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Alumni Board Gets Department of Medicine Update

Applications from Target Schools to Northwestern Internal Medicine Residency

Applications from Target Schools

While the number of U.S. graduates choosing internal medicine is on the decline, Northwestern is improving its ability to attract top residency candidates (see chart). That is, according to Douglas E. Vaughan, MD, chair of the Department of Medicine, who spoke at the October 24 meeting of the Alumni Association National Board. “Over half of the people who are looking into internal medicine are applying to Northwestern,” he said.

Dr. Vaughan began his presentation with an overview of an area that has 600 staff, 750 faculty, 103 fellows, and 128 residents from 51 schools. “I’m trying to build on the momentum of Deans Landsberg and Jameson, redefining and resculpting to make the Department of Medicine a 21st century entity that is more integrated with other departments,” he explained.

Their clinical mission is to adopt the characteristics of an elite medical program: high volume, service oriented, superb quality, broad scope of services, innovative and appropriate use of new technologies. The research mission is to do basic, translational and clinical research, with an emphasis on innovation and impact, broad participation and endorsement (faculty, fellows, staff, administration), and growth in the following areas – genetics, regenerative medicine, and metabolism.

The department has seven of its 15 divisions ranked within the top 50 in U.S. News & World Report. “I’d like to see all divisions in the top 20, but to do that, we need to integrate and share perspectives,” said Dr. Vaughan. “We want to cultivate interdisciplinary partnerships to optimize clinical care, grow market share, and distinguish Northwestern Medicine.”

He envisions clinical programmatic opportunities in esophageal disorders, genetic disorders, expanded sleep medicine services with neurology, a comprehensive diabetes center with NMH, a vascular medicine program with vascular surgery, men’s health with urology and oncology, pulmonary and oncology program integration, and experimental therapeutics.

Alumni profile: Bruce F. Scharschmidt on the Move

Peggy Scharschmidt gives her husband, Bruce, a supportive hug at mile 17 of the 2006 Boston Marathon. This was the second year he participated in the event.

Although he biked 47 mountainous miles in 10 hours from central Thailand to the Thai-Burma border in March 2009 to raise money to fight malnutrition in this part of the world, Bruce F. Scharschmidt, MD ’70, wouldn’t describe himself as an avid cyclist. While he crossed the Boston Marathon finish line in 2005 and then, again, in 2006, he doesn’t claim veteran runner status. This Northwestern alum, however, does have a self-effacing passion for challenging himself, which has led to a lifetime of achievements from academia to industry.

This gastroenterologist, for example, played a major role in establishing the University of California at San Francisco’s (UCSF) renowned liver transplant program in the late ’80s, while simultaneously juggling his duties as newly appointed division chief and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“Being able to take horrendously ill patients from death’s door and provide them with a solution and a recovery that was meaningful and durable was remarkably satisfying but it was also a busy time for me,” recalls Dr. Scharschmidt, a former National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded investigator with more than 180 scientific publications to his credit. “My wife [Peggy S. Crawford, MD ’73] thought I was nuts and my daughter [a medical school graduate of UCSF, who is now completing her dermatology training there] decided then to not specialize in gastroenterology. I remember she said, ‘Dad seems to like whatever it is he is doing, but it seems there’s too much of whatever it is he is doing!’”

Bruce Scharschmidt, MD, (right, front) poses with friends after his graduation from medical school in 1970.

Growing up in Cleveland, Dr. Scharschmidt decided early on a career in medicine and enrolled in Northwestern’s then six-year Honors Program in Medical Education. He balanced his abbreviated undergraduate experience on the Evanston campus, where he was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, with his graduate studies in the city. Later living in a penthouse with 13 friends on the north side of Chicago, he first met his future bride—a good friend of his roommate and fellow fraternity brother. Earning her bachelor’s degree at Northwestern, Peggy was three years behind him in medical school. Yet, the sparks didn’t fly between them until the young Dr. Scharschmidt, who had completed his internal medicine residency at UCSF in 1972, arrived in Washington, D.C., to work as a clinical research associate at the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“She came for a visit,” he shares. “I played Beethoven’s piano sonata, ‘Pathetique,’ and I think after four years that helped to close the deal!”

