ALUMNI SALUTE THEIR MENTORS
by Mary Ann Littell
COMPUTER-SAVVY ALUMNI LAUNCH MDPAD
These alumni from each of UMDNJ's schools had teachers who made a difference. Here are profiles of the graduates and their professors. COMPUTER-SAVVY ALUMNI LAUNCH MDPAD Three UMDNJ graduates, all physicians, took a road not traditionally traveled by those in the medical profession. They're entrepreneurs - officers of MDPad, a New Jersey-based medical informatics startup company specializing in handheld computers for physicians to use in writing prescriptions. They've been featured on Good Morning America, the CBS Evening News, and in Fortune magazine with their mini-computer, which resembles a Palm Pilot. In addition to writing prescriptions, MDPad will contain data on each patient's medical history, including important information about tolerance or allergies to medications. Other functions are in the works. "Someday MDPad may provide access to educational materials, reference books, even the PDR," says Vikas Merchia, MD. The concept was developed by Merchia's brother Pankaj (Harvard Medical School).
The physicians are long-time friends. Merchia and Srihari Gopal were born in India and Sumant Ramachandra in England, but all grew up in the U.S. "We share a strong interest in medicine, computers and technology," says Merchia. "That's what brought us together at MDPad." Their technical skills were honed during medical school. Each was fortunate enough to develop close mentoring relationships with computer-savvy professors. Vikas Merchia describes his mentor, Paul Mehne, PhD, as a computer visionary. "His concept of telemedicine is really a look at medicine in the near future," he says. "He pioneered the notion that every medical student would have a notebook computer to take everywhere, with links to other students, faculty, and centralized learning centers."
Gopal credits Robert Trelstad, MD, professor and chair of pathology, with utilizing computers in the classroom more effectively than any other professor he's ever had. "Dr. Trelstad provided my biggest motivation for entering the technical side of medicine," he says. "He taught a pathology class that was computer-centric, using a CD-ROM, and introduced computer-based learning to medical students even before the World Wide Web existed. He also converted a pathology textbook into a CD-ROM. Along the way, he created a software company that has been quite successful."
Ramachandra became technologically savvy while completing his PhD thesis. "Before that I was a total novice," he says. "My research, on a mouse model of human leukemia, was done using sophisticated computer analysis of DNA, RNA, and protein sequences. Our lab was able to model the 3-D structure of the gene products we were studying.
"He describes Raveche, his PhD advisor, as a true mentor. She taught him how to have a scientific approach to a problem and how to use the tools of technology available at UMDNJ. He notes that she went on to advise him on choosing a specialty in internal medicine and training at Massachusetts General Hospital/ Harvard Medical School. And she's also a gracious host: "She had great parties for her lab when any of us had an important occasion such as birthdays, thesis defenses and graduations."
The three physicians are totally committed to their current venture, but don't rule out practicing medicine in the future. "I see myself caring for patients in some way," says Gopal. "That's what I trained for. But doing what we're doing now is interesting and challenging."
HUMANITARIAN IN HAWAII
Chuck Callahan attended UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) on an Army scholarship and has devoted his adult life to military service. One aspect of his work with the Army focuses on "humanitarian emergencies," including providing healthcare to refugee populations and caring for victims of natural and man-made disasters. "As military pediatricians, we care for victims of wars, earthquakes, floods, and other hostile environments," he says. "The health problems of refugees include coping with infectious and communicable diseases, contaminated food and water, and other public health issues."
The seeds of Callahan's humanitarianism were planted early in his training, partly through the example of Dr. Martin Finkel, one of his SOM professors. "His work made me more aware of the needs of abused children," says Callahan. He and his wife took those needs to heart. They are the parents of seven children (including 5-year-old adopted twins who had been abused), and are active in foster parent advocacy groups in Honolulu.
"Parents are supposed to be advocates for children," says Callahan. "But when children are mistreated, they lose their advocates. The pediatrician can fill that gap." As chief of pediatrics, Callahan is very involved in teaching, a role he greatly enjoys. He refers to his students as "the academic grandchildren of SOM." In the classroom, he often quotes another SOM mentor, Dr. Marvin Herring.
