Dr. Albert Kuperman: A Pioneering Educator and Visionary
The College of Medicine learned late on December 21, 2021, that Albert S. Kuperman, Ph.D., associate dean and professor emeritus of molecular pharmacology, had died earlier in the day at age 90. Although Dr. Kuperman had retired in 2013, he left an indelible mark through his influence and contributions as a teacher, administrator, and leader.
Al, as he was known to colleagues and friends, had been Einstein's other "Uncle Albert" ever since arriving at the College of Medicine in 1975, where he served 40 years as associate dean for educational affairs. In that role, he helped shape the medical school curriculum in ways that placed Einstein at the forefront of medical education. His innovations included introducing the concept of global health education to provide opportunities that expanded students' experiences with healthcare; establishing research project fellowships to encourage inquiry and increase understanding of the science behind medicine; and fostering a culture of humanism among medical students and faculty that is at the heart of Einstein's approach to medical education and research.
“Dr. Kuperman was one of my Einstein role models,” noted Gordon F. Tomaselli, M.D., the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean at Einstein and member of the Class of 1982. “He was associate dean for educational affairs when I was an Einstein student and was the face of medical education then. He excelled at teaching pharmacology and seemed to do everything exceptionally well. I also recall his vision in making sure that medical students got to experience clinical medicine on the wards within our first 18 months, which was not the general practice at the time and is now a common aim.”
Dr. Edward R. Burns, executive dean at Einstein and member of the Class of 1976, also recalled Al’s vision, in particular his leadership of the College of Medicine’s preclinical committee. “Al had appointed me as course director of hematology, and his primary philosophy was ensuring that our medical students learned what they needed to be good doctors, not just students of biology,” said Ed. “He empowered us as course directors to develop a cadre of excellent teachers who vastly improved the educational experience for students. He also was an early champion of small-group conferences and realized that self-teaching was at least as effective as rote learning in lectures.”
Beyond the Classroom
Perhaps his best-known contribution is our global fellowship program, which introduced the concept of global medicine to Einstein in 1976. At the time, only a handful of institutions offered such a program.
His vision and innovative leadership allowed him to see the bigger picture, as did time he spent in Thailand before coming to Einstein; while there he helped establish the first department of pharmacology at Mahidol University, in Bangkok. That experience demonstrated the value of expanding learning into the real world.
At Einstein, he planted the seeds for a program that has blossomed and expanded considerably over the decades, offering both students and faculty, and more recently Montefiore residents, opportunities they might not have imagined or pursued.
A Good and Supportive Listener
Al grew up in the Bronx during the 1930s and 1940s. He lived in a building where tenants frequently helped one another, sharing their knowledge and talents. Getting to know these people, he once said, introduced him to different aspects of art and science and the world around him. The experience also taught him the value of listening.
"Listening well is perhaps one of the most important aspects of being a good leader, a good colleague, or a good friend," he said.
And listen he did, to the kernels of ideas that Einstein students had. He often offered his support and encouragement so that they could realize their vision. To many, his name was synonymous with empowerment.
His belief in students and their ability to carry their ideas to fruition has created opportunities for those students and those who followed them. From a project in Haiti for fourth-year students to the BODY Garden aimed at reducing diabetes and connecting with the community, to Einstein’s longstanding art and literary magazine, Ad Libitum, Al lent his ear and then his support.
In a feature posted at the time of Dr. Kuperman’s retirement, Dr. Tara Vijayan, a member of the Class of 2007, recalled how he had supported her idea for an art and literary magazine to which all members of the Einstein community could submit their work. "In medicine, you have incredibly profound human experiences, and I felt that having an outlet to re-experience them was helpful, even cathartic," she said. "He agreed."
That publication continues to offer a creative outlet for students, postdocs, faculty, alumni, staff and even donors. It will soon accept submissions for its 20th issue and an exhibit celebrating its current 19 issues and the opportunity to express oneself during the COVID-19 pandemic was on display along Einstein’s Main Street throughout the summer.
Al also supported medical students’ educational endeavors. In 1998, when students sought to transfer their classroom learning to the outside world through creation of a social medicine course, Al gave his strong endorsement—envisioning a world in which physicians serve not only science, but also the humanity of their patients.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Al earned his bachelor’s degree at New York University and his Ph.D. at Cornell University. He was a fellow in nerve-muscle physiology at the U.S. Naval Research Institute and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pharmacology with the U.S. Public Health Service at Cornell Medical College. Prior to joining the Einstein faculty, he also was a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Al is survived by his sister Thelma and her husband Gilbert; his daughters Meredith (long-time partner John) and Laura (husband Chuck); and his granddaughters Hayley and Caroline (husband Paul). The Einstein community offers them all deepest condolences.
If you would like to share a memory of Dr. Kuperman or offer condolences, please visit our Leave a Remembrance page.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 28, 2021