Editing staff and publisher

 

 

Farewell, Friend

by Sheila Smith Noonan

When UMDNJ President Dr. Stanley S. Bergen, Jr., exits his post on June 30, he will leave the legacy of having built the nation's largest freestanding public health sciences university, and he will take with him many memories.

NJDS faculty and alumni will figure prominently in those memories. Dr. Bergen speaks warmly of the faculty, which was the first to support his presidency. When there were questions about his appointment, "they stood firm and tall," he says. The president also says he's enjoyed his relationship with the NJDS alumni and Alumni Association officers.

"I feel very close to them," he says, "and that's a sincere thought, not just puff and exaggeration. Dentists reach out to each other in a special way, with good grace and positive feelings, and that's brushed off on me."

Like a parent who has watched his child grow from youth to adulthood, Dr. Bergen speaks proudly of NJDS. The acceptance of Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Dentistry faculty and students at NJDS is a highlight for him. "It was a non-traumatic, seamless transition," he says.

Reflecting back over the years, Dr. Bergen remarks on the dental school's maturing. "It has changed from a disjointed school hampered by internal tension to one that provides excellence in training and service in New Jersey. Today, NJDS is a stable institution with a three-fold mission of education, community service, and research." Dr. Bergen credits the transformation to improved quality in both faculty and the student body. He also applauds the recent and current alumni leadership for "focusing on the school as their main objective."

The president admits there have been some rough moments at NJDS, but even those have worked out for good. For example, he found the high turnover of deans was disconcerting at times. "However, all institutions go through phases of development and evolution, and through that have leaders who bring different skills," he says. "NJDS had the right person at the right time to fill the bill, and then they moved on."

NJDS is doing many things exceptionally well today, such as its outreach to the community, notes Dr. Bergen. And he describes the new Department of Dental Medicine at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine as "sensational. Both institutions [SOM and NJDS] are right on the cutting edge and one step ahead of the curl of the wave," he says. "I believe many major medical schools will emulate this curriculum, most certainly the nation's 16 other osteopathic schools within the next 10 years."

Yet, Dr. Bergen says, NJDS faces challenges in the future. As new technologies in dentistry evolve, so must methods for teaching students to use them. He envisions an even greater emphasis on research at the school, as well. Over the next few decades, he sees dentists' role continuing to broaden, with more interaction with other health care professionals, such as nurses; more attention to public health concerns; and more emphasis on their role in patients' overall health. NJDS must anticipate these changes and adapt to them, he says.

In his 27 years at UMDNJ, Dr. Bergen has left an impression on people and programs. And there have been many people in his life who've influenced him. First and foremost, Dr. Bergen says, was family: his father, a real estate salesman who freely gave time to the community, and his mother, a firm, direct woman who both exemplified and instilled the value of honesty. Dr. Bergen's interest in medicine was whetted early when his grandfather, a general practitioner in Princeton, took him on weekend house calls. When Dr. Bergen was 14, his father died; an uncle, Reuben Johnson, filled an important void.

During his school years, Dr. Bergen remembers a Princeton High School math teacher who interested him in athletics and Princeton University faculty who helped mold his quest to be a physician. While a resident at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City, Dr. Bergen recalls Dr. Theodore Van Itallie, chief of the department of medicine. "He seemed unreasonable at times and was a hard task master, but I learned much from him. He taught me how to write scientific articles." From Joseph Terrenzio, an administrator at Brooklyn Hospital, he learned what did­and did not­make good management.

But of all the people he's encountered, he considers only one­his wife of 33 years, Suzanne­to be his hero. "She's my conscience and the wellspring of brilliant ideas," he says. "And she lets me state that they're mine. She's the one who took care of our five children and kept the home fires burning while I was working."

Dr. Bergen will help bridge the transition between him and his successor for one year, "mostly by keeping out of his or her way," but also acting as a reservoir of UMDNJ history. "I don't think I will be hard to follow," he says. "I believe that there will be a difference in leadership at UMDNJ, but not in the quality of leadership."

Then, he says, it's payback time for Suzanne for all the evenings they missed together and the things she's wanted to do. That will include spending half of the year in Maine; the couple, which has no grandchildren, may become foster grandparents, Dr. Bergen says. He plans to continue his 20-plus-year relationship with the Hastings Center by serving as a volunteer chairman and teaching an ethics course.

Dr. Bergen will also use his time to indulge a secret passion: writing fiction. He wants to write mystery stories, but not those involving crime­more of intrigue. With a hospital setting as the backdrop, there will be subliminal messages in his stories about correct behavior, and the heroes and heroines will be people "who do the right things."

"I expect to sell three copies," he quips. "One to my wife, one to my youngest son, and maybe I could convince the UMDNJ library to buy the third." He has two or three story outlines already in hand, one of which he wrote 35 years ago.

Twenty-seven years after Dr. Bergen took the helm at UMDNJ, he says there hasn't been a day when he didn't want to go to work. For that, he counts his blessings. And when historians look back at Dr. Bergen's career, he wants them to think of him this way. "Somone fair and even-handed who gave people the chance to create their own opportunities; who enabled New Jerseyans to study medicine, dentistry, and other health-related fields in their own state; and who gave staff and faculty the opportunity to succeed."