"He was an excellent physician and a wonderful teacher, one who maintained very personal relationships with his students," says Callahan. "He always made me feel as though I was the only student he was close to, even though I am certain that I'm one of hundreds through the years."
A WOMAN SUCCEEDING IN A MAN'S WORLD
This past spring, Ida Onorato was given Distinguished Alumna Awards from both UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) and UMDNJ for research that has made significant contributions in the fields of HIV/AIDS and multidrug resistant tuberculosis. She credits her mentor, Donald Louria, MD, for encouraging her interest in infectious diseases and public health -an interest which led her to an outstanding career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Onorato, whose father was also a physician, studied at NJMS during the late 1960s. "It was a lonely place for a woman," she says. "There were only about four or five of us, and we felt like outsiders."
The experience helped her develop a feminist perspective. At the time, women physicians were not encouraged to pursue research or academic medicine, recalls Onorato. Pediatrics was considered a more suitable occupation. However, Louria encouraged her to think more broadly about her career possibilities. "He told me I could do anything, and that gave me tremendous confidence."
Onorato took Louria's elective in infectious diseases, and the two often discussed interesting cases. "Dr. Louria was not a professor who sat in a classroom and talked about patients. He took us right to the bedside," she says. "He had a huge amount of respect for all his patients, regardless of their background."
Louria also taught a course in community medicine, a rarity in the 1960s. "He always stressed the importance of protecting the community," she says. One of her fondest memories is of Louria's intercity infectious disease rounds. "He'd round us all up and drive us to a different hospital every week, either in Newark or New York. We were always late," she recalls. "We'd meet all the medical titans and listen to them discuss fascinating and obscure cases. Of course, they never agreed on anything! Then we'd continue our analysis on the way home."
Onorato has returned to NJMS several times over the years, once to speak on tuberculosis. "And who was in the audience? Dr. Louria -asking good, pointed questions, still teaching."
A GIANT STEP: FROM DENTAL ASSISTANT TO DENTIST AND PROFESSOR
In February 1981, Karen Kulikowski received a phone call that would change her life. It was from the program director of the Dental Assisting Program at UMDNJ-School of Health Related Professions (SHRP), Kulikowski's alma mater. Another instructor in the program was leaving the school. Was Karen interested in teaching the remainder of the course? She agreed - and a teacher was born.
Kulikowski was a dental assistant herself at the time, working for an oral surgeon. But once she began teaching, she was hooked. She taught full time at SHRP until June 1988, when she changed to adjunct faculty status and entered NJDS as a full-time student.
"To continue in education I needed to learn more about dentistry," she says, "so I went back to school." It was a big step, but she says she was helped along the way by many excellent instructors. Among the most influential was Dr. Lawrence Schneider, who taught microanatomy for the dental students.
"Everyone dreads this course, because it requires memorizing the cellular structure of dental tissues, but Dr. Schneider did everything he could to help us learn," she says. "He had thousands of slides. They were meticulously prepared and perfectly organized. Viewing them was like putting the material right inside your head."
Kulikowski graduated from NJDS in 1993, and luck was with her once again. A full-time faculty position had just become available in the Department of Allied Dental Education, and she was selected to fill it. She was back in the classroom once again, this time teaching more technical courses. "Dr. Schneider shared many teaching resources with me, including allowing me to copy his slide collection," she says. "This was done using the new V-Tel distance learning equipment on the Newark campus."
A few years ago, Dr. Schneider updated his microanatomy slide collection, consolidating all the images onto a compact disc. "He showed it to me, and it was really impressive," Kulikowski says. "The next thing I knew, he made a copy of the CD and study guide for me to use with my classes. Students can view the images during class using the V-Tel equipment on a computer in our computer lab or even borrow one of the copies of the CD to study at home. It's a wonderful teaching tool."
Kulikowski currently teaches six courses. Based in Scotch Plains, she is involved in SHRP's distance learning program, which enables students in Newark to interact with classes conducted at the Scotch Plains campus through television monitors. In 1999, she received the University's Excellence in Teaching Award and SHRP's Dean's Citation. In 1996 she also received SHRP's Distinguished Alumna Award. "I'm so fortunate to be able to do the things I love: practice dentistry, teach and work at SHRP," she says.
