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Dr. Stephen R. Max Memorial Lectureship Established to Honor MD/PhD Program Founder

(Originally published in Foundations, Winter 2007, Volume 6, Issue 2)                                                                Back to Family and Friends.  

Jonathan Max-Sohmer, Paula Max-Wright, the late Tyson Tildon, PhD, and Barbara Sohmer, MD at the first Max lecture.

Stephen R. Max, PhD, arrived at the University of Maryland in 1970, beginning a 22-year career during which he held faculty appointments in the Departments of Neurology, Pediatrics, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Pathology. In 1983, he founded and became the director of the combined MD/PhD program. By the time he left Maryland in 1992, he was acting vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School.

Dr. Max left the University to accept the position of dean of the Graduate School and vice president for Research at Hahnemann University (which on July 1, 1996 became Allegheny University of the Health Sciences and was later was subsumed by Drexel University). In 1995 Dr. Max left Hahnemann to become director for research and technology development at the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, where he remained until his untimely death in April 1997.

In celebration of his life, friends and colleagues at the University of Maryland and around the world donated funds to establish the Dr. Stephen R. Max Memorial Lectureship. In 1998, Joseph T. Coyle, MD, department chair of Psychiatry at Harvard University, was the first speaker. Unfortunately, due to changes in leadership, the lecture lay dormant for several years until 2003, when his daughter, Paula Max-Wright, matriculated here at the School of Medicine. She sought to re-energize the lectureship and -- with the support of Terry Rogers, PhD, professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and director of the MD/PhD program -- the lectureship was rejuvenated.

"This is an excellent opportunity to enrich the MD/PhD program in a palpable way," says Dr. Rogers, in reflecting on the past two years in which the lecture has been held. "Dr. Max was a known educator. I am determined to identify internationally recognized scientists and physicians who will also interact with our students for training and mentoring purposes." A student-based committee will make the selection for the annual lecture, to be held each April.

Dr. Max's widow, Dr. Barbara Sohmer, and children Paula Max-Wright and Jonathan Max-Sohmer, attend the annual lectures, which are held in the auditorium of the Health Sciences Facility II. This past academic year, Michael Welsh, MD, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Roy J. Carver, chair of Internal Medicine and Physiology and Biophysics of the University of Iowa, gave a lecture entitled "Cystic Fibrosis and the CFTR Chloride Channel." In 2005, the MD/PhD program welcomed Dennis Choi, MD, PhD, executive vice president of Merck Research Laboratories, who spoke about drug design and development.

Each speaker exemplifies the career of a medical scientist and demonstrates the process of applying basic science and clinical research to advance the field of clinical medicine. The spirit and enthusiasm of the speakers with regard to the challenging career path of an MD/PhD is evident to students, faculty, family and friends. In addition, during the day of each Stephen R. Max Memorial Lectureship, the speaker also meets with our MD/PhD students in a small group format, affording them a unique educational opportunity.

"Founding and directing the MD/PhD program was the highlight of Stephen's career and the part of which he was the most proud," says Dr. Sohmer. "Mentoring students and young faculty members was his passion. There is no better way to remember his contributions and to perpetuate his fondest endeavor than the creation and endowment of the annual Stephen R. Max, PhD Memorial Lectureship. I am proud of our daughter, Paula, for taking on this project in the midst of her first year of medical school and seeing it all the way through her senior year. Thank you, Paula, Terry Rogers and everyone who has worked to make this lectureship a success, as well as faculty, former students, friends and family for your generous contributions."

As we approach the 10th anniversary of Dr. Max's death, along with the bicentennial of the School of Medicine, it is the hope of Dr. Rogers and the Max family that the generous donations of funds will continue in order to ensure existence of an annual memorial lectureship.

"I am thrilled that Dr. Rogers and the MD/PhD Program have taken this lectureship under their wing, says Max-Wright. "Not only is this annual lecture a great way to honor my father's legacy here at the University of Maryland, it is also a fun and unique way to expose medical and graduate students to the intersections between clinical medicine and research and their utmost importance in improving medical care. Because I am graduating from medical school this year, it pleases me to know that everything is in good hands, and that the lectureship will endure. I am also astounded by the generosity of my father's friends and colleagues, who have greatly increased the fund. It is our hope that the fund will continue grow to the endowment level, so that this lecture can continue for decades in the future."