In 1977 the couple married, after Peggy completed her specialty training in dermatology and Bruce, his fellowship in gastroenterology, at UCSF. Settling in San Francisco, Peggy joined Kaiser Permanente Medical Group’s dermatology department, where she has spent her entire career.

Unlike his wife’s curriculum vitae, Bruce’s resume has had a few twists and turns. After 20 some years in academic medicine at UCSF (with six of them spent as chief of a nationally recognized gastroenterology division), he began looking for a new challenge. Dr. Scharschmidt applied his clinical, research, and leadership skills in the pharmaceutical products arena, joining Emeryville, California-based Chiron Corporation in 1996 as a corporate vice president in clinical research and development. Over the next 12 years, he would hold senior executive positions at Chiron—including in its vaccines and biopharmaceuticals groups. Among other projects, Dr. Scharschmidt worked on exploring novel and more efficient methods for the production of seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines such as H5N1, also known as avian influenza.

Bruce and Peggy Scharschmidt with son, Brent, and daughter, Tiffany, onboard a military troop carrier in Australia in 1989 when Quantas Airlines was on strike.

While the public today has wondered why production of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine has not kept pace with urgent demand, manufacturers like Chiron (acquired by pharmaceutical giant Novartis in 2006) have long known about the limitations of quickly producing safe and effective vaccines. The seasonal flu alone requires some 300 million fertilized chicken eggs to serve as incubators for every dose of vaccine that ends up in clinics, doctor’s offices, and hospitals around the world, according to Dr. Scharschmidt. Since humans can only push along Mother Nature (and chickens) so far, it is not surprising that this somewhat laborious and delicate production process requires a long lead time.

“I was involved in the decision-making about new technologies such as cell culture to produce vaccines,” explains this former vice president of scientific affairs and vaccines for Novartis. “It’s more readily available, scalable, and could help shorten the production lead time.”

Although the H5N1 virus didn’t materialize as the cause of the next pandemic, the work of companies like Novartis/Chiron didn’t go to waste. “All the effort and resources that went into researching and developing a vaccine to combat the avianflu made us much better prepared for H1N1 when it arrived,” says Dr. Scharschmidt. “For a virus that first appeared in March of this year, it is amazing that we actually had a vaccine ready to use in October.”

In April 2008, Dr. Scharschmidt made another career move and joined Hyperion Therapeutics as senior VP and chief medical officer. With less than 15 employees, this privately held specialty company in South San Francisco focuses on the development of therapies that address orphan or underserved patient populations with unmet medical needs. For GI specialist Dr. Scharschmidt, his new post has brought him back to what he calls his “professional home.” Hyperion has two products in its development pipeline: one focuses on hereditary urea cycle disorder (UCD) and, the other, acute hepatic encephalopathy (HE). Patients with UCD lack an enzyme that allows their bodies to remove ammonia, a potent neurotoxin, from the bloodstream. Left untreated, UCD can be fatal in its most severe form. Often resulting from a complication of liver failure, HE also causes toxic substances to accumulate in the bloodstream and can lead to neurologic damage. Hyperion’s UCD product has entered phase 3 clinical trials, while the HE therapeutic is in phase 2.

Bruce and his son, Brent, pose for a picture at the base of Mt. Shasta.

“I went from a company of 100,000 to one that had less than 10 people for most of last year,” says Dr. Scharschmidt. “I have been very impressed with how much a small group, with the right people, can accomplish.”

Coming full circle to familiar interests has also been a recent theme in regard to the Scharschmidts’ alma mater. The first to admit that family, career, and a distance of almost 2,000 miles led him to drift away from Northwestern for many years, Dr. Scharschmidt has returned with a vengeance. This newly installed Nathan Smith Davis Club president currently serves on the medical school’s Alumni Association National Board as well as on the NUCATS (Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences) Institute’s scientific advisory board. Although his two children chose to pursue medicine in their hometown—son Brent just started his first year of medical school at the family’s other alma mater, UCSF—Dr. Scharschmidt has some ideas for attracting top candidates to the Windy City.

