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an online version of the magazine Winter 2007
Where Are They Now?
 
 

“Problems Solved Here”

Vernon Mountcastle enjoying “the sunny uplands of old age."
> Commencement 2007. Photograph by Zuhair Kareem.

Utterly involved in the lives of his students, Henry Seidel helped a generation of aspiring M.D.’s navigate the challenges of medical school at Hopkins.

 

Mention the name HENRY SEIDEL to anyone who trained at the School of Medicine during the 1970s and 1980s and invariably an avalanche of adulation follows. “He’s wonderful,” physicians, now middle-aged, will extol, “so kind, so honest, so gentle—so thoughtful!” No one, in fact, who’s ever known Seidel, a pediatrician who spent 16 years as the med school’s dean of student affairs, seems to feel anything but pure adoration for him.

Now 85, Seidel tends to play down such encomiums. Chuckling softly, he says, “I’ve been touched by many people whose lives have been touched by Hopkins. My life may have touched the students’ lives, but it was just a touch and not a big impact.”

Seidel arrived in the job he’d eventually define in 1968. That year, David Rogers, the School of Medicine’s new dean, picked him out of the faculty and appointed him to the dean’s office post. Seidel, who’d earned his own M.D. at Hopkins in 1947, had no idea such a position even existed.  “There was no dean of students when I was in medical school,” he says. “If students had problems, we talked to each other.”

Still Seidel’s interest was piqued and he took the job. When Rogers left three years later and a new administration came on, Seidel went back to treating children. By now he’d become the pediatrician of choice for hordes of faculty with offspring. But Seidel returned again to student affairs in 1977, as associate dean of students, when Richard S. Ross was named the School of Medicine’s head dean. “Henry had a tremendous reputation as a pediatrician,” Ross recalls of the appointment. “He was gentle but firm in dealing with patients and their parents. That’s the ideal training ground for this job.”

And so, as Seidel continued to take care of children (and would do so throughout his career), he resumed his role with students. Over the next decades, he helped class after class navigate the challenges of medical school; he wrote recommendations that let graduating medical students secure superb residencies; and, no matter what, he always was there to talk.  “I didn’t put up a sign that said, ‘Problems Solved Here,’” Seidel laughs now, but generations of Hopkins med students would say otherwise.

Tom Koenig, who was in the School of Medicine’s class of 1989 and now holds the job Seidel made famous, remembers his former dean as being “utterly involved in students’ lives.” In 2004, when Koenig himself was named associate dean of students, one of his first steps, therefore, was to seek Seidel’s advice. Koenig laughs when he recalls their meeting. “Henry gave me the best and shortest advice anyone has ever given me. ‘Be yourself.’”

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For Seidel, that instinct seemed to work perfectly. Edward “Ted” Trimble, an Ob/Gyn specialist who earned his M.D. in 1984 and now designs clinical trials at the National Cancer Institute, recalls a one-on-one meeting he had with Seidel during his student years. As the two sat talking, Trimble says, it suddenly dawned on him that Seidel was using the same techniques to put him at ease as he used with his pediatric patients. “It worked,” Trimble says, “but I was chuckling inside that this technique he’d perfected for children worked just as well on a medical student who thought he was a grown-up.”

Redonda Miller, an assistant dean of student affairs who was in the class of 1992, says that, to this day, “Whenever we have a dilemma with a student, we think about what Dr. Seidel would do.”

What Seidel would do usually meant going with his gut—even if it involved taking on a hallowed tradition like Match Day. That day in March when graduating medical students learn the hospitals where they’ve been accepted for their residencies can be joyous or deeply upsetting depending on whether students match with their top choice or their bottom one—or, for that matter, whether they match at all. Tradition called for the whole class to receive the news together—one by one in envelopes handed to them by the dean in front of an auditorium of classmates. But knowing there would be some who were disappointed, Seidel determined to shield them from public view. “And so, we chose chaos,” he recalls. “The envelopes were divided into four or five packets and given to several of us from the dean’s office to disperse. We stood in a row at the foot of Tilghman Auditorium and, precisely at noon, yelled, ‘Come and get it!’” Ever since, that is the way Match Day has been handled at Hopkins. During the tense moments residency matches are handed round, the spotlight is never on one student.

Today, 17 years after Seidel left the dean’s office, he continues to work closely with medical students as an attending pediatrician. Says Koenig, “Students tell me they feel like they’ve hit the lottery when they get Henry as their teacher on that service.”

Seidel and his wife, May Ruth, now split their time between Baltimore and Cape Cod to be closer to their two sons and their families. This schedule offered a more relaxed pace until last June, when Seidel suddenly noticed he was feeling terribly tired. By early July, he was in intensive care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston with a diagnosis of lymphoma. Now undergoing chemotherapy, he says, “It’s not as bad as I had anticipated, though I do sleep a lot.”

Seidel’s hospitalization at the Brigham turned out to be like old home week. His team of physicians included Joel Katz, from the class of 1991, and former Hopkins colleague Kenneth Baughman, now a senior cardiologist at the Harvard hospital. And part of what the team did, according to Baughman, was help the Seidel family handle the deluge of cards and calls from across the country.

Ted Trimble and his wife, Cornelia (Connie) Liu Trimble, a Hopkins Gyn/OB specialist, were among those who jumped on a plane for Boston when they heard Seidel was hospitalized. “The Brigham had never seen so many visitors for one patient,” she says. “It has everything to do with Henry’s being so civilized. He’s one of the pillars—part of what makes Hopkins work.”

Seidel, of course, has a far simpler take on his mark on the School of Medicine: “I am unabashedly in love with the place.” star

 

Sarah Achenbach


 
 
 
 
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