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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University June 12, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 37
Med School's Advisory Colleges Lose Their Letters

Innovative mentoring groups honor Nathans, Taussig, Thomas, Sabin

By Jeff Ventura
Johns Hopkins Medicine

What's in a name? When it comes to the School of Medicine's advisory colleges, the answer is "a great deal."

For the past two years, newly accepted medical students have been assigned to specific mentoring groups. These advisory colleges were simply known as A, B, C and D.

Now the schools will be named after four historic figures whose contributions to teaching at Johns Hopkins continue to have resonance within the institution's culture. Colleges A, B, C and D will now be called, respectively, Sabin, Thomas, Nathans and Taussig.

Florence Sabin was a dedicated pathologist and anatomist who made significant contributions to the field of histology and, in 1917, became the school's first female full professor. Vivien Thomas was an African-American surgery assistant, and one of the heroes of the "blue baby operation," who went on to teach generations of prominent surgeons at the school. Dan Nathans was co-recipient, with Hamilton O. Smith, of the 1978 Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering the chemical knives that cut DNA and was known as a superb mentor and brilliant voice for academic integrity. Pediatric cardiologist Helen Taussig was honored for her pioneering work in congenital heart disease and for her clinical teaching and devotion to her young patients.

The advisory colleges were developed to give students a structured, organized way to receive mentorship throughout their entire medical school careers. Functioning in some sense like academic clubs, the schools afford students not only a productive sense of peer membership as it relates to the learning process but also foster dedicated relationships with specific faculty, who are assigned to each division.

As the new advisory colleges became more relevant to the school's culture and operations, and as students began to strongly identify with them, the simple lettered naming scheme somehow seemed like a missed opportunity. It was soon decided these "schools," which had quickly achieved institutional permanence, should be given names befitting such longevity.

"We realized the historical opportunity of naming these schools," said David Nichols, vice dean for education. "As internal institutions, they have become quite meaningful to our students and faculty, and so we felt they were deserving of names that underscored how important they have become to the culture of learning here."

Naming the schools was not an easy task. First, it had to be decided what the dedications should recognize: famous doctors, Baltimore landmarks, ancient cities? After much deliberation among a committee made up of 16 students, five faculty members and various others from throughout the university, the conclusion was reached: The schools would posthumously honor four Johns Hopkins faculty members for the outstanding mentorship they offered their students.

The official naming of the schools took place on May 30 during the 12th annual White Coat Ceremony, a rite-of-passage event at which first-year medical students are presented with their white coats, signifying their graduation into clinical rotations and their progression toward becoming physicians.

"The advisory schools model really represents a new and exciting way to educate our students going into the future," said Edward D. Miller, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine and dean of the medical faculty, "[and] remembering our rich history of mentorship, and the people who pioneered such unprecedented tutelage, makes our decision to name these organizations even more historically significant."


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