Alumni Donation, Sharp Investment

Einstein Alum Makes Sharp Investment in Einstein Students: Donates Surgical Instruments to the Anatomy Course

For the past three years, Dr. Mark Erlich, class of 1975, has taught the laboratory portion of the clinical and developmental anatomy course, where Einstein’s first-year medical students are introduced to the human body in all its intricacies. Retired from a 35-year career as a plastic surgeon, he thoroughly enjoys teaching students the skills that will serve them throughout their careers.

Dr. Erlich with course director Dr. Sherry Downie
Dr. Erlich with course director Dr. Sherry Downie
When demonstrating dissection techniques during lab sessions, Dr. Erlich used his own instruments – those of a surgeon – which allowed him to be exact and nimble. But in observing students dissecting their cadavers, Dr. Erlich noticed that their standard anatomy instruments had limitations. If they had tools like his, he realized they could improve the precision of their incisions, the ease and care with which they explore anatomical structures, and their overall experience in the dissection lab.

He noted, “No matter how much inherent talent you have, tools matter. Tools make a job go easier.”

A Gift That Gives to Both Recipients and Donor

With that in mind, Dr. Erlich purchased 40 sets of surgical instruments for the Clinical and Developmental Anatomy course. The students started using the sets during the anatomy course in December. Each student also received a tip sheet noting the proper names for all 20 instruments in the new set.

The donation helps complete a circle for him. “More than three decades ago, Einstein faculty taught me the skills that were critical to my first career as a surgeon,” he said. “The medical school has also inspired my second career as a teacher. The reason I loved anatomy so much goes back to the course I took at Einstein, particularly what I learned from Ralph Ger, who also was a surgeon. After I sold my plastic surgery practice, teaching anatomy was the one thing I wanted to do.”

Tools of the Trade

A sample set of tools from Dr. Erlich’s donation
A sample set of tools from Dr. Erlich’s donation
Though his students are just in their first year with plenty of schooling ahead of them, Dr. Erlich  knows that a number of them will end up as surgeons. “What better time for them to learn to use the instruments they are going to use the rest of their lives?” he said.

“The students weren’t expecting Dr. Erlich’s gift,” said Dr. Sherry Downie, professor of clinical anatomy, who is the course leader. “There was a lot of excitement, and having the longer, specially designed scissors makes everything they do easier.”

She continued, “Surgeons bring an interesting and valuable perspective to the lab because of their clinical experience. Most anatomy labs use the basic tools we did, but Mark’s perspective – and generosity – allowed us to improve our students’ experience. The fact that Dr. Erlich is an alum makes it all the more special.”

A Homecoming

Dr. Erlich’s connection to Einstein began when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at the City College of New York. He worked as a research assistant in an Einstein lab. He liked it so much he chose to study medicine in the Bronx.

Following his graduation from Einstein, Dr. Erlich made regular donations to the College of Medicine, but during his 35-year career as a plastic surgeon he never returned to the campus.

Then a few years ago, he attended an Einstein Alumni Association event.

Dr. Erlich with students of the anatomy course
Dr. Erlich with students of the anatomy course
“Seeing Einstein after all that time reminded me of my affection for the school and what a great time I had here,” he said.

Once he began teaching, he saw firsthand that better dissecting instruments would enrich the students’ learning experiences. Donating the tools allowed him to have a direct impact in an area he was particularly connected to.

“Donations like Dr. Erlich’s offer a meaningful connection for both the students and the Einstein alum,” observed Leah Burke, director of Einstein’s annual giving and alumni relations.

“Witnessing with my own eyes how the students benefit from my gift is so rewarding,” said Dr. Erlich. “You can see the difference it makes for them as they attempt various dissection techniques and gain confidence using the tools.”

Posted on: Wednesday, March 22, 2017