Anne Berg: A Window into the Wo­­­man Who Led HSDM Admissions for 13 Years

By Golmah Zarinkhou

Let us begin with a farewell.

One in honor of the woman who found and phoned 13 years’ worth of successful HSDM applicants.

A woman whose personal to-do-list demands of her, “Cry with the criers. Calm down the ones who shriek. And reassure the doubters this is not a prank call.”

Her smile is small and sweet. Her hair is bobbed short and her clothing long. But her big antique brooches tug most at my history-loving heartstrings. Anne Berg, our recently retired director of admissions, speaks often of hot topics in education and lives by the thought, “Surely we can do better than this.”

Berg burst readily onto the admissions scene with a psychology degree and the determination to both bolster and comprehend her scholars. 

She would charge each morning through the revolving glass doors at HSDM, says security guard Dominick De Loretta, and prompt a laugh by equating Boston traffic with the daily battle to reach her higher calling. Made easier by NPR, of course.

Berg impressed De Loretta with her class, modernity, air of command, and the lack of ego that meant he need never remind her of ID protocol.

But most of her day was spent searching for what she terms “the sparkle.” 

“Sometimes you meet a student and you have a conversation you feel would go on all day. Those tend to be the sparkle people,” Berg said.

Disliking the original standardized interview of years past, the New-York native unearthed reasons and revelations. She simply inquired, “What motivates you?”

She remembers an interviewee from an underprivileged community who positively glittered when he responded, “I feel like when I get an A, I get an A for the whole neighborhood.”

After a couple hours of speaking with Berg, I realized her deliberately generalized interview questions could elicit the answer to a very specific question: What readies us to care for others?

“So many students are focused on the ‘getting in’ part,” she says. “Where do human beings come into this? Because in the end, you’re working toward helping human beings.”

For decades Berg probed for answers, yet to ask them of her is to continuously return to the topic of others, specifically the topic of “hot topics.” It is to hear her say, “My youth was caught up in politics and assassinations and war protests.” It is to hear of humanity, pioneers, and preconceptions.

Berg stood at the helm of healthcare admissions programs for four institutions—Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, and SUNY—and navigated the raging waters of sexism in the workplace, the bedlam of the old admissions process, and the metamorphosis of healthcare education during the HIV epidemic. 

Howard Howell, dean for dental education at the time he recruited Berg to Harvard, labeled her a “national leader,” one of the people responsible, for example, for setting a uniform date for admissions offers from U.S. dental schools.

“My generation of women were the first to work their entire adult lives in a professional position, and particularly in dental education,” Berg said.

De Loretta once said to me, “She represents the evolution of women.”

To say she has evolved with the times, however, would be a falsehood. Anne Berg has evolved the times.