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Docto and Filmmaker Gretchen Berland Named a 2004 MacArthur Fellow

Gretchen Berland, Pomona College Class of 1986, has been named a MacArthur Fellow, by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her work in medicine and documentary film.

Commonly known as “the genius grant,” the MacArthur Fellowship is a $500,000 grant of “no strings attached” support, distributed over five years to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary “originality, creativity, and potential to do more in the future.”

Dr. Berland is a physician who utilizes her experience in both medicine and documentary film and journalism in order to highlight important points about improving health care. She is the creator of the video “Cross-Cover,” which presents the experience of a medical internship in a first-person perspective, examining the various changes that happen in the aspirations and attitudes of the young doctors in the program. The MacArthur Foundation considers the frank documentary to be “a valuable tool for improving the quality of medical care.” Berland’s more recent project, “Rolling,” uses the video diary format to document the experiences of several people who, for varying medical reasons, require wheelchairs for mobility. By placing the camera in the hands of her three subjects, she presents their struggles to maintain independence and dignity in the face of their disabilities, from a compelling and informative vantage point.

Berland has also served as lead author on a survey of health information resources on the Internet. The study found that health care consumers, those with lower reading skills in particular, face significant obstacles to locating accurate, complete, and understandable information on a variety of common medical problems.

“Patients are becoming increasingly invisible in our health care system,” says Berland. “As we try to move toward creating a more patient-centered system, it’s important to know about our patients’ lives, and we don’t do that any more. We don’t make house calls any more, and we see our patients for only 15-20 minutes in clinic.”

“Through her efforts,” the Foundation notes, “Berland prompts physicians and the public to consider several key questions about health and society: how we learn about our own health, how physicians teach and learn, and how affliction creates physical and social barriers that often pass unnoticed.”

After graduating from Pomona, Berland produced programs for PBS Television’s NOVA series and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. She returned to school and received her M.D from Oregon Health and Science University in 1996, completing her internship and residency at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis, Barnes Hospital in 1999. She was a fellow of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at the University of California, Los Angeles (1999-2001). Since that time, she has been an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine.

The MacArthur Foundation announced its 23 grant recipients for 2004 on September 28, 2004. This year’s recipients work in various fields, from molecular biology to ragtime piano, and all are considered by the Foundation to be particularly instrumental in effecting progress in their respective areas of expertise.

The MacArthur Fellowship is an honor awarded strictly on the basis of a confidential evaluation process. No person may apply to receive the fellowship; he or she must be nominated. “The new MacArthur Fellows,” according MacArthur Foundation President John. F. Fanton, “illustrate the Foundation’s conviction that talented individuals, free to follow their insights and instincts, will make a difference in shaping the future.”

Pomona’s ties to recent MacArthur grant winners include David Foster Wallace, the college’s Roy Edward Disney ‘52 Endowed Professor of Creative Writing and a professor of English, who received the award in 1997,and alumnus Brian Tucker, Class of 1967, who received the award in 2002 for his innovative work preventing readily avoidable disasters in the world’s poorest countries, by using affordable civil engineering practices.

Each year, for 24 years, the announcement of the new MacArthur Fellows has been a singular opportunity to celebrate the creative individual in our midst,” said Fanton. “The MacArthur Fellows Program remains at the core of the Foundation’s efforts to recognize and support individuals who inspire us.” Since it began in 1981, the MacArthur Fellows Program has honored 682 individuals of ages ranging from 18 to 82, all of whom were chosen for their initiative and originality.

Pomona College is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions, offering a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.