At Christmas break after my first semester at Johns Hopkins in 1973, my brother Doug (Hopkins ’69) and I had a long conversation about the pros and cons of the university. Not atypical for an English major, I ranted about the overwhelming presence of pre-med students (neatly captured in my friend Craig Hankin’s illustration above, for the Hopkins News-Letter as I recall), the “throats” as they were commonly derided, the guys—and a few women, this was ’73 after all—who were nameless, shuffling around campus with a huge stack of books, muttering about eight a.m. Organic Chemistry classes and living in the library. Doug wasn’t buying any of it: “Years from now, when you’re inevitably at the hospital for a procedure, you’ll be happy to have a Hopkins-educated doctor holding the scalpel.” Eight years older than me, Doug gently said I was naïve; that students grow up and settle into lives that are completely disparate from college days. Yes, he agreed, some doctors will always be pricks, but the God-complex is often part of the profession. Doesn’t mean they’re not skilled.
As it happens, on the few occasions I’ve had this or that done at a hospital—nothing major, a busted foot here, thrown-out back there—I’ve no idea where the various docs matriculated, but my brother was undoubtedly correct. In fact, in 1987, at a 10th anniversary reunion here in Baltimore, I was pleasantly surprised at just how decent many former adversaries, at the age of 31 or 32, had turned out. People I’d regularly ridicule in the pages of the News-Letter—some pre-meds weren’t entirely invisible, but involved in student government, lacrosse and fraternities, as well as overwhelming my freshman dormitory Griffin Hall—were cordial partners for a 10-minute conversation. Who knows what they thought of me—I was co-owner of Baltimore’s City Paper at the time—but several were diplomatic enough to offer congratulations on my professional success, and I reciprocated.
A lot of pre-meds at Hopkins wash out after the first year—many relieved, shedding their parents’ desire for entirely different lines of study—but a bunch of my friends soldiered on. I remember one fellow, a genial and kind person from New England who was active in the party scene, who couldn’t resist an 11 p.m. entreaty to go on a weeknight adventure. His grades suffered and by junior year he’d flunked out. Not uncommon. Another, also lacking the pre-med gene, graduated but had a devil of a time getting into medical school. He persisted, taking the MCATs over and over, and finally found a university that’d take him. After years of internships at podunk towns, he emerged as a renowned brain surgeon in Manhattan.
I do recall one incident in 1975 at a dance at JHU’s Glass Pavilion that was illustrative of the divide between arts and science majors. I wasn’t gifted on my toes, but did enjoy enthusiastically dancing, and, as the evening grew late, after a gallon or so of keg beer, and a tab of Mr. Natural, I slipped and hit the stone floor hard right on my noggin. I was out for just a few seconds, but clearly remember my News-Letter colleague Marc Duvoisin (now managing editor of The Los Angeles Times), separating the rubber-neckers from those who could help, and issuing a directive: “All pre-meds, leave!” I was shuffled off to nearby Union Memorial Hospital, diagnosed with a mild concussion—and given a lecture—and was on my feet, ready to roll just 36 hours later. Who knows, it could’ve been a JHU graduate who treated me.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955
I love this series of articles Russ. I may not often comment on them but always enjoy reading them.
From Wikipedia: "Helen Brooke Taussig (May 24, 1898 – May 20, 1986) was an American cardiologist, working in Baltimore and Boston, who founded the field of pediatric cardiology. Notably, she is credited with developing the concept for a procedure that would extend the lives of children born with Tetralogy of Fallot (the most common cause of blue baby syndrome). This concept was applied in practice as a procedure known as the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt. The procedure was developed by Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas, who were Taussig's colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Taussig is also known for her work in banning thalidomide and was widely recognized as a highly skilled physician."