at young schools like the University of Miami School of Medicine can
there be found graduates with firsthand knowledge of the institutions
beginnings. The University of Miami is fortunate that several of its
earliest medical students are participating in the schools 50th
anniversary events this year. One of them is the president of the first
graduating class and a voluntary professor of surgery at the schoolNorman
Kenyon, M.D. 56. As preparations for the anniversary began, Kenyon
shared his memories and thoughts about his alma mater in an interview
with Jerry Lewis, assistant vice president for communication at the
School of Medicine.
JL You were a member
of the first graduating class. What were some of the obstacles and challenges
associated with being in the first class?
NK The biggest challenges
were the location and the facilities. The School of Medicine opened
at the old Veterans Affairs Hospital in the servants quarters
at The Biltmore Hotel. Imagine attending medical school at a hotel!
We had no storage space. The classrooms had creaky floors and drafty
windows. It was extremely hot in the summer, very cold in the winter,
and we had no air conditioning. We had some ceiling fans, I recall,
but the heat could still be overwhelming at times. It was a unique environment
and certainly a unique experience.
JL At the time, how
much did you think about the fact that you were in the first class?
How obvious was it that you were embarking on something so entirely
NK Being the first
of anything is both strange and exciting. There were only 28 of us students.
And the faculty, of course, was not only brand new but quite sparse.
By my second year, it was sort of funny that we had senior faculty and
junior faculty, the only distinction being a years difference
in their hiring.
JL Which faculty members
were most influential in your education?
NK The school was started
so rapidly, hiring faculty and administration was a real challenge.
By far, the faculty member who was most stimulating was Dr. George Paff.
He was a professor of anatomy who came here from Hahnemann Medical College
in Philadelphia. He was rough and tough and had a gruff style, but he
was very bright and made a big impression on the students. He was passionate
about being sure you really understood the material. His motive was
that if you knew your stuff, you would take pride in yourself and in
your school. His biggest influence on me was that he nudged me into
a surgical type of specialty.
JL What are your impressions
and recollections of the first dean, Dr. Homer Marsh?
NK Dean Marsh loved
students and was always interested in their welfare. He spent a lot
of time with us. He also was very engaged with the faculty, though he
didnt have much patience for Dr. Paff and would always shake his
head in frustration when Dr. Paff would walk into a classroom or meeting
wearing an undershirt. Dr. Paff enjoyed being the antithesis of academia
and would do that kind of stuff to keep people from getting too high
JL What clinical opportunities
did you have while you were in medical school?
NK Our clinical activities
began at Jackson Memorial Hospital when we were in our junior year.
We were a small group of students, and our experience at Jackson was
absolutely spectacular. We were exposed to medical and surgical emergencies
of all kinds, all specialties. It was great training and unparalleled
JL You graduated from
the School of Medicine in 1956. What was next for one of the first graduates
from a brand-new medical school?
NK Getting started
in medicine was a huge challenge for the new graduates. After graduation,
I left Miami for a year for an internship at John Gaston Hospital in
Tennessee. Then in 1957 I came back to the University and to Jackson
for five years of surgical residencies. During part of that time, I
was on a fellowship from the National Institutes of Health and had the
opportunity to work in the area of open-heart surgery, which was in
its infancy at the time.
I loved that experience
at Jackson. It was a marvelously broad programespecially challenging
and appealing for a surgeon, due to the high volume of trauma cases.
Granted, that meant long hours, but trauma traverses all specialties.
The opportunities to learn and to perfect procedures were virtually
JL What do you think
is the biggest challenge that our current students will face after they
NK I think they will
face one of the same challenges we faced in that first graduating class.
Its fascinating to have so much knowledge, but what it really
comes down to in the end is the doctor-patient relationship. There is
no substitution or shortcut to interfacing with a patient. Its
one thing to know what the book says, but rarely have I ever seen a
situation where the book guided me to make the diagnosis. Thats
one of the problems I see with virtual medicine, online medical education.
Its great from an intellectual standpoint, but who would want
a surgeon operating on them who has received only virtual training?
A surgeon needs to have operated on a variety of patients with various
complications. He or she needs to react on an instinctive basis, which
requires one-on-one interactions with real patients.
JL What was it that
drew you to surgery as a specialty?
NK Surgery impressed
me and appealed to me because it is a field that allows you to take
a problem and see it through to completion. That doesnt happen
100 percent of the time, but most of the time you have the satisfaction
of that type of consolidationa clear beginning and end. I like
that aspect of it.
JL Looking back on
your many years in the field of surgery, can you point to a particular
characteristic or quality that defines a good surgeon?
NK The hardest thing
about being a surgeon is knowing when not to do something. Some people
dont understand that, but its the most important thing.
The natural tendency, of course, is to do something, to take action.
It really comes down to judgment, which most people dont think
of as a surgical skill.
JL What is the biggest
change you have seen in medicine in the past 50 years?
NK One of the most
significant changes I have seen is the introduction and application
of antibiotics. What a tremendous difference they have made in our lives.
More recently, I would point to the multiplicity of new instruments
and new technology. For instance, in the last ten to 15 years we have
seen the development of laparoscopic surgery. And, of course, theres
genomic medicine, which in many ways is still in its infancy but holds
JL Imagine youre
a premed student in 2003, and youre considering attending medical
school at the University of Miami. Perhaps youve been accepted
elsewhere, too. Why should you choose UM?
NK Thats easy.
Weve established a 50-year tradition of being a great medical
school. The School of Medicine has a great curriculum and a solid, outstanding
clinical program that very few medical schools could even begin to offer.
Just look at the size of this medical center, look at the activity that
occurs in the emergency room and the trauma center. Look at the opportunities
available in medicine, surgery, the operating room, in transplantation.
Its absolutely spectacular. If you have the interest, its
right here for the taking.