Miller School Graduates Reconnect at 2019 Medical Alumni Weekend

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Family medicine practitioner, Harold Johnson, M.D. ’94, does not generally attend school reunions, but when it came time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his medical school graduation with his classmates, Dr. Johnson knew he did not want to miss it.

Hall of Fame honoree Stephen B. Liggett, M.D. ’82.

“We are all still friends,” said Dr. Johnson, who practices in Sarasota. “There are bonds that you create in medical school that will always be there.”

Dr. Johnson’s classmates from the Class of 1994 were among the more than 100 University of Miami medical alumni from around the country who came to Miami March 1-2 for a weekend of reunions, celebrations, and seminars — all part of the Miller School of Medicine’s Medical Alumni Weekend 2019.

One of the weekend’s main events was the Reunions Banquet at the InterContinental Miami Hotel, which went late into the night with food and dance. It was a celebration not just of the Class of 1994, but also the 50th anniversary of the Class of 1969.

“It is so nice seeing everyone together, especially after all of the turmoil we underwent together in medical school,” said Karen Craparo, M.D. ’69, a retired internal medical/cardiology specialist. “It’s also nice to see all of changes and progress at the medical school.”

Other alumni celebrating milestones included the Classes of 1959, 1964, 1974, 1979, 1984, 1989, 1999, 2004, and 2009.

“Tonight, is all about celebrating the Miller School, and you: our fantastic alumni,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., MHA, dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School. “I am not surprised to see that so many of you still feel a strong connection to your alma mater. This is an extraordinary place, and we are glad you remain involved. Your support is critical to us, not only as a school, but also particularly for our students, who need your guidance and mentorship.”
Medical Alumni Weekend kicked off with one of the school’s most enduring traditions — the 19th annual John G. Clarkson Freshman Pinning Ceremony.

Following a keynote address from Joel Salinas, M.D. ’11, MBA ’11, MSc, assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, the Class of 2022 was symbolically pinned by alumni and academic society leaders, officially welcoming them into the ranks of the UM family of physicians.

Medical Alumni Weekend also included tours of the medical campus and continuing medical education courses, featuring members of the UM faculty.

In addition, it was a chance to celebrate the school’s successes. The UM Medical Alumni Association held the Hall of Fame induction ceremony — an award given to alumni at least 10 years post-graduation who have achieved national or international recognition for an outstanding contribution in academic, research or societal aspects of medicine.

This year’s honoree was Stephen B. Liggett, M.D. ’82, professor of internal medicine and molecular pharmacology and physiology, vice dean for research at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, and associate vice president for research at USF Health.

Dr. Liggett was lauded for his tremendous impact on the medical field: 18 grants from the National Institutes of Health, 23 issued or pending patents, 250 publications, which have been cited more than 27,000 times, and his reputation as a renowned author and worldwide lecturer.

He was introduced by Alberto A. Mitrani M.D. ’84, the chair of the Alumni Awards Selection Committee, who spoke about Liggett’s study of adrenergic receptors and the clinical impact it has had worldwide.

Alumni from the Class of 1994 celebrate at the Reunions Banquet.

“Dr. Liggett was the first scientist to identify that adrenergic receptors have different molecular and genetic variations. This means that alpha and beta receptors in different people may behave differently,” said Dr. Mitrani, who is also an associate professor of clinical medicine. “Clinically, a heart or asthma medication may work more effectively for one person over another. Due to Dr. Liggett’s work, we now know why. He has described variations in these receptors to a degree that new drug development will now consider these differences. Promising new medicines will be tested on varieties of adrenergic receptors to assure that they are globally effective. The implications of his work will significantly advance drug development improving care for a myriad of conditions.”

Dr. Liggett received a BS in physics from the Georgia Institute of Technology and attended the Miller School from 1978-1982.

During his fourth year of medical school, he worked in the laboratory of one of his early mentors, Lincoln Potter, Ph.D. It was there that Dr. Liggett began focusing on receptor biology, which became his life-long research interest.

His research then took him to Duke University as a fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the laboratory of Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D., who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Dr. Liggett studies the molecular biology and pharmacology of G-protein coupled receptors, the largest superfamily of proteins in the body.

He reflected on the difference that a professor can make in a student’s life.

“As a faculty member at a school of medicine, you really have the chance to make a difference, either clinically, in the classroom, or some mixture of that,” Dr. Liggett said. “As faculty, we should never forget how important that is in the lives of our students.”

In 1990, Dr. Liggett became an assistant professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pharmacology at Duke, and subsequently became the Taylor Endowed Chair of Medicine and director of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

“The Hall of Fame Award means a lot to me, more than I realized it would, and I am very appreciative,” said Dr. Liggett, who was cheered on by his wife, Julie, and two of his children, Langdon and Mara (another, Elliot, could not attend). “I am really enjoying seeing all the people I know, and going through the facilities, which are quite different, but still have remnants of when I was here.”

To see photos from Medical Alumni Weekend, click here.

For more information on alumni events and news, visit http://www.alumni.med.miami.edu/.

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