Alumnus Neal Baer 2018 Class Day Speaker

Physician, award-winning TV writer, producer to deliver grad address

Alumnus Neal Baer 2018 Class Day Speaker
Neal Baer. Image: Gretchen Ertl for HMS

Neal Baer, a Harvard Medical School alumnus and an award-winning television writer and producer, will be the HMS and Harvard School of Dental Medicine Class Day speaker this year.

As a physician and writer, Baer, MD ’96, has drawn on his experiences in medicine to tell stories that have touched the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.

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Baer said that “it’s an honor to be invited to speak to the graduating Harvard Medical School students. I’m proud to be part of the HMS community, where I learned not only about the art of compassion and the science of healing but also about the power of our patients’ stories and how we can draw on them to improve people’s lives.”

Through his work on such TV shows as China Beach, ER, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Under the Dome, Baer’s storylines have educated audiences about a variety of health care topics ranging from health disparities, particularly those faced by the LGBTQ community, to the link between HPV and cervical cancer.

I’m proud to be part of the HMS community, where I learned not only about the art of compassion and the science of healing but also about the power of our patients’ stories and how we can draw on them to improve people’s lives.” —Neal Baer

“Baer has been an influential advocate for population-level health through his work in TV and other media,” said Edward Hundert, dean for medical education at HMS. “We are so pleased that this incredibly engaged, loyal and inspirational alumnus will speak at Class Day.”

Growing up, Baer often accompanied his father, a surgeon, on his rounds. Baer became fascinated by medicine but did not attend medical school immediately after college. It was only after completing a master’s in education (’79) and in sociology (’82) at Harvard, and taking premed classes at the University of Southern California, that he applied to HMS.

Baer deferred his admission twice, but once at HMS he juggled taking medical school classes in Boston with working on television shows in Los Angeles, writing the first seasons of ER while a student at HMS. He completed an internship in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles.

In his careers as a pediatrician and adjunct professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and as a part-time lecturer on global health and social medicine at HMS, Baer has worked to connect media producers with doctors and scientists.

Baer founded ActionLab to use media—television, film and art—to improve human health and well-being and to spur action for social justice.

“His work on getting sugary sodas out of schools to combat obesity is amazing,” said Hundert.

Stating that his time at HMS helped him embrace his own identity as a gay man, in 2017 Baer established an endowed scholarship at HMS to support MD students interested in LGBTQ health.

“I wanted to help spark that commitment that HMS has to treating everyone and finding new ways to do it—and better ways,” said Baer in a podcast.

HMS/HSDM Class Day exercises will be held on May 24 on the HMS Quad from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and will also be livestreamed. Learn more about HMS graduates and events and sign up for the livestream here.