Contributor: Howard Thompson Chief Resident 1960-1961
After my junior residency in 1955 at Bellevue in NYC, I spent 13 months at a MASH in Korea, where my roommate was a surgeon who had just completed residency training under Dr. DeBakey in Houston. This man had gone to medical school at Emory, where he was exposed to Dr. Eugene Stead.
The stories he relayed to me in Korea were so intriguing that I decided to apply for fellowship training at Duke to "see what medicine in the South was like."
Dr. John Hickam interviewed me and arranged for me to be a fellow, along with Norm Berry, under Henry McIntosh. After 6 months in Henry's lab, I completed a year as senior assistant resident then went back into Henry McIntosh's lab. When the opportunity to be chief resident under Dr. Stead came up, I jumped at it.
Title: The Most Remarkable Year of My Life
My year as chief resident was probably the most remarkable year of my life. I spent most of the year in awe of Dr. Stead, the man, the teacher, and the leader, as well as of Dr. Bingham Dai, who patiently exposed me to features of my psychological make-up of which I was previously unaware.
After my chief resident year, knowing I had a passion for mathematics, Dr. Stead tried one of his many thinking-out-of-the-box ideas and sent me to do a year of postgraduate fellowship in biomathematics at M.I.T.
My year in Cambridge was spent taking courses along side undergraduates in courses like biophysics, biochemistry, bioengineering, computing, and electron microscopy. I returned to Duke, where I teamed up with a young engineering student, Frank Starmer, in exploring different ways to apply computers, mathematics, and biostatistics to medical problems.
My performance during most of the intern year did not impress anyone except the patient admitted to Long Ward with pleurisy/pleural effusion relieved (in terms of pain) by Indocin without benefit of penicillin for his pneumococcal pneumonia during the first 48 hours.
Oh, also Dr. Joe Greenfield was most appreciative of my attempt to treat his laryngospasm with an isuprel nebulizer during his presentation on attending rounds to Dr. Herbert Sieker, then Chief of the Pulmonary Division, who didn't misinterpret an uptight intern's voice change as asthma.
Nowadays, computers are an essential tool in medical care and research, but at that time, they were foreign and strange and had not yet proven their worth in medical environments. I continued this type of activity after I left Duke, benefiting significantly from a close association with the Biotechnology Resources Branch of the Division of Research Resources at NIH.
Six months into my chief residency, I worked up the courage to ask Dr. Stead for a raise (I was making $3,000 per year, about ½ to 1/3 of the salaries of my interns and residents).
He thundered at me, "Well, Tommy, if this whole residency thing is about money, we might as well call it quits right now."
I left his office shattered and convinced that my life was about to fall apart. Dr. Stead left me to stew like this for about a week. Then he called me in to his office and, flashing his magnificent and mischievous smile, he said. "Tommy, don't you ever forget this, 'Don't ever again take a job without asking how much you will be paid for it'".
I never did. And, incidentally, I did not get the raise.