Creating a community

First McFee Scholars begin their journey to become physicians

Fifty years ago, Arthur McFee, M.D., like all Harvard medical students at the time, was a resident of Vanderbilt Hall. For four years they ate together, studied together, worried together. They mentored each other and supported each other through the rigors of medical school.

“We had breakfast, lunch and dinner together all four years,” he said. “By virtue of that fact alone, there’s a certain amount of commonality forged.”

Today’s medical students often live separately, off campus, and that presents a different challenge, he added. The communication and mentoring opportunities that come naturally with roommates have to be created.

Arthur McFee, M.D., professor emeritus of surgery and one of the founding faculty members of the Health Science Center, and his wife, Iris, have created the Dr. Arthur S. McFee Society Endowment for Student Academic Enhancement. The money supports the Blue Society of Veritas, a student advising system for School of Medicine students.

Arthur McFee, M.D., professor emeritus of surgery and one of the founding faculty members of the Health Science Center, and his wife, Iris, have created the Dr. Arthur S. McFee Society Endowment for Student Academic Enhancement. The money supports the Blue Society of Veritas, a student advising system for School of Medicine students.

At the Health Science Center, those opportunities come in the form of the Veritas, a student advising system. Created in 2006, Veritas takes incoming students and clusters them into 20 groups within five color-coded societies: Green, Red, Blue, Yellow and Purple. Each group is led by a clinical faculty member and upper-level medical students who act as mentors and peer advisers. Students remain with their groups throughout their medical school careers.

Through group and one-on-one activities, the students learn about critical issues such as choosing the best career, study strategies and professionalism in medicine.

There also are retreats, outdoor competitions such as tug-of-war, and social hours to help build camaraderie.

“It’s the opportunity to be with one another and talk to one another and communicate and go back and forth,” Dr. McFee said. “I realized that was something that, when I was a student, we took for granted because of the way things were set up.”

With that realization, Dr. McFee, professor emeritus of surgery and one of the founding faculty members of the Health Science Center, and his wife, Iris, have designated $75,000 to create the Dr. Arthur S. McFee Society Endowment for Student Academic Enhancement. The money supports the Blue Society, and the students will now be known as McFee Scholars.

“We have been associated with the medical school since 1968,” Dr. McFee said. “It was my first and only academic appointment and with it came the privilege of starting a new school from scratch and watching it grow.

“We are grateful to the school for the opportunities it has given us to share in its development. We regard the support of this endowment as a payback for an investment that the school made in us 40 years ago.”

Christine Andre, M.D., Veritas director and associate professor of medicine, said the gift will be used to support general Veritas activities.

“I am so grateful to Dr. and Mrs. McFee for their generous endowment and genuine interest and involvement in the students who are the future of medicine,” she said.

One of those students, Karli Silverberg, a first-year medical student and one of the first McFee Scholars, joined about 220 other first-year students at a pep rally the morning after receiving their white coats—the rite of passage for students beginning the journey to become physicians. With tortilla tosses and other icebreaker exercises, Silverberg was introduced to her fellow classmates, and the group of peers who would soon become her friends and mentors.

She said entering medical school is daunting, but being a part of a group of students who are sharing the same experiences makes it easier. “It’s really important to have a group like this,” she said. “I think it contributes something special. I feel like I’m part of a community.”

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