A CDC DIRECTOR FOCUSES ON ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH HAZARDS
Richard Jackson has had a long-standing interest in public health. As a child growing up in Newark and Jersey City, he observed early on how environment impacts health. "Friends of my grandmother got cancer from working in factories in Orange, painting radium dials," he says. "So I grew up with an awareness of environmentally caused cancers."
As director of the NCEH, Jackson is leading an effort to find ways to prevent disability, disease and death due to environmental factors. Among NCEH's successes are focusing national attention on the problem of childhood lead poisoning, providing folic acid supplements to pregnant women to prevent spina bifida, and promoting vitamin and iodine food fortification in other countries.
"My medical school class was small - only 16 students," says Jackson. "It was an extraordinarily intense, intimate atmosphere, where if you goofed off or skipped a class, every one of your professors knew it."
Jackson received a masters of medical science degree from what was then Rutgers Medical School, which offered a two-year pre-clinical program. The school later became UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS). He completed his training in medicine and pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco and in epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, where he remains today.
"I was thrilled to have DeWitt Stetten (now deceased), founder of the school, as one of my teachers,"he continues. "He was a brilliant professor and scientist, always accessible to students and very kind to us." A special memory was being invited to dinner at Stetten's home overlooking the Raritan Canal. "The conversations we had with him covered an amazingly wide range of subjects. He could talk about anything," he says. "He later went to the NIH. Knowing him probably influenced my decision to enter government service."
Two other professors were memorable. "Tom Stevens had the most direct contact with students, and helped us manage our problems outside the classroom," he says. He also remembers Archie (Ashton) Morrison, a Scottish pathologist, for outstanding teaching skills and a dry wit. "To this day, I recall the humor that was such a part of even his most serious lectures."
NURSE PRACTITIONER MAKES DREAM COME TRUE
Being the "first" of anything can be difficult but rewarding, as Patrick Ervilus knows. He's the first nurse practitioner in New Jersey to establish and run his own practice. At his clinic, Ervilus provides basic medical care to an underserved population in Camden. He does physical exams, EKGs, Pap smears and other tests, performs small surgical procedures, treats injuries, including sprains and strains, sutures cuts and treats a wide range of ailments. More complex cases are referred to a consulting physician.
It is a dream come true for him - a dream made possible, he says, by exceptional teachers at UMDNJ's School of Nursing (SN).
Two instructors in particular stand out: Kathleen McDonald and Denise Link. "Kathleen McDonald was one of my first instructors, and I was immediately impressed by her professionalism," he says. "As a former director of the New Jersey State Nursing Association, she has lobbied on behalf of nurse practitioners to make nursing more respected. Her efforts have really made a difference, for instance, in getting legislation passed allowing nurse practitioners to write certain prescriptions." (Nurse practitioners may now prescribe non-controlled substances in the maintenance of chronic and acute diseases: for example, blood pressure and diabetes medication and antibiotics.)
He took several classes taught by nursing instructor Denise Link, and describes her as equally professional. Being the only male student in one of Link's classes created certain difficulties for Ervilus: "When learning to do Pap smears, we had to pair off and select partners. Obviously, nobody chose me! Denise recognized the problem right away, and we arranged for my wife to come in and be my partner. With Denise's help I learned how to do this important test."
Ervilus is a native of Haiti and former geologist and teacher. His clinic just celebrated its second anniversary. Initially, most of his patients were Haitian; now, 70 percent are Hispanic. To communicate more easily with patients, he has since learned to speak Spanish.
He continues to stay in touch with McDonald and Link. "They were my role models for professionalism," he says.
RENAISSANCE MAN OF DENTISTRY
"I went to dental school to become a general dentist," says Michael Alfano, "but my education has given me so much more." Indeed, Alfano, a highly respected educator, practitioner, researcher, and industry professional, has worn many hats throughout his career. He practiced general dentistry, was a professor and assistant dean of research at Fairleigh Dickinson School of Dentistry, and worked in industry for 16 years, most recently as senior vice president for research and technology and a member of the board of directors at Block Drug Company. In 1998, he returned to academics in his current role as dean of the New York University College of Dentistry.
