50 Years of "A Humanistic Approach to Medicine"

As The Warren Alpert Medical School marks a historic milestone, we examine the many ways that its students, alumni, and professors bring the School’s deeply held values to life—and what this shared commitment means for the future.

For 50 years, The Warren Alpert Medical School has done more than just talk about its deeply held principles: it has lived them out every day. The School was founded with a charge to create a curriculum that provided “a humanistic approach to medicine.” Since then, Brown has pursued this vision relentlessly, developing an interlocking set of values that support this larger aim—from prioritizing inclusiveness and maintaining integrity to pursuing innovation and engaging with the broader community.

“From its inception, the Medical School has aspired to support the health of individuals and communities with humanity—through research, clinical excellence, training generations of physicians, and service to society,” Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Mukesh K. Jain, MD, says. “We are proud of our history and will continue to nurture these core values through our daily actions for decades to come.”

This article is based on and excerpted from “How We Live Our Values” from the fall 2022 issue of Medicine@Brown magazine. Read the full article.

Sigal Family Professor of Humanistic Medicine Fred Schiffman, MD, P’96 MD’00
Sigal Family Professor of Humanistic Medicine Fred Schiffman, MD, P’96 MD’00

Humanism and compassion

Brown develops doctors who bring a sense of deeper humanity to their role and to their patients.

As a member of the Medical School’s admissions committee, Sigal Family Professor of Humanistic Medicine Fred Schiffman, MD, P’96 MD’00, has an unfiltered view of prospective students’ understanding of Brown. “The students who interview for the Medical School have already identified Brown as a place where medical humanism is at the forefront,” he says. “They ask me very sophisticated questions about how this is part of the curriculum.” This reputation was built with intention by founding dean Stan Aronson, MD, a neuropathologist. “He was an extraordinary listener and servant leader,” Schiffman recalls. “He was a preeminent medical humanist.”

Schiffman says that these values aren’t just shown through programming: they are part of the culture, and can be found across the Medical School’s entire community. Prospective students feel it before they even arrive, and faculty choose Brown because they see how they can contribute in ways that align with these ideas. “We are people with heart,” Schiffman says, “and we want people with heart.”

Patricia Poitevien ’94 MD’98
Patricia Poitevien ’94 MD’98

Inclusiveness, diversity, and equity; dedication to antiracism 

Starting with the Brown-Tougaloo partnership in the 1970s, the Medical School has shown its commitment to supporting inclusion and belonging efforts. Patricia Poitevien ’94 MD’98, MSc, senior associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, shares the evolution she’s seen–and what lies ahead.

"People come to Brown because they know that they can make a change in the world. It’s what attracted me many years ago, and it’s still a part of the culture and the fabric of who we are. This is what drives our work forward," says Poitevien.

"It’s an enormous privilege to be in a space where so much [positive] energy already exists. I don’t spend my time convincing people that equity is important—I spend my time figuring out systems and strategies to make DEI efforts stronger, more efficient, and better resourced. At Brown, we stand up for what’s right. We roll up our sleeves and do the hard work. All of that is really a part of the vision and what continues to fuel us."

Creativity, innovation, and discovery

Exceptional research fuels every successive generation of humanistic medical care.

This past summer, Brown President Christina H. Paxson announced that the University is making ambitious plans to increase investment in research across the institution in the coming decade. One major driver of that increase will be translational research at the Medical School.

Indeed, Dean Mukesh Jain sees Brown’s bold aim as perfectly aligned with the Medical School’s reputation for training deeply human and compassionate doctors. “The translational research that we pursue will help us find treatments and cures that can help us heal not just the individual patients we see as doctors, but also many more around the world,” he says. “These efforts will help us pursue our mission at the largest scale.”

While research has been part of the School’s work since the beginning—the Biomedical Research Laboratory was six years old when the Medical School was founded—it has significantly accelerated its research program over the past decade. Under the guidance of former Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Jack A. Elias, MD, external research funding more than doubled between 2013 and 2019. The Division of Biology and Medicine accounts for about a third of all research dollars at Brown.


Tino Delamerced ’18 MD’22 and Stephen Bozier ’17 MD’23
Tino Delamerced ’18 MD’22 and Stephen Bozier ’17 MD’23

Integrity, accountability, and collaboration

By being open to criticism and change, the institution strives to fulfill its commitments.

Years before the Medical School opened its doors, it was fueled by a promise and a shared vision. In the mid-1960s, Brown President Ray Lorenzo Heffner endorsed the ambitious medical program plans and promised to involve students in decision-making ...

More recently, some have shone a spotlight on the difficulties faced by students underrepresented in medicine. When Tino Delamerced ’18 MD’22 and Stephen Bozier ’17 MD’23 turned their frustration into a podcast episode about these challenges in Delamerced’s podcast, Firsts, Brown faculty and administrators embraced it with enthusiasm, and committed to investigating disparities in repeating coursework, known as remediation, among students of color. In June 2021, the Medical School began waiving tuition for students who were required to repeat a semester due to academic issues.

That action was part of a broader effort to address systemic racism in medical education: the School created a dashboard to track its progress on a range of different efforts, and updates it with details on newly created positions, policies, trainings, focus groups, and other efforts. The dashboard is fueled by Brown’s commitment to back its words with action.


Social responsibility, both locally and globally

Gisel Bello MD’22
Gisel Bello MD’22

At Brown, students and faculty feel an obligation to create a better world for all.

Gisel Bello MD’22 couldn’t quite put words to the distinctive energy she experienced when she arrived on campus for her first medical school interview in 2017, but she could feel it among the students and faculty: a mix of deep humanity and a profound desire to make the world a better place: “a certain oomph,” she recalled.

Five years later, on the cusp of her graduation, she knew exactly the words to describe that feeling. “The ‘oomph’ I felt is social responsibility,” she said as part of her remarks for the 50 Years of Medicine opening celebration in April. “As medical students at Brown, we are leaders devoted to improving the health and wellness of everyone. That means that sometimes we have to challenge the status quo. That means that when we find inequity in the systems we are part of, we challenge and hold to account the institutions responsible for those systems.”