Cover Art

I’m the husband of a Columbia-trained physician who went on to do cancer research at an Ivy League school, then worked as an assistant dean at a medical school, and is currently the chief medical officer at a large women’s hospital. Her sister is a surgeon who is also a bench researcher at an internationally respected institution, and she currently holds three RO1s and was instrumental in creating a one-of-a-kind tissue bank for cancer research. The point of saying this isn’t that they’re great, it’s that despite their accomplishments, as females they get much LESS respect and recognition in their fields for what they do than their male counterparts. Your cover [Fall/Winter 2015 issue] is a perfect example of this.

If the female on your cover picture was meant to be a surgeon it wasn’t clear by her white nurses shoes (instead of clogs) and the lack of the white coat that she earned. You offered that dignity to both males and then you put the female at the back of the pack as if the men were carrying most of the weight. It may sound picky but in the cancer research field white males used to be at the forefront carrying most of the weight. Many of them have been replaced by women. My wife once told me, “When I did clinical work, despite me having a white coat on, 90 percent of patients and staff treated me like I was a nurse first and then I had to re-qualify myself almost every single time I met someone new.” Bias clearly exists, and it actually pervades the industry from the top down. So whether it’s thrown at them by their top male leaders, institutions, medical societies, magazines, or patients, it creates an obstacle that female MDs are constantly challenged to overcome.

Your cover doesn’t help; in fact it actually feeds the problem. Female physicians need to be recognized as the leaders in medicine that they are and you need to help break that bias rather than feed it. And with the number of female physicians and world leaders that Columbia puts out, if anyone should be at the forefront of killing these misperceptions, it should be the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Dennis DeVona
Via email

Editor’s Note: The illustration was intended to portray a surgeon in scrubs.


Fred Herter

The recent issue of Columbia Medicine [Fall/Winter 2015] noted the death of Dr. Frederic Herter. I had seen Dr. Herter’s obituary in the New York Times and was saddened to read it. He was a wonderful man and teacher, and he had a very distinguished career. I had a unique experience with him. During my second year at P&S, our dean, Dr. H. Houston Merritt, announced his planned retirement for June 30, 1970. A seven-member faculty committee was formed for the dean search, including Dr. Herter. However, when committee members met with the new Columbia University president, Andrew Cordier (recently hired from the U.S. U.N. delegation), they were told that due to the circumstances at that time (the Vietnam War, student unrest, etc.) there would have to be students on the search committee. Four of us, one from each year, were placed on the committee and I was chosen by my classmates to represent the Class of 1970. This turned out to be an incredible experience for all of us with drama, intrigue, a leak, etc. Dr. Herter had a key role in that process.

Henry M. Sondheimer’70
Via email

Editor’s Note: Read more about Dr. Herter’s role on the 1967-70 search committee that chose Dr. Merritt’s successor in an article in one of next year’s 250th anniversary issues.


Only the Names Have Changed

I learned a lot from reading the current issue of Columbia Medicine [Fall/Winter 2015], and it was enjoyable. However, I found myself struggling with page 6, because, although healthy in most respects, I am almost 83 and hardly au courant with academic medical matters in New York City, especially those at “P&S,” my alma mater (Class of 1959).

The first paragraph (“Chair of Pathology”) and the final three paragraphs on p. 6 (“Development SVP”) are the cause of my confusion, which has nothing to do with Professor Roth’s range of pathologic expertise. He is certain to be a star academic and a busy man, chair of the P&S Department of Pathology & Cell Biology and pathologist-in-chief at an organization that is new to me: NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Under an appointment reported at the bottom of page 6, I realize that I’m really “in deep water”; Ms. [Lynne] Roth has become the “senior vice president for development” at “Columbia University Medical Center,” after a career at “NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.”

In my day, and for some decades thereafter, the Washington Heights medical “world” was known as Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Downtown on the east side were Cornell University medical school and New York Hospital. Does the latter still exist?

Is there a document on file that explains, for medical folk “raised” on Washington Heights, how we got to where we appear to be? Is there truly an entity known as “New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center,” and, if so, where is it? Perhaps it’s just a legal entity and not a place.

PS: I was a medical academic in the UK for many years, returning to the USA (Maine) in 1998, which may provide a partial excuse for my ignorance rather than early dementia!

