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Founding Department Chairs

FitzReginald Fitz III, MD, UNM School of Medicine's founding dean, led a life intertwined with legendary founders and innovators in American medicine. Fitz is UNM's tie to the founding fathers of American medicine.

As a condition of accepting his new post as founding dean, Fitz' major stipulation was that he would recruit all of the founding faculty members. Therefore, when he and his wife arrived in Albuquerque in 1961, Fitz was the only member of the medical school faculty. ... While Fitz was excited about the prospect of innovations, he also wanted the new school to emulate Harvard in quality. One could even say that the founding strategy for the UNM School of Medicine was to entrap Harvard crimson beneath New Mexico's blue skies. Because of the number of founders with Harvard ties, sometimes the School of Medicine was referred to as, "Harvard on the Rio Grande."

Fitz, himself an internist, began by recruiting a Chairman for the Department of Medicine, a key position. He set his sights on Solomon Papper, MD, a Professor of Medicine at the Medical College of Virginia, and a nationally known academic in nephrology. Papper had been a fellow at Harvard Medical School, after receiving his MD at NYU. He had published 40 articles, and had funding from the National Institutes of Health to study the kidney during cirrhosis. ... When the Santa Fe Super Chief, a passenger train of the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, pulled into the Santa Fe train station with Papper aboard, Fitz was at the station, waiting.

On March 16, 1962, Fitz wrote a letter to Papper, offering him the position of founding Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine, at the new University of New Mexico School of Medicine. He would also be Head of the Division of Clinical Science. The offer was for $24,000 for eleven months of service, and tenure after one year. Papper accepted. In September of 1962, Solomon Papper began his new job in Albuquerque, in an office in the Department of Medicine, on the North wing of the fifth floor of the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital. It had a view of the Sandia Mountains.

Robert Loftfield, PhD, was Fitz' choice for Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry. Loftfield was an Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry at Harvard Medical School, a rising star who had already received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Loftfield arrived by plane. According to Mike Norviel, who Fitz recruited from Harvard to establish the Medical Illustrations Department, Loftfield got tired of waiting for a cab at the Albuquerque Airport, which at the time, was a one-room building atop a barren, dusty mesa. He looked at the miles of dirt and tumbleweeds in front of him. He flung his scarf around his neck, picked up his suitcase, and broke into a sprint toward town, his scarf blowing in the wind behind him.

Other Chairmen were recruited. From the Medical College of Virginia, along with Papper, came Robert Senescu, MD, to Chair the Department of Psychiatry. The school's first students would later recall Senescu's influence in promoting the understanding of patients, and of the doctor-patient relationship.  Also from the Medical College of Virginia was Sidney Solomon, MD, the new Chairman of the Department of Physiology.

Two founding chairmen came from Los Angeles. From UCLA, Fitz recruited Robert Stone, MD, to be the first Chairman for the Department of Pathology. Stone had already distinguished himself as an innovative educator. ... Stone would later succeed Fitz as the UNM School of Medicine's second dean, before he would leave to become Director of the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C.

From the UCLA-affiliated Wadsworth VA Medical Center, came James S. Clarke, MD, to chair the Department of Surgery.

Aaron "John" Ladman, from the University of Tennessee, would lead the Anatomy Department, and Leroy "Lee" McLaren from the University of Minnesota would Chair the Microbiology Department.

Fitz offered each Chairman a salary of $24,000. The majority of this was paid through a $1.08-million grant from the Kellogg Foundation. The rest came from the "FOM", or Faculty of Medicine Fund, generated from professional services at the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital.

Excerpted from The Daily Practice of Compassion: A History of The University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Its People and Its Mission 1964-2014 by Dora Calott Wang, MD, with Shannan L. Carter, JD, and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine (UNM Press; 2014).