Healthcare impacts us all. From healthcare costs, at $1 trillion today and forecast to reach $5.3 trillion in six years, to a dramatic decrease in face time with doctors, to major issues with long-term healthcare — the challenges go on and on. Facing these challenges is Dr. Edward C. Halperin, W’75, recipient of this year’s Joseph Wharton Award for Social Impact. As a veteran educator, he took the reins at New York Medical College to prepare the next generation of medical practitioners. Dr. Halperin shares his outlook, humor and how he came to his work today.
What do you do as Chancellor and CEO of New York Medical College (NYMC)?
I am the CEO of a college with schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing, graduate studies and health professions. These five schools each have a dean or a director, and they report to me. I report to the college’s Board of Trustees and the President of the Touro College and University System, of which we are a part. I am responsible for the college’s budget, salaries, accreditation, faculty hiring, promotions and dismissals in conjunction with the deans, campus property, and hospital affiliations.
I am also a practicing pediatric radiation oncologist. This means I take care of children with cancer who need radiation therapy. I also conduct and publish research in cancer medicine, medical history and ethics, and academic administration, as well as teach medical and dental students.
What is unique about NYMC that inspires you?
New York Medical College was founded in 1860 by William Cullen Bryant — for whom Bryant Park is named, the park behind the 42nd Street library in Manhattan. Bryant, the editor-in-chief of The New York Evening Post, the predecessor to today’s New York Post, supported the emancipation of slaves and the right to vote of the newly emancipated slaves.
The college began admitting women to medical school within three years of its founding. African-Americans were admitted by 1869, and the first black female physician in New York was a graduate. The college was the first white majority medical school to provide scholarships for African-Americans (1928). It was almost certainly one of the first U.S. medical schools to have a Jewish dean (1921 to 1925) and an African-American female dean (1967), and ignored the anti-Semitic medical school admission quotas that were the norm in the U.S. from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Does NYMC treat patients?
America has 30 health sciences universities, including NYMC. Our students learn at our partner teaching hospitals, and our faculty are practicing clinicians at our partner teaching hospitals. For example, if one were a patient at the NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan or Westchester Medical Center, then the physicians taking care of that patient are members of our faculty, and the medical students assisting are students of the School of Medicine at NYMC.
How can consumers (patients) help to reduce healthcare prices?
You used the word ‘prices’. Prices in healthcare are an invention. The doctor charges a price of X; your third-party payer pays a percentage of X; and no one knows what things really cost. I assume, therefore, that what you are asking is about healthcare costs, not prices.
Health education is necessary but far from sufficient. Costs modify people’s behaviors. If we raised the prices of tobacco, alcohol and sugared drinks, then people would consume less, and death and illness rates would fall. That’s not my opinion — that’s what the data shows. If you want to reduce healthcare costs, prevent preventable diseases.
How did Wharton serve as a foundation for you to arrive at your current position?
I admit that I was a poor student of foreign languages in middle school and high school. In my college search, I specifically looked for schools with either no language requirement or the assurance that I could take required language courses pass-fail. When I applied, Wharton had no undergraduate language requirement. Okay, I confessed. I feel better.
Professor William Whitney taught me freshman economics and was the first professor who ever treated me as if I, as an individual, mattered. My best memories of a pure ‘business course’, other than economics, were for Industry 4: Labor-Management Relations where I enjoyed the tales of a working labor arbitrator, wrote a term paper on the battles within the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union to prevent communists from taking control of the union, and listened attentively to Professor William Gomberg, who had been himself a union officer.
I decided to take all the prerequisites for medical school as a sophomore. This meant that about one-third of my courses were in mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics and just under 20% in economics.
What attracted you to the medical field?
As a college sophomore, I concluded that no one could assure me that, even if I worked very hard, I would have the legal career I imagined for myself — either to become a revered judge like my uncle or a heroic crusader for civil rights. Lawyers often spend their lives getting people out of trouble that they got themselves into.
Physicians, on the other hand, can spend their lives dealing with the primal forces of evil. I concluded that that was what I wanted to do. The care of children with cancer attracted me, because I felt it was the hardest and most consequential thing I could do.
What have you learned from your wife, parents or grandparents that have helped you in your life and work?
My grandparents and my older aunts and uncles were born in Russia and Poland. I was raised in a household that valued education and religious observance, tempered by a scholastic approach to religion.
I went to Wharton as a 17-year-old with aspirations to follow the pattern of my uncle, Nathan Jacobs. He had attended Wharton as an undergraduate in the 1920s and then went to Harvard Law School. He served as a delegate to the New Jersey Constitutional Convention and helped write the judicial article of that constitution. He spent most of his career as an Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court and wrote decisions that desegregated New Jersey’s schools and protected free speech rights.
I fell hopelessly in love with Sharon Rosenblatt when I was a medical student at Yale and she was an undergraduate at Quinnipiac College. I have never stopped. Sharon was foolish enough to marry me, rash enough to stay with me, and has loved me in a way I thought I never deserved to be loved. She has tried, with mixed success, to get me not to act like the severe introvert that I am.
Can you talk about Edward Halperin outside of being Chancellor/CEO?
I have striven to be a good son, husband, father and grandfather. Sharon and I have three married daughters and four grandchildren. I am a longtime stamp collector and a bicycle rider, and a poor player of the piano, drums and xylophone. I despise asparagus and raisins. I really like pie.
Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A., is Chancellor and CEO of New York Medical College and Provost for Biomedical Affairs of the Touro College and University System. Dr. Halperin is a pediatric radiation oncologist, medical historian and health sciences educator.
Dr. Halperin supervised the expansion of NYMC’s footprint with new academic buildings on the main campus, construction of a biotechnology incubator, disaster medicine training center, clinical skills center and a family practice center. Fundraising has increased, and the research program has expanded. The percentage of under-represented minority students in medicine rose to the highest percentage in the U.S. for a historically white majority M.D. program, and rose 25% in the graduate programs.
The College launched New York State’s first new dental school in half a century, M.S. in biostatistics, a professional M.S. for the biotechnology industry, M.S. in biomedical ethics, a B.S. in nursing, a certificate in pediatric dysphasia, and an M.S. in clinical laboratory sciences.
Prior to joining NYMC in 2012, Dr. Halperin served as Dean of the School of Medicine and Ford Foundation Professor of Medical Education, as well as Professor of radiation oncology, pediatrics and history at the University of Louisville. He was also on the faculty at Duke University for 23 years, serving as Professor and Chairman of the department of radiation oncology, Vice Dean of the School of Medicine and Associate Vice Chancellor.
He received a B.S. in economics, summa cum laude, from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; his M.D., cum laude, from Yale University; and an M.A. from Duke University. He completed his internship in internal medicine at Stanford University and his residency and chief residency at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
He is the co-author and editor of the first through sixth editions of Pediatric Radiation Oncology and the fourth through seventh editions of Principles and Practice of Radiation Oncology, and co-author of more than 220 articles.
Dr. Halperin teaches graduate-level history and oncology classes and practices medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan Hospital Medical Center in Harlem, New York, and Westchester Medical Center Health Network in Valhalla, New York. He and his wife Sharon are the parents of three daughters and grandparents of four grandchildren.