Physician and author Pauline W. Chen ’82 to speak at 2021 Commencement

Physician, bestselling author, and New York Times contributor Dr. Pauline W. Chen ’82 will deliver the 2021 Commencement address at Loomis Chaffee on Saturday, May 22.

Pauline works at the intersection of her two chosen professions — as a respected physician and as a writer — to promote better understanding between doctors, patients, and the families they serve, and to humanize the healthcare delivery process for all.  

In her critically-acclaimed memoir, Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality, and in her New York Times “Doctor and Patient” columns, Pauline’s personal narratives shine a light on society’s universal need for competent and compassionate healthcare services, especially end-of-life care. Pauline advocates for healthcare practices and medical practitioner training that meet the needs of individuals, wherever they are on life’s journey, with empathy and kindness. 

Final Exam, published in 2007, became a New York Times bestseller and garnered critical acclaim, including a spot among Times critic William Grimes’ 10 favorite books for that year. It has been translated into nearly a dozen languages, and many in the medical community recognize it as a “must-read” in the professional literature. 

Pauline is currently working on her next book which will address healthcare and the common good.

A four-year student at Loomis Chaffee, Pauline grew up in Windsor, Conn. During her time on the Island, she served as an editor for The Log and received the Cheruy Prize in Language on Class Night. After graduating from Loomis Chaffee in 1982, Pauline earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard University and a medical degree at Northwestern University Medical School. She completed her surgical training at Yale University, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

While living in California, Pauline specialized in liver transplant surgery and the treatment of cancer at UCLA, where she also taught medical students as a member of the faculty. Now a resident of Massachusetts, she continues to practice medicine in the VA Boston Healthcare System, caring for veterans and helping to lead a reflective writing program for frontline healthcare workers.

Pauline is the recipient of numerous professional, educational, and service awards, among them the UCLA Outstanding Physician of the Year Award and the George Longstreth Humanness Award at Yale. She connects with individuals and organizations around the world at speaking engagements related to her personal and professional experiences.   

Pauline, a member of the Loomis Chaffee Board of Trustees, is part of a family of devoted alumni that includes her late sister, Lena M. Chen ’87; her brother, Michael W. Chen ’92; and her cousin, Oliver Chen ’96. Pauline’s twin daughters, Natalie and Isabelle Halsey, are graduates of the Class of 2020.

Pauline regularly takes part in Loomis Chaffee-related activities. In January 2019 she spoke to students about writing at the inaugural “Dinner and a Draft” event organized by the Writing Initiatives faculty, and in April 2020 Pauline was the featured presenter in the third of a six-part webinar series addressing the COVID-19 crisis. In her presentation, “Medical Systems: Constraints & Opportunities,” she spoke about the challenges that medical systems face meeting the needs of COVID-19 patients and preventing the spread of the disease. Originally scheduled to speak on campus for Commencement 2020, Pauline delivered remarks online when last year’s in-person ceremony was canceled due to the pandemic.