Why I Give: Stephen Plume ’69M (MD), ’75M (Res)

Why I Give: Stephen Plume ’69M (MD), ’75M (Res)

This retired cardiothoracic surgeon and academic medical leader established an endowed scholarship to benefit future generations of medical students

Profile picture of Stephen Plume as he sits down on a outdoor wooden platform wearing a green shirt with beige shorts as he poses with his right arm leaning against a green canoe

Stephen Plume ’69M (MD), ’75M (Res)

Stephen Plume ’69M (MD), ’75M (Res)—Emeritus Professor of Surgery, Community and Family Medicine, and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College—has spent his career working in academic medical centers as a cardiothoracic surgeon, a faculty member, and as an administrative leader. Plume recently established an endowed scholarship* at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD). The impetus for his gift? To give back to a school that played a formative role in his life and his approach to medicine.

“I’m very appreciative of what I learned at Rochester,” says Plume, who has spent most of his life in Vermont, just across the New Hampshire state line from Hanover, N.H. “The school and faculty members such as Dr. George Engel, who founded the biopsychosocial approach with Dr. John Romano, provided me with practical knowledge and insight that informed my entire career.”

Plume had a particular affinity for Engel, who was his professor and mentor. “This scholarship pays homage to what he meant to me,” he adds. “It’s a way for me to honor his influence and, at the same, to support future generations of medical students.”

To make an immediate impact, Plume also established a current use fund to have resources available to name a scholarship recipient for the current 2021-2 academic year. Olanrewaju Akande, a first-year medical student, is the first Plume scholar. Recently, the two had the opportunity to meet over Zoom. “Olanrewaju is a motivated young man with a great future ahead of him,” he says. “He is deserving of a scholarship and I am glad to support him.”

“Without Dr. Plume’s support, I truly do not envision myself sitting alongside my peers at the University of Rochester today,” says Akande. “Because of his generosity, I am here, at the School of Medicine and Dentistry—my top choice for medical school—and I do not have the financial constraints that often limit others with comparable backgrounds. I will be forever grateful to him.”

Here, Plume elaborates on his time at the medical school and his reasons for giving back.

What was the catalyst for establishing this scholarship?

Although I’ve always supported the Medical School through its annual fund, I came away from my 50th reunion a few years ago with a wish to do something more for the institution. I reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in decades and I walked through spaces that held significant meaning for me. All of this rekindled feelings of loyalty and affection and prompted me to reflect on what I learned during medical school and how important that time was in my life and career.

What do you wish for Olanrewaju and future Plume scholars?

My wish for all medical students is to find honorable and satisfying careers in medicine. In addition to the benefits of the rigorous academic program at SMD, I’m hopeful Olanrewaju and future beneficiaries of this scholarship become exposed to and take advantage of the hallmarks of a Rochester education. We’ve all benefitted from our grounding in a humanistic interest in medicine, regardless of our areas of specialty.  I’m proud to be associated with Rochester.

How do you think the biopsychosocial model transformed clinical care?

At first, some people thought it was too “soft” and wanted to “get back to the real stuff,”  not yet recognizing that described diseases are not the same as experienced illnesses. It became a big part of our medical education. For me, it comes down to this: illness is an individual experience that manifests differently in each one of us. It’s personal. We can learn about named diseases in textbooks, but we do not understand an illness until we connect with the person, in the context of that person’s life, goals, and distinct environment. This approach has carried over to other aspects of my life, influencing how I interact with colleagues, institutional leaders, family, and friends.

How did Dr. Engel mentor you?

When I was a student, we were required to ask someone to serve as our clinical advisor during our third and fourth years. I asked Dr. Engel to be mine. At first, he seemed a bit taken aback—I’m not sure he had been asked before. But, he agreed and took me on along with another classmate, Ivy Bock Boyle ’69M (MD), who spent her career in child and adolescent psychiatry. We became a triumvirate of sorts. We would practice a particular pattern that put the biopsychosocial model into the clinical environment.

It went like this: one week, Dr. Engel would interview a patient and Ivy and I would just listen. The next week, we would go through a tape of that interview and deconstruct it. He’d ask us things like “What just happened? What did we hear? What didn’t we hear? Why do we think he asked a certain question?” The third week, Ivy or I would interview patients and we’d begin the cycle again. That intense analysis, coaching, and modeling of patient and clinical interaction stuck with me forever. Those detailed, careful listening experiences influenced, I hope, all my clinical interactions.

Why choose SMD for medical school?

I had a good, honest conversation with the admissions officer during my medical school interview. I had ridden the bus all night from Cambridge, Mass., with an evolving wisdom tooth extraction infection. Despite that distraction, the chemistry was there. I felt good about the place and knew it was right for me.

Advice for prospective medical students?

I do a lot of admissions interviewing for Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. I advise prospective students not to over-intellectualize their decision. I encourage them to learn what they can about the schools they are considering, and then to ask themselves, “Will I like and trust the people I’ve met?” I remind them that the people shaping their values, whether explicitly or through what has been called “the hidden curriculum” of medical school, are at least as important as the subjects studied. Getting my medical education among those I trust and respect was one of the best decisions of my life.

Do you have counsel for those who may be considering a gift to the school?

I encourage other alumni to reflect on what their medical school experience has meant to them over the course of their careers. Then, if they are thinking about making a gift, do what feels right to help nurture the traditional values and expertise that are synonymous with the school.

Make a difference

Contact Melissa Head, executive director for URMC Academic Programs, to learn more about how you can make a difference in the lives of our medical students, faculty, and patients.

* The Stephen K. Plume, III ’69M (MD), ’75M (Res) Scholarship

— Kristine Kappel Thompson, February 2022