Diversity Awards Honor Faculty, Resident, Student

Columbia has honored Gerald E. Thomson, MD, the Samuel Lambert and Robert Sonneborn Professor Emeritus of Medicine, with the inaugural Kenneth A. Forde Diversity Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Thomson received the award at the second annual Dr. Kenneth A. Forde Diversity Alliance Reception on Nov. 11. The reception was sponsored by the P&S Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and the P&S Alumni Association.

Another faculty member, a hospital resident, and a P&S student also received diversity awards at the event.

The Kenneth A. Forde Diversity Alliance was created in 2014 for minority medical students, resident physicians, fellows, graduate students, faculty, and research scientists at Columbia University Medical Center. It was created to recruit and retain a diverse community, provide networking events, foster and maintain a supportive environment, raise awareness about diversity, support pipeline programs, and provide career and leadership development through mentoring. The alliance is named for Dr. Forde, a 1959 P&S graduate and longtime faculty member. Currently the José M. Ferrer Professor Emeritus of Clinical Surgery and a Columbia University Trustee, Dr. Forde spoke at the Nov. 11 reception.

Dr. Thomson graduated from Howard University’s medical school then trained at SUNY Downstate Medical Center where, in 1965, he established and directed one of the nation’s first and largest dialysis units for the treatment of end-stage renal disease. He was recruited to Columbia in 1970 to begin a dialysis program at Harlem Hospital Center. He was director of medicine at Harlem Hospital Center from 1971 to 1985, a time when New York City’s public hospitals operated under severe resource restrictions. Dr. Thomson co-founded and was president of the Society of Urban Physicians, a group of several hundred senior faculty and attending physicians at New York City’s public hospitals that pressured for improved funding, staffing, and conditions in the hospitals.

Dr. Thomson later served as executive vice president for professional affairs and chief of staff at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and president of the hospital’s Ambulatory Care Network of community primary care centers in upper Manhattan.

As senior associate dean at P&S and head of the Office of Minority Affairs (now the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs), Dr. Thomson launched programs to recruit, support, and advise underrepresented minority students at P&S. He also visited and counseled hundreds of minority premedical students at New York City colleges. He received an honorary MD degree from P&S in 1996.

Dr. Thomson was the first African American to chair the American Board of Internal Medicine and to be president of the American College of Physicians. He also is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and was chair of the 2004 NAM Committee that reviewed and reported on the National Institutes of Health Strategic Research Plan to Reduce and Ultimately Eliminate Health Care Disparities.

Brenda Aiken, MD, president of the P&S Alumni Association, described Dr. Thomson in her introduction: “He was affectionately called ‘the jet’ because of his initials—GET—and because of his smooth way of demanding excellence and asking probing detailed knowledge-based questions at morning report or chief of service rounds.”

In addition to the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Dr. Thomson, the following awards were presented:

  • Faculty Diversity Award—Linda Aponte-Patel, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at CUMC
  • Resident Diversity Award—Iheanacho Obinnaya Emeruwa'14, resident in the Department of Medicine
  • Medical Student Diversity Award—Ashley White-Stern’18

The reception included a poster session that featured the scholarly projects research conducted by students who are members of BALSO—the Black and Latino Student Organization at P&S.