TALK Alumni Spotlight – Burl Don, MD ’80

TALK Alumni Spotlight – Burl Don, MD ’802022-07-05T06:14:58-07:00

The legacy continues: New faculty award honors longtime ICM instructor

(l. to r.) Mrs. Don, Burl Don, Maurice Bernstein, and Gregory Harlan

(l. to r.) Dr. Nancy Kemp, Dr. Burl Don, awardee Dr. Maurice Bernstein, and Dr. Gregory Harlan

One of the most significant moments in the life of Marvin Don, MD, happened at an early age, when his parents called their family doctor to their tenement apartment in New York City one night, to come care for his ailing younger brother.

That overnight display of compassion and dedication shaped the rest of Dr. Don’s life; he studied to become a doctor, eventually becoming a committed family physician and, later in life, a devoted instructor in the Introduction to Clinical Medicine (ICM) program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Now a new faculty award has been established at the Keck School in his honor, recognizing a current ICM faculty member who demonstrates the ideals and characteristics of a true academic clinician. Established this year by Don’s son Burl R. Don, MD ’80, and daughter-in-law Nancy I. Kemp, MD ’84, the inaugural Dr. Marvin E. Don Introduction to Clinical Medicine Faculty Achievement Award was presented in June to Maurice Bernstein, MD.

Marvin Don, MD

Marvin Don, MD

“My father was an amazing man and my role model,” said Burl R. Don, Chief of the Division of Nephrology, and Professor of Medicine at the UC Davis School of Medicine. “He was very dedicated and devoted to his patients, and I am proud to establish this award in his honor.”

The director of the ICM program, Gregory A. Harlan, MD, MPH, added, “This was a beautiful way to honor Dr. Marvin Don. It allows his family to reconnect with USC and the ICM program. It also allows the ICM program to honor some of our long-standing faculty who have been so dedicated and revered for their teaching.”

The elder Don was born in the former Soviet Union in 1922 and grew up in Mexico City and New York. World War II interrupted his medical studies, but after the war’s end, he earned his medical degree at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, in Mexico City.

He went on to become one of the founding members of the Southern California Kaiser Permanente Medical Group and, after a brief retirement, resumed his career with the Los Angeles County Public Health System.

Don began teaching ICM in the 1980s, where he inspired his students with his generosity, patience, kindness, old-school physical examination skills and fantastic bedside manner. It is these traits that Burl Don points to, when explaining his motivation for establishing the faculty award.

“If you go to a doctor’s office today, a lot of times there’s a computer in the exam room and the physician is focused primarily on the computer screen rather than listening and directly interacting with the patient,” Burl R. Don said. “My father was old school, able to practice medicine without computers and have wonderful long-term relationships with his patients. Dr. Bernstein seems like he’s a clinician in that tradition, beloved among students — and that is what we want to honor.”

The ICM program was cited by the Association of American Medical Colleges as a core curriculum strength. First- and second-year medical students learn basic clinical skills during the two-year continuum course, which is taught by full-time clinical faculty and volunteer faculty physicians, about half of whom were trained at USC, according to Harlan, who also is Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Medical Education.

“Our faculty span in age from early 30s to upper 80s,” Harlan said. “We look for volunteers who are responsive, energetic, diverse and invested physicians who understand that they will be both a professional and personal mentor to our students.”

Clinicians interested in becoming a volunteer faculty member at the Keck School can email

A focus of the ICM program is on professional identity formation, where the volunteer faculty members guide students from the beginning of medical school to help them discover their professional identity over time, Harlan said.

“One of the best things we do in ICM is take students out of the lecture hall and bring them to the real classroom, to the hospital,” Harlan said. “We are incredibly grateful to those who teach ICM, who support ICM, and who see the value of our program. In the age of digital medicine, we still teach the importance of face-to-face interactions with our peers and patients. In the room with your patients, this is where the magic truly happens.”

– Melissa Masatani

The Bernstein family and Dr. Harlan join awardee Burl Don and family.

The Don family and Dr. Harlan join awardee Dr. Maurice Bernstein and family.