Alfano credits two NJDS professors - John Bullock, PhD, and William Cinotti, DDS - for shaping his career goals. "They taught me that training as a dentist can actually prepare you for a whole spectrum of different activities," he says.
Bullock, a professor of physiology, first piqued Alfano's interest in research. "He made physiology fascinating, and I wanted to know more," he recalls. Bullock put him in touch with researchers at the VA Hospital, and he spent a summer assisting with reflex studies, eventually publishing a paper in a clinical journal. He later studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a PhD in biochemistry, and also did a fellowship in periodontics at Harvard.
Cinotti was Alfano's role model as an educator and clinician. "He shared his passion for clinical dentistry with his students," says Alfano. "He had wonderful techniques and a great rapport with patients. No matter how difficult the patient or the procedure, he could handle it by the sheer force of his personality. It was mellow and calming, yet authoritative."
Alfano says that having such outstanding teachers inspired him to return to academics. At Block, he worked with the FDA on the safety and efficacy of food and dental products as well as pharmaceuticals. "Working in industry was challenging," he says, "but academics was still a great love of mine. So I came back."
As a dean at NYU, Alfano couldn't be happier. The dyed-in-the-wool New Jerseyan has become a New Yorker, complete with an on-campus apartment overlooking Washington Square Park. He is active in all phases of academic life, from curriculum planning to fund-raising. "I have come full circle, and university life is very rewarding," he says.
AN ADVOCATE FOR MIGRANT WORKERS
As an osteopathic physician in southern New Jersey, Anna Alberici occasionally receives baskets of tomatoes, peppers, or peaches in lieu of payment or as thanks for services rendered. That's because some 30 percent of her patients are migrant workers and their families - Mexican immigrants who travel to Gloucester and Cumberland counties each spring to work on New Jersey's farms. They stay for half the year, returning south to work on farms during the winter.
"Communication is a huge challenge, because most of the migrant patients don't speak English," says Alberici. "Our staff is bilingual, but many patients are from Mexican villages. They speak in dialects, making it difficult to communicate with them."
Treating migrant workers requires patience and compassion: characteristics not traditionally taught in school. Alberici learned them from one of her professors at SOM: Dr. Thomas Cavalieri.
"He was so kind to patients and students," she says. "He never cut you off, just folded his arms patiently and waited for you to finish. I valued that, and try to do it in my own practice." Alberici's migrant patients are all age groups, since extended families often travel together. "Dr. Cavalieri taught me so much about geriatric medicine," she recalls. "It's been invaluable to me, since many of my patients are elderly."
Alberici always wanted to treat a medically underserved population - both to help those in need and for the challenge it presented."The pathology of this population is extraordinary," she says. "I see parasites and diseases I've never seen before. My skills are constantly being tested."
Her training at SOM prepared her well - particularly studying under Dr. Eleanor Masterson, who was department head for osteopathic sciences. "Dr. Masterson is a real pioneer and a great role model," says Alberici. "As a woman in a man's world, she demanded respect - and she got it. "
Alberici says Masterson was instrumental in teaching her what osteopathic medicine was all about. "It was under great scrutiny at the time, and many students didn't take it seriously," Alberici recalls. "They were more interested in basic science subjects. But Dr. Masterson was a fabulous teacher. She took osteopathic manipulation very seriously, and insisted that her students did as well. And I don't think I've ever seen a stronger woman, both physically and mentally."
GSBS Scientist Makes His Mark in Texas
"My graduate work prepared me well for an independent scientific career," says Michael Norgard, PhD, chairman of the microbiology department of U.T. Southwestern Medical Center and a graduate of UMDNJ-Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS). A highly productive investigator in the molecular biology and immunology of spirochetes, particularly Treponema pallidum (the cause of syphilis) and Borrelia burgdorferi (the cause of Lyme disease), Norgard is also a consultant to government and industry and holds multiple patents.
