Penny M. Stern, MD '89, MPH a member of the Alumni Association Board of Governors interviewed Noreen Kerrigan, Associate Dean of Admissions recently. Here is the full interview.
How did you come to be involved in Admissions for Einstein?
"I've been here since 1977 when I started at Jacobi with Dr. Shelley Jacobson. I was one of the people who headed up his Institute for Emergency Medicine at Jacobi where we trained the paramedics for New York City. And the medical students were rotating through the emergency room and I got to know them and very quickly, I came 'across the street'. As Admissions Officer – I think that was my first title – I think my first responsibilities were just cleaning up the mail when I walked into the office because everything in those days was paper. The first chairs of the admissions committee were Dr. Melvin Zalefsky and the beloved Dr. Albert Kuperman. These were the two people responsible for me being here and, I think, Shelley Jacobson.'
Any memorable admission stories?
"Jonathan [Salk] did not graduate from Einstein, as he had moved to California in his last year. but he loved Einstein so much that he returned to march with his class at graduation."
Noreen spoke about admitting students like Scott Powell, M.D. '87 (formerly a lead singer of the 1970s doo-wop group, Sha Na Na who entered Einstein after completing a post-bac and went on to become a successful orthopedic surgeon) and Jonathan Salk, M.D. (son of Jonas Salk, M.D., the polio vaccine pioneer): 'Jonathan actually did not graduate from Einstein as he had moved to California in his last year to be with his wife, who was there. But he loved Einstein so much that he returned to march with his class at graduation.' She noted that 'our Dean, Gordon Tomaselli, has said that 'we walked through this door together' because he began medical school at roughly the same time I began in Admissions.'
What is it like to see alumni children coming to Einstein and how are alumni involved?
'We have started seeing three generations of Einstein graduates in the same families. We understand the importance of legacy and I am always willing to talk with students who are the children or grandchildren of alums.” Noreen also mentioned the importance of having alumni involved in speaking with applicants to the school, 'especially in these Zoom times when applicants can’t visit the school.”
“The presence of the Admissions Office in students’ lives does not end with their acceptance to Einstein. We’re not grading them or rating them anymore and they come back to us for connection and support. We have a coffee pot, snacks right out there, we also have our love. Usually – when we’re in residence – we have a puzzle that’s out on the desk and we have students who come back to hang out and to chat. And, we want them to talk to the applicants that may be sitting outside.
"The presence of the Admissions Office in students lives does not end with their acceptance to Einstein."
What can you tell us about the Admissions Committee and the Admissions Office Staff?
“The Admissions Committee is comprised of such wonderful people. Compassionate, kind, all the qualities we want in our physicians. And my own team, the women who work with me – are three of the most wonderful people. With rare exceptions, everyone has retired from the Admissions Office – they haven’t left to go somewhere else! Somehow, that homey feeling still exists and it permeates the atmosphere at Einstein.“
Given the longevity of your service in admissions, are there any characteristics of Einstein students and alumni which make them stand out/special?
"I've heard from our own students and faculty, 'This is an Einstein student' but it’s hard to define it. We know it when we see it but how we classify that, I don't know. Maybe that person who talks about the marginalized population of the Bronx, the person who wears their heart on their sleeve. They really want to change the world. I heard from a residency director at a peer institution, an old friend of mine –He called me one day and said, "I just interviewed one of your students for residency and there's nothing like an Einstein student. I'll take them over any other students any day.’ The training is not to be beat in terms of what the students are getting clinically.”
"I just interviewed one of your students for residency and there’s nothing like an Einstein student. I'll take them over any other students any day."
Tell us about the new class of 2025.
“How do we get through nearly 10,000 applications? We’re not looking just for ‘brains on stilts’. We were one of the first schools to go with compentency-based admissions back in 2014. We talked about the importance of demonstrating a history of clinical experience and maturity and communication skills and cultural competency.”
What do you do in your spare time?
“I don’t have that much spare time. I would say I get up at 5’oclock and start working. If I can get out the door at 5am or 6am to go running, that’s terrific. I consider that a great thing. I’m building a house with my partner, Tom, in Saratoga. I designed it and he is actually building it so that’s my hobby when I do have a spare moment. I saw this house in my head and got a friend who’s an architect to put it on paper. We’ve been building it for five years and hope to have it done by early next year.”
As our conversation came to an end, Noreen shared a few more thoughts on her experience at the medical school: “I have learned so much at Einstein. The spirit, the way of Einstein, the people I have had the pleasure and the honor of working with, everyone’s a teacher to me. I am so blessed to have this job. I look at the applications from students who are so smart and so accomplished in every way, shape and form. They are an amazing group of human beings and I thank the Lord that we have so many people who want to do this for a living.”