Thoughts from the Dean

Thoughts on Innovation

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January 29, 2014
Thoughts on Innovation

Medical legacies have been passed down through generations at HMS

Roots run deep at Harvard Medical School, both those of the School as a centuries-old institution and those linking alumni and students. The story of HMS is chronicled in its families—the Shattucks, the Richardsons, and the Warrens, to name a few—who have made lasting contributions to the School and to its mission to advance medical education and biomedical research. These contributions continue, if not directly through the founding families, then through the new families and future legacies that are seeded within each incoming class.

The latest issue of Harvard Medicine magazine looks at family and the facets of legacy, exploring what can be handed down from one generation to the next. Researchers who scour the genomes of families in search of clues to inherited conditions talk about their discoveries, as do other scientists who explore the influence that speech, as articulated by parents and others, has on an infant's ability to acquire language.

Our own family stories also illuminate the rich contributions that are passed down through generations. HMS alumni who are themselves children of HMS alumni tell us what is was like to grow up with a doctor at the breakfast table. An alumnus recalls moments in his early life when the efforts of his physician–parents straddled the terrors of bigotry and conflict to ensure their family's safety and the well-being of history's most notable psychoanalyst. An alumna also describes how classic children's literature presents illness and death to its readers, young and old.

Lifelong bondswith spouses, siblings, children, and friends—are shaped, tended and nourished by advice. Take, for example, the professional counsel delivered by John Collins Warren to his son, J. Mason Warren (Class of 1832), as the younger sailed to Paris to study medicine.

"Observe operations," wrote the elder Warren, "Get as near as possible. Anticipate the steps." And then there was his cautionary advice on social bearing: "Be on your guard against wine. No champagne. Take claret."

As a parent, and a physician, I can only wonder which, if either, J. Mason followed.


Medical legacies have been passed down through generations at HMS