As a student at GSBS, Norgard trained under Tomatsu Imaeda, MD, PhD, (now deceased), doing his PhD dissertation under Imaeda's tutelage. He says he learned important lessons from his mentor, both in and out of the laboratory.
"Dr. Imaeda had been in OTC (Officers Training Camp) in World War II," says Norgard. "His education and military background gave him a unique philosophy which encompassed effort and dedication. He always stressed the following: By working harder than your competitors, you will overcome them. In the world of science, that was a great lesson to learn."
Imaeda, who had trained as a pathologist, was not much on small talk, recalls Norgard: "He was serious and disciplined, but a totally dedicated teacher. He always said the measure of his success was to see his trainees do better than he did. I'm sorry he did not live to see me become Chair of Microbiology at U.T. Southwestern, one of the premier medical schools in the U.S. It would have pleased him to see one of his students become a department chair."
Another professor with great influence on Norgard's career was Bernard Briody, MD, (also deceased), a noted virologist and microbiology chair at NJMS. "Briody led by example, and was the epitome of integrity and honesty," recalls Norgard. "He was also somewhat quiet, but had real charisma. You wanted to gain his approval because you respected him so much."
Norgard says the leadership style established by Imaeda and Briody continues today under the direction of the current department chair, Harvey Ozer, PhD. "I met him 15 years ago when visiting Dr. Imaeda," says Norgard, "and he invited me back to give a seminar. Since then we've stayed in touch. He reminds me in many ways of Dr. Briody - honest, forthright, and very fair to everyone, faculty and staff. He's another strong leader who leads by example. A few years ago, he asked me to come back here. It was the ultimate compliment."
HOFFMANN-LAROCHE VP LEADS WAY IN DRUG DEVELOPMENT
As Richard Meibach's professor and PhD advisor at UMDNJ-Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS), Allan Siegel encouraged him to have the courage to take risks. "Science is very conservative," says Meibach. "Usually a scientist thinks about something, and thinks some more. Then he reads something...and then he thinks some more before actually doing the experiment. But Allan Siegel wasn't like that. He challenged his students to take risks even if it meant failure."
As a clinical researcher in the pharmaceutical industry, Meibach worked for Ayerst Laboratories and Janssen Pharmaceutica before joining Hoffmann-LaRoche in 1996. Prior to that, he was an assistant professor of pharmacology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. His primary research interest is in the anatomical and functional connections of the limbic and extrapyramidal systems in the brain.
Meibach's doctoral research involved aggression and the anatomic organization of the areas of the brain involved in aggressive behavior. "The old way of doing this research involved looking at pathways by cutting into the brain," he says. "I was exploring new techniques that did not damage the brain. I had to develop methodology on my own, and it was very challenging."
Siegel worked long hours and expected his students to do the same. "He's an excellent teacher and mentor," recalls Meibach. "He truly loves science. He's not into playing games or climbing the academic ladder. Rather than taking on a lot of students, he takes just a few - and trains them really well."
Meibach's research was successful. He made a major finding on the origin of the fornix system, and his study was eventually published. Along the way, however, he learned some painful lessons on the politics of publication. "We tried to publish in one journal whose editor, we knew, was doing similar research," he says. "They held it for a long time, but eventually turned it down, saying it was nothing new. We sent the article to another journal and it was published as a lead article. A month or two later, the first journal published their own study by the journal editor. It was very similar to ours, right down to the figures. If we had not submitted to the first journal our paper would have been published a year before the second study. Allan Siegel had warned me this would happen, and he was right. Politics are everywhere - even in science."
In working for the pharmaceutical industry, Meibach continued to take risks. He developed the blockbuster antipsychotic, Risperdal, for Janssen Pharmaceutica in a record-setting time of three and half years. He defied the advice of experts in the field and changed the way antipsychotic drugs were developed. Not only was Risperdal a success, but his methods have become the state of art for developing this class of drugs.
Siegel and Meibach continue to stay in touch. "He and his lab are still exactly the same," says Meibach. "I've never had a teacher who cared so much about his students."
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey