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Letters to the Editor

What’s in a Name? The Implications of Naming Medical Schools After Donors

Schnitter, Joseph; Birnbaum, Aaron; Fox, Conner; Sanky, Charles

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003113
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To the Editor:

In 2012, Carl Icahn pledged $200 million to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and in return, the school was renamed the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.1 The name “Icahn” is everywhere on our campus today: buildings, mugs, t-shirts, email addresses, white coats, and diplomas. As medical students at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, we examined the implications of our school’s decision.

When Icahn’s donation was announced, some Sinai faculty and students objected to accepting money earned in part from the hostile takeover of corporations. Icahn’s appointment as special economic advisor to President Donald Trump reignited conversation on campus about our school’s name, as many believe that the current administration’s antagonistic language and policies directed toward immigrants and racial minorities conflict with Mount Sinai’s values.

Mount Sinai is not the only school to take on the name of a donor; 36 of the 151 MD-granting schools in the United States (24%) have done so thus far, a substantial increase from 23 of 141 (16%) in 2014. Prior literature has demonstrated how donations can introduce conflicts of interest and damage schools’ reputations, but few solutions have been implemented to alleviate these concerns.2

We offer some easily implementable solutions. First, we urge medical schools’ leadership to invite all stakeholders of the institution to express whether they believe a proposed name fits with the school’s identity and mission. Furthermore, school leadership ought to publicize what stipulations are attached to the donation, any potential conflict of interest in this exchange, how the money will be allocated, whether the donation has altered the mission of the school, and under which circumstances would the name be removed. This would mirror a trend toward greater transparency of disclosures in academic medicine, recognizing that financial ties introduce the risk of bias. We also encourage all schools that have already been renamed to retroactively make their relationship with their donor transparent.

Based on our review of school websites, the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont is the only MD-granting school named after a donor that closely follows this paradigm. Schools should consider the weight of donors’ names and how these donations could alter their priorities. Our solutions of greater inclusiveness and increased transparency are simple, common-sense means of ensuring that schools flourish while staying true to their professed values.

Joseph Schnitter
Fourth-year medical student, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York; joseph.schnitter@icahn.mssm.edu.
Aaron Birnbaum
Fourth-year medical student, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York.
Conner Fox
Fourth-year medical student, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York.
Charles Sanky
Fourth-year medical student, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York.

References

1. Hartocollis A. $200 million gift, and a new name, for Mt. Sinai Medical School. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/15/nyregion/with-gift-mt-sinai-medical-school-to-be-renamed-for-carl-icahn.html. Published November 14,2012. Accessed November 27, 2019.
2. Falit BP, Halperin EC, Loeffler JS. Green eggs and ham: Strategies to address the growing phenomenon of selling a medical school’s name. Acad Med. 2014;89:1614–1616.
Copyright © 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges