas was in her office, thinking about her predecessors as she reviewed a proposal from residents on the role physicians must play in combatting climate change.
“Our trainees are brilliant and have a wonderful spirit of caring,” she said. “Joel was such an amazing leader in not only his support and mentorship of the residents, but also in anticipating and creating creative curriculum to meet the evolving needs of our residents and of society. I plan to continue to stay ahead of the curve by listening to the trainees, because that’s what makes this place so special.”
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