Dr. Stephen Baum Receives Alumni Honor

Dr. Stephen G. Baum: An Einstein Alumnus at Last!

After graduating from Cornell University in 1958, Stephen Baum was accepted to study medicine at Einstein. The medical school was only in its third year of operation at the time, so Dr. Baum worried  “it wouldn’t be in existence when I was ready to graduate.” So, he opted to attend New York University School of Medicine instead.

Stephen G. Baum, M.D.
Stephen G. Baum, M.D.
Nearly 60 years later, Dr. Baum chuckles about his younger self’s youthful concerns. He has spent almost his entire career working in various capacities at the College of Medicine.

From his start as an associate in cell biology during the late 1960s, to his trailblazing work in infectious diseases research, and his current role as senior associate dean for students, he has served in many significant roles and touched the lives of more people than most others in the Einstein community.

“I’ve always found it interesting that Einstein was my first job after my having been afraid to come here in the first place,” he said. “And with just a few years’ exception, I’ve been at Einstein ever since.”

So, it’s fitting that at commencement this year, Dr. Baum will be awarded the Alumni Association’s honorary alumnus award, from the institution where he’s helped so many others pursue their medical degrees.

“He’s played such an integral role in the lives of so many doctors and future doctors,” said Dr. Allison Ludwig, who first met Dr. Baum as a student and is now his colleague in the office of student affairs.

Serving in Formative Roles

Renowned among students, staff and colleagues for his signature bow ties (which he began wearing after his necktie?common attire among medical students of his era?dipped into a cadaver on his first day of anatomy class), Dr. Baum is both authoritative and gentle.

Dr. Baum with his student affairs office colleagues (from left), Dr. Joshua Nosanchuk, Christina Chin and Dr. Allison Ludwig
Dr. Baum with his student affairs office colleagues (from left), Dr. Joshua Nosanchuk, Christina Chin and Dr. Allison Ludwig
To colleagues — some of whom first met him when they were medical students — he is many things:  a sage, a mentor and a leader; fatherly or, for some, grandfatherly; as well as warm, selfless, wise and charming. The listing of titles Dr. Baum has held at Einstein—as well as awards and honors he’s received— is equally lengthy, taking up pages in his curriculum vitae.

He joined the Einstein faculty in 1968 and has played an important role in shaping today’s College of Medicine. That includes being one of three co-directors who helped build the first infectious diseases division at Einstein and Montefiore—a foreshadowing of the current relationship between the two institutions.

“He an incredible source of historic and cutting-edge knowledge of infectious diseases,” said Dr. Joshua Nosanchuk, who currently works with Dr. Baum in student affairs but also is a fellow infectious diseases expert.

In 1973, though just an associate professor, Dr. Baum was appointed director of Einstein’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), a role he held until 1987, responsible for guiding future physician-scientists as they earned both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees.

“I remember the day that he hooded me,” recalled Dr. Myles Akabas, current director of Einstein’s MSTP. “Then and now, he’s been a tremendous mentor, helping me think through issues and offering honest, supportive advice that takes in the big picture.”

‘Home is Home’

Dr. Baum, as director of Einstein’s MSTP, hoods Dr. Myles Akabas at his graduation from Einstein in 1983
Dr. Baum, as director of Einstein’s MSTP, hoods Dr. Myles Akabas at his graduation from Einstein in 1983
In 1987, after 19 years at Einstein, Dr. Baum left to become chair of medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center. It was a brief hiatus, however. At the time, Beth Israel was not affiliated with Einstein. But Dr. Baum helped change that.

“I was sent to meet with then Einstein dean Dominick Purpura,” Dr. Baum recalled. “We were both attending a Montefiore event and were on the dance floor at the same time. I said ‘Dom, how would you like to dance with Beth Israel?’ He said ‘Yes,’ and two weeks later we set up the affiliation.”

Dr. Baum remained at Beth Israel until 2007, when Dr. Edward Burns, Einstein’s executive dean, asked him if he’d like to be the senior associate dean for students.

“It was just a simple phone call,” said Dr. Burns. “I asked, ‘Steve, do you want to come back home?’ Without any hesitation, he replied, ‘Home is home. Yes.”

Rashomon to Dumbledore

Over the past nine years, Dr. Baum has helped students traverse the difficulties of medical school—all while continuing to keep current with the infectious diseases field as an editorial board member and reviewer for several prominent journals.

“The most important job I had to prepare me for this one was camp counselor,” he noted. “That’s how I try to approach it. It’s important to keep the kids happy on a rainy day, and to make sure they have the resources and assistance they may need. They are our priority.”

While his approach to solving problems can sometimes be unorthodox, that’s why students gravitate toward him. He’s known for using a favorite movie, Rashomon, to help them see different perspectives in a difficult situation.

He also likes to break the ice with costumes. He’s dressed as Batman at the student Fun Day, and as Professor Dumbledore from Harry Potter during the transition ceremony that marks the beginning of third year, moving from classrooms to hospital wards. And every year at orientation, he dons a Goofy hat to provide students with an example of how not to dress in medical school.

“He has experienced so many aspects of the medical world and, with that as a lens, he can parse out what’s really important in any given situation,” said Dr. Nosanchuk.

More than anything, Dr. Baum sees the good in life. “I’m probably one of the most content people you will meet,” he acknowledged with a smile. “And I like working because I really enjoy what I do.”

Posted on: Wednesday, May 25, 2016