Title: An Historical Giant Who Built a First Rate Program
Contributor: Andrew T. Huang, July 1, 2005
Among the prime movers in the history of American medicine, I think of Abraham Flexner and the General Education Board, I remember the professors at Hopkins, especially William Osler and William Welch at the turn of the century; and then I think of Dr. Eugene Stead who built a superb department of medicine at Duke and brought up some thirty great teachers of medicine who spread out all over the country in a relatively short period of twenty years (1946-1966).
How did he succeed in making such an unprecedented contribution to American medicine in just two decades? From where did he acquire this special ability and how did he motivate a large cadre of academicians and practitioners to excel in what they do? What is it in him that is so rare and so powerful that no single person can parallel his contribution to American medicine in the area of pedagogy?
Gene was selfless and uncompromisingly committed to teaching. He seldom took the time to travel. Instead of secluding himself at his desk or laboratory, he roamed the labs of his younger colleagues. It was his habit to ask questions more often than he imparted or asserted facts of knowledge. His expectations for younger colleagues were very high, almost always exceeding the very high standards they set for themselves. Patient care was always at the center of his heart and the intolerance he sometimes showed toward his younger colleagues was related to their inattention to and lack of total care for their patients.
His ability to separate what he knew and what he didn't kept him and his colleagues honest. When it comes to knowledge and truth, Gene Stead was a very honest man. His questions were piercing and could be merciless. He once asked me whether we could measure red cell survival by carbon monoxide generation when the individual smoked or came in from a busy traffic in an urban surrounding, even though at that time, he could not have known that the oxidative product of pyrrol rings could form carbon monoxide when red cells broke down.
Gene was aware that I had started an oncologic hospital in Taiwan but he did not realize that the teaching within it is modeled on his style, with an ambience reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s, the golden era of modern medicine. Although he did not have a chance to see this particular effort to embody his vision, his close colleagues and friends, Mort and Mary Bogdonoff, have visited on several occasions. In this oncologic hospital, teaching remains the highest priority and Gene would be happy to know that the spirit and example he left behind at Duke are very much alive there.
Gene's interest in young people remained lively into his nineties. In April, 2003 when my son and I visited him at his home at the edge of Kerr Lake, he asked us which computer to buy for a young girl in the neighborhood so that she could learn to use it and have easier access to knowledge. It is his untiring interest in young people that made him a great teacher and a towering giant who supported and brought many great teachers to the world of medicine.