P&S Students
Student Life and Times

Creating a Home Away from Home at P&S

By Adar Novak
When Cheryl Huang’93 saw her first-year classmates planning to spend Thanksgiving in 1989 in their Bard Hall dorm rooms, she was reminded of her freshman year at Stanford, when several students from the New York/New Jersey area ordered in Dominos pizza on Thanksgiving. Back in New York, where her family was a subway ride away, she invited her P&S classmates to Thanksgiving with her family and then set about to create a program to connect new P&S students with alumni in the city.
     “I still remembered how it was to leave my family and home in New York to go off to Stanford. I wasn’t always able to fly home for holidays, much less the weekend,” she says.
     At Stanford, Dr. Huang helped develop programs to support undergraduate women and drew on that experience to propose a mentoring/matching program to the P&S alumni office. She received an enthusiastic green light and created a questionnaire for first-year students and alumni interested in participating.
     “I personally matched each interested student with an alumnus from the New York area,” Dr. Huang says. “Participation was tremendous. Indeed there was a match to be found for everyone, and many alumni were faculty as well, so it was great for students to see the more personal side of these physician-mentors.”
     Almost two decades later, the “Home Away From Home” program continues to foster stronger ties between first-year students and alumni and ease the transition for students new to New York.
     Kathy Couchells, former director of alumni relations at P&S, helped Dr. Huang create the program. About half of the first-year P&S students are matched each year. Many student-alumni pairs have remained in touch beyond their introductory outings, Ms. Couchells says. Over the years, alumni have hosted students at the opera, sporting events, and the theater and have invited students to their homes.
     Dr. Huang credits two alumni-mentors she met early on in her medical school career — surgeons David T.W. Chiu’73 and John N. Schullinger’55 — with epitomizing “the highest level of surgical skill combined with old fashioned caring” and being role models in inspiring her own budding practice. Dr. Huang is now a plastic surgeon with a private practice in Marin County in California.
     George Lazarus’71, associate clinical professor of pediatrics, has “adopted” many P&S students over the years in his capacity as both faculty member and alumnus. He is also a member of the admissions committee. When he received an e-mail requesting alumni participation in the Home Away From Home program, Dr. Lazarus invited about 25 P&S students from all over the United States to his Manhattan townhouse for dinner.

“I didn’t know anyone coming into P&S, so it was nice to make a connection with someone who’s been here and knows about various opportunities and how the medical school and city work.”

     “It’s nice to have somebody welcome our students to P&S and to New York, to make them feel comfortable and at home when they arrive,” Dr. Lazarus says. “There also are many faculty who are P&S alumni, and their participation in this program can help show new students that they are happy to interact with them beyond the classroom and help students any way they can.”
     The program is especially helpful for students who are new to the city. “Coming from Wisconsin, I found my experience to be far from New York not only in distance, but also in style and culture,” says Suchita Shah’12. “I didn’t know anyone coming into P&S, so it was nice to make a connection with someone who’s been here and knows about various opportunities and how the medical school and city work.”
     In October, Ms. Shah spent a day with Katherine Kaye’84, medical director of Medicaid managed care in the New York City health department’s Division of Health Care Access and Improvement. She had the chance to see neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, such as Chinatown, and she shares with Dr. Kaye an interest in art and architecture. Ms. Shah also learned more about public health. For Dr. Kaye, the day was a reminder of how refreshing it can be to work with medical students.
     “Their energy and commitment is infectious,” says Dr. Kaye. “I was impressed that a first-year medical student already had such a well-defined understanding of public health; I found Suchita’s enthusiasm and willingness to learn inspiring.”
     Dr. Huang says she is pleased the Home Away From Home program helps facilitate the transition for students and that it also has given alumni a chance to both look back on their own training and careers and have an impact on the future of medicine through mentoring.
     “For alumni, the program has been a way for them to reconnect with their alma mater,” Dr. Huang adds. “They also get to pay it forward as they recall how important it was to have mentors when they were in training. Medical school is an intensely demanding time. Now that I’m older and also a mother, I look back on it and am amazed at how young we were to have gone through what we did. It is vital for medical students to have moral support and inspiration to withstand the rigors of training.”