Looking Back on 50 Years

Dr. Irwin Dannis — Giving Back to Einstein One Student at a Time

Dr. Irwin Dannis first attended Einstein as a student in 1956 and he fell so deeply in love with the school, he decided to never leave.

A member of the Class of 1960, Dr. Dannis enjoyed a successful career as an internist, retiring in 2001. He also found his way back to Einstein, determined to give back to the school that made him a success.  It is his goal to help shape the future of the Bronx-based medical school by going above and beyond to recruit medical students who bring a sense of passion he feels has been the hallmark of Einstein since he attended 54 years ago. 

Dr. Dannis
Dr. Dannis giving prospective students a tour of the campus.
"Dr. Dannis is the reason I came to Einstein, and he's been an inspiring mentor ever since," noted Chris Hawk, a third-year medical student.  "He helped me realize that Einstein was a place where I could get a solid medical education while doing some good for the working-class people of the Bronx."

Raised in Colorado, Mr. Hawk had traveled the globe to help people, but had never been to the Bronx before his interview.  Like many people, he was mainly familiar with the media’s depictions of drugs, crime, and violence in the Bronx.

"Einstein is one of the best medical schools in the country, Dr. Dannis stated emphatically. "But, in speaking to some former applicants, we discovered that their lack of knowledge about the borough has posed an obstacle." 

Even before the Bronx’ recent renaissance, the borough boasted some of the finest cultural institutions and beautiful neighborhoods, which were often lost in the more common portrayal of the negatives. Hoping to erase the stigma of these destructive representations, Dr. Dannis took to taking applicants on tours of such places as City Island, Arthur Avenue, the New York Botanical Garden, Wave Hill, and Yankee Stadium. 

"After our tour, Mr. Hawk decided to attend Einstein," Dr. Dannis said.  "He told me he wanted to be involved with the people in the Bronx."

Irwin Dannis
Irwin Dannis as a fourth-year medical
student with the head and neck model that
students used to learn how to
intubate patients.
Dr. Dannis’ own infatuation with the borough began early. Growing up in the West Bronx, directly across the street from the VA Hospital, he attended Bronx High School of Science and studied biology at New York University’s Bronx campus (from which he graduated summa cum laude and earned Phi Beta Kappa honors). 

His decision to go into medicine was instilled in him at a young age. "My uncle was a general practitioner in the Bronx," he recalled.  "He made house calls and didn’t make a lot of money.  Most patients paid him what they could.  This was before Medicare and Medicaid, and so what he did for these people was amazing.  I tried to emulate him."

Dr. Dannis garnered acceptance into several medical schools, visiting them all, but never felt quite as at home as he did when he stepped foot on Einstein’s campus. 

"The school had only just opened and it already boasted an outstanding faculty who really cared about their students.  And these students were smart, multidimensional and compassionate.  It was an unbelievable atmosphere," Dr. Dannis explained.  "I had to go there.  The four years I spent at Einstein may have been the happiest four years of my life."

Dr. Dannis, who also married his wife during those four years, was among Einstein’s second graduating class.  Among his fond memories of Einstein was his induction into the medical honor society Alpha Omega Alpha during third year.

In 1961, he immediately joined the alumni association, which later awarded him its first lifetime service award, in recognition of his dedication to the school.  Drafted into the military, Dr. Dannis would serve in Germany before returning to the U.S. to start a practice in the Bronx. 

Dr. Dannis
Dr. Dannis by his Alumni Lifetime Service Award plaque
In 1976, his request to join the admissions committee was accepted.  He has been co-chair of the committee for 25 years and, even since retiring, he has interviewed thousands of applicants like first-year medical student Nathaniel Brown. 

"Dr. Dannis reminded me that the ideals that had driven me to medicine should be at the core of every physician," said Mr. Brown.  "I see Dr. Dannis as the heart and soul of Einstein. Someone who can remind us all what being a doctor is about."

In addition, Dr. Dannis has served the minority community through Mentoring in Medicine, a program aimed at young minority students who may have an interest in science or medicine, established by Einstein faculty member Dr. Lynne Holden.  Through the program, Dr. Dannis guides students through the application process necessary to enter medical school. He informs them that being a promising applicant goes deeper than just grades.  "Whether through Lynne’s program or my interviews with prospective students, I am always looking for those hidden gems who will become great doctors," he said.

Students like Juan Robles, who learned English after arriving in the U.S. as a teenager and became valedictorian of South Bronx High School, but struggled with getting good grades at Cornell University. 

"I'm highly impressed by his dedication to helping under-represented minority students, said the third-year student, recalling a very informal interview process that led to a strong bond.  "In fact, without his unconditional support for my application, I probably would not be in medical school.

"We have become very good friends and collaborators," Mr. Robles continued. "And we both enjoy giving tours to the applicants."

Knowing there are others like him who share a love of the Bronx and will pass that love on to future medical students, Dr. Dannis is confident Einstein will continue to attract students like those that made the school so attractive to him many years ago; the type of school that carries a reputation for creating some of the best, most compassionate doctors in the world.  

"I’ve had several discussions with people looking for a doctor and the first thing they want to know is what medical school they went to," noted Dr. Dannis.  "If it’s Einstein, then you know they are going to take good care of you."

Posted on: Monday, May 24, 2010