“I’ve always felt it was easier to recruit applicants to the coasts, particularly the West Coast, rather than for the folks in the center of the country to recruit students from the coasts,” he says. “So I suggested that we introduce some name recognition to the medical school’s scholarship program as an added draw and to provide Northwestern with more ammunition to attract the very best students.”

So, step aside you Rhodes and Morehead Scholars. Introducing four new scholarships this year with the Class of 2013, the medical school now features the Nathan Smith Davis Scholars—a fitting tribute to one of Northwestern’s founders and a perfect beginning for the next 150 years.

Cheryl SooHoo

Online Extra

Former professor, Paul Francis Nora passes away

Paul Francis NoraPaul Francis Nora, MD, MS, PhD, professor of clinical surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, died November 22, in La Jolla, Calif. He was 80 years old. Born in Chicago, Dr. Nora was one of six children. He graduated from Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in 1952 and did a general surgical residency at Cook County Hospital from 1955 to 59. Shortly thereafter, he started a surgical fellowship at Lahey Clinic in Boston, Mass. Returning to Chicago, he became an instructor at Northwestern University medical school in 1960. While teaching, he completed an M.S. degree in surgery in 1964 and a PhD in surgery in 1968, the last given at Northwestern.

In 1962, Dr. Nora became an attending surgeon at Veterans Administration Lakeside Hospital, and in 1964 was appointed chair of the Department of Surgery at Columbus Hospital, an affiliate of Northwestern University medical school.

At Northwestern, he became an associate professor in 1968 and continued to advance until he was promoted to professor of clinical surgery a decade later. He held that position until he retired.

Dr. Nora comes from a family of Northwestern physician-professors. His brother, Ernest, was associate professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology, his brother, Joseph, was a former assistant professor of medicine, and his brother, Gerald, was an assistant professor of clinical medicine.

He was active in a number of regional and national organizations including, Society of International Surgery, Central Surgical Association, Western Surgical Association, Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, Chicago Surgical Society, Illinois Surgical Society, and the American College of Surgeons.   

Dr. Nora’s book, “Operative Surgery, Principles and Techniques” published in English in 1972 and in Spanish in 1975, won first prize from the American Association of Medical Illustrators and is one of the standard texts in this field in the country.   

Online Extra

Honoring Alumnus and Faculty Member Dr. Neil Stone

Dr. StoneFellow alumni, patients and their families, as well as residents and students who have trained with alumnus and faculty member Neil Stone, MD, ’68, are honoring him through a $2 million fundraising effort to create an endowed professorship. Once the professorship, often known as a chair, is fully funded and established, Dr. Stone will serve as the inaugural holder of this prestigious academic position.

Throughout his distinguished 36-year career at Northwestern, Dr. Stone’s impact as a physician, teacher, researcher, and mentor has been extraordinary and far-reaching. Across the nation and keenly throughout the Chicago area, he is known as a trusted expert in the field of preventive cardiology, an award-winning lipidologist, and as a devoted, highly compassionate doctor. Among numerous accolades, the Minow Family Foundation created the “Neil Stone Award for Northwestern Medical Students” in Dr. Stone’s honor in 2007. The award is bestowed annually to a fourth-year Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine student in recognition of a commitment to professionalism and compassion. Ben and Natalie Heineman recently made a bequest intention to establish a merit-based scholarship in perpetuity at Feinberg, which will be named the Neil J. Stone, MD, Scholarship Fund.

It is a fitting tribute to create an endowed professorship in Dr. Stone’s honor since these positions represent the highest distinction a university can bestow on a faculty member. Dr. Stone, deeply humbled to learn that we are choosing to recognize his legacy of service, asked that the endowed position be named the Robert Bonow, MD, Professorship in preventive cardiology. Dr. Robert Bonow is an internationally recognized leader in the field of cardiology, a longtime colleague and collaborator of Dr. Stone’s, former President of the American Heart Association, and recent Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Northwestern. He now leads the new Northwestern Center for Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

For more information about honoring Dr. Stone through this fundraising effort, please contact Lauren Ritter, Office of Development, at 312/503-0766 or l-ritter@northwestern.edu.