William V. Shaw’59
Via email

Editor’s Note: Dr. Shaw is not the first person to express confusion over the nomenclature now used by P&S, the hospital, and the medical center broadly and specifically defined. All entities have undergone several naming changes over the past 80-plus years (not to mention the medical school’s multiple naming conventions since opening in 1767). On Jan. 1, 1998, New York Hospital merged with Presbyterian Hospital to create NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, creating the largest and most comprehensive hospital in New York. (Insiders say the “New” and “York” were combined as one word and joined with “Presbyterian” by a hyphen to keep “NewYork-Presbyterian” on the same line when the name is used in print. Another version is that the hyphen was added to keep people from thinking “New York” was a geographic locator for “Presbyterian Hospital.” The hyphen, therefore, was included to denote two specific entities.) The Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center term that described Columbia and Presbyterian Hospital’s joint endeavor was replaced by one of two names that describe the new NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s two main hospital locations. The hospital’s campus in Washington Heights is called NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. The hospital’s location on the Eastside is called NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. (Cornell’s medical school was renamed Weill Cornell Medical College in 1998.) Columbia University Medical Center is not just a location of one of the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital campuses; it also describes Columbia University’s health sciences schools (P&S, College of Dental Medicine, School of Nursing, Mailman School of Public Health, and the biomedical graduate programs of Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences). If these changes are still confusing, here is a more targeted response: Dr. Roth chairs pathology at P&S (part of Columbia University Medical Center, the collection of Columbia schools) and is chief pathologist for the hospital’s Columbia location. Ms. Roth heads development for Columbia University Medical Center (the collection of Columbia schools, not the hospital location), but her previous job was in the development office of NewYork-Presbyterian, where she raised money for both locations of the hospital. What would Samuel Bard, one of the founders of P&S whose calls for a public hospital resulted in the creation of New York Hospital, think about these developments and names nearly 250 years later? Send your thoughts to columbiamedicine@columbia.edu.


P&S Memory Prompts Poem by Patient

I am a 1986 P&S graduate who has been in private practice for 25 years. On a recent Friday, one of my long-standing patients asked me about something that triggered my telling him a story about how in medical school I preferred to study for anatomy exams by going up to the lab late at night when I knew I would be undisturbed. Specifically, I related to him my vivid memory of being alone in the lab late one evening, surrounded by six heads whose anatomy I was reviewing.

On the following Monday morning, my patient (a hard-working, 72-year-old farmer) dropped off a poem he had written in response to the conversation we had. I was so impressed and touched by the gesture that I decided to share it with you in the hopes that you might be interested in publishing it. (Read poem below.) One of the best things about being a doctor is discovering the hidden talents of your patients.

Mark S. Fradin’86
Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Quiet Places

By William S. Blackwood

Sometimes in the night, when the air is quite still,
And I’m half awake, there’s a memory so chill
That I sit up in bed and survey the room
To make sure I’m alone, in the post midnight gloom.
There will be no more sleeping, this particular eve,
So I make some coffee and sit in my chair
To stare through the window at more heavenly fare.
An ocean of stars, filled with wisdom and light
To calm my poor nerves from somnambulant fright.
For in my youth, a post grad degree,
At Columbia ‘U’, which I hoped to achieve,
Often caused me to study in labs all alone
With just my own thoughts to comfort my bones.
‘Twas on such a night, there in old Gotham town,
On a floor of a building, much far from the ground,
Where I sat in solitude, in an anatomy place,
And wished for companionship to cheer up my face.
The space was quite lonely, quite lonely indeed,
And I thought, in a whimsy, might a bird intercede.
What if I heard a soft tap on the door
And a raven flew in to quote, “nevermore.”
Of course, that was foolish: no chance on this night.
Then I did hear a sound, oh so faint to my ear,
A whisper of words, “You have nothing to fear.”
That caused me to flinch with a word most profane.
As I looked quickly around, for an intruder’s good joke,
But I was still alone, with my heart in my throat.
A simple ‘med’ student, with courage unfeigned,
Yet, no other soul, in that deathly quiet place
Could have uttered a word to my back, or my face.
Of course, there were ‘guests’, on my left and my right
And the person I worked with, so late on this night.
But they were devoid of semblance of life.
Then again, that soft voice, without fear or dread.
“Please don’t worry son; we are merely the dead.
You know it’s quite lonely, on these tables so cold,
We’d like to converse with a warm, living soul.”
Then, as God is my witness, they all turned around,
With sheets over shoulders, like shrouds so macabre
That despite their assurance, I choked with a sob.
“How can this be?” I could only declare,
“For you are deceased, is that not fair?”
Then despite trepidation, on my part for certain,
They began recitation, like lifting a curtain.
I learned of their lives, their loves, and their tales
Of how gentle the spirit, of we humans so frail.
I sat quite enthralled, in that scene so bizarre
Till the first morning glow, of the new day appeared,
And all was as before, when the shades disappeared.
I could not help but smile, on the way to my home,
For I spent the whole night, and was never alone.

Printed with Mr. Blackwood’s permission