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Health Center Today, February 11, 2010

Samuel Shem Is the Guest Speaker for 2010 Commencement Address

By Carolyn Pennington

Photo of Samuel Shem

Stephen Bergman, M.D., Ph.D., a.k.a. Samuel Shem

The University of Connecticut Health Center will hold its official commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 16, at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. The ceremony recognizes graduates from the School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine, and Graduate School.

The commencement address guest speaker is Samuel Shem. Shem, pen name of Stephen Bergman, M.D., Ph.D., is a doctor, novelist, playwright and activist. He is a graduate of Harvard College Phi Beta Kappa, and has his M.D. from Harvard Medical School. A Rhodes scholar with a Ph.D. from Oxford University, he was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School for three decades.

Shem has been described in the press as "easily the finest and most important writer ever to focus on the lives of doctors and the world of medicine," and as someone who “brings mercy to the practice of medicine." The Lancet called "The House of God" one of the two "most significant medical novels of the 20th century." Its sequel "Mount Misery" is about training to be a psychiatrist; "Fine" is about a psychoanalyst.

His 2008 novel "The Spirit of the Place," about a primary care doctor in a small town, was reviewed as "the perfect bookend to ‘The House of God.’" It won the National Best Book Award 2008 in General Fiction and Literature from USA Book News, and the Independent Publishers National Book Award in Literary Fiction 2009.

With his wife Janet Surrey, he wrote the off-Broadway hit play "Bill W. and Dr. Bob" about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, which won the Performing Arts Award of the National Council on Alcoholism 2007. The couple also wrote the nonfiction book "We Have to Talk: Healing Dialogues Between Women and Men," winner of the Boston Interfaith Council’s Paradigm Shift Award in 1999.

He has given over 50 commencement speeches on "How to Stay Human in Medicine," and lives in Boston and Costa Rica. Website: