Tribute to Ralph Nachman, MD

Dr. Ralph Nachman served as the chairman of the Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell from 1990 to 2007 and is presently the Lewis Thomas University Professor of Medicine and the Associate Dean for Clinical Research. To honor his remarkable career, the department, on behalf of its chairman Dr. Andrew Schafer, assembled a scientific tribute to its former chief, held on Nov. 20 in Uris Auditorium.

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Dr. Herbert Pardes, President and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital; Dr. Antonio Gotto, Jr., Dean and Provost of Weill Cornell Medical College, Dr. David Hajjar, Senior Executive Vice Dean and Executive Vice Provost of the Medical College; and Dr. Orli Etingin, Director of the Iris Cantor Women's Health Center, introduced Dr. Nachman at the tribute. Both Drs. Hajjar and Etingin were mentored by Dr. Nachman.

After the introductions, three scientists who were mentored by Dr. Nachman gave presentations on their current research and spoke with great admiration and affection about their years studying under Dr. Nachman.

Presentations included:
  • "Role of the Scavenger Receptor CD36 in Thrombosis" by Roy L. Silverstein, MD of the Cleveland Clinic
  • "Ethnicity and the Characterization of the Asian Phenotype" John E. L. Wong, MBBS, FACP of the National University Health System of Singapore
  • "Contribution of the Vascular Niche to Organ Regeneration" Shahin A. Rafii, MD of Weill Cornell Medical College.
Dr. Orli Etingin's remarks captured the feelings of many assembled in the auditorium:

"Bob Lemon a former manager of the Yankees once said: 'The two most important things in life are good friends, and a strong bullpen.' Well, today, Dr. Nachman, your friends and your bullpen are here to salute you.

Dr. Nachman has been an extraordinary mentor through all of his years as Division Chief and Department Chair. He has a unique way of helping lead his students to their passions. He brought opportunity and excitement to all of us, and he allowed us to thrive, never hovering--always listening, always available-whether it was for scientific advice with experiments or projects, or interesting clinical cases."

He always led by example. As a new Dept Chair in 1989, he began attending Morning Report several days a week. Thus, he knew his residents very well, and spent hours discussing cases. He could convey in single sentence, a definitive diagnosis, and the recent JCI paper of the week before, illustrating the scientific basis of the disease. He was the quintessential "Bench to Bedside" teacher, cultivating an extraordinary group of clinician teachers within his Chief Residents, many of whom are now academic leaders in their own right.

Dr. Nachman's laboratory was always open; his desk was right in the middle of the lab, next to the bench. He was always up and around the lab, with all those he taught. He was practically Department Chair before he moved into a small private office near the lab.

He taught us, as Hematology fellows, to present papers, and at weekly Friday Journal Club, you had better be able to give a crisp, clear presentation of your article in the appropriated time, otherwise you would get the famous interruption from the boss, saying "SO, WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?" - if you got that, you knew it ran over... and better luck next time.

His teaching was gentle, always tempered with good humor, the offer of a steak dinner for a new diagnosis of PNH, and the perfect baseball analogy-usually about the Yankees.

And for the Department of Medicine, Ralph assembled a distinguished team of Division Chiefs, revitalizing and galvanizing the department in many new areas. Pulmonary and Critical Care, Hematology-Oncology department were expanded; WCIMA, Endocrinology, Renal, GI, Cardiology and Medical Ethics were developed. New multidisciplinary clinical programs like the Monahan Center and Women's Health Center, were created. The Department increased its clinical and research capabilities by several fold. And he never lost the vision of what we were here to do first and foremost: take care of patients, work on furthering the field, and teach students-and in that respect, Ralph is the true, so called, "Triple Threat", the world class researcher, clinician and teacher.

So let me close with thanks and salute to a true giant, a revered and respected teacher, with the greatest admiration and respect ...from your friends and your bullpen."

Following the introductory comments and scientific presentations, Grand Rounds was given by Robert I. Handin, MD, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Senior Physician, Hematology Division, Brigham and Women's Hospital. The topic: "Making Sense out of von Willebrand's Disease". Dr. Handin is the mentor of Dr. Andrew I. Schafer, the current Chair of Medicine.

At the conclusion of the event, Dr. Schafer announced the creation of the Ralph L. Nachman, M.D., Distinguished Visiting Professorship in the Department of Medicine.

Later that evening, a reception was held at the Griffis Faculty Club, in which friends, colleagues and former trainees of Dr. Nachman gathered together to celebrate and honor his remarkable career at Weill Cornell Medical College-one that spans over 40 years.

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