A typical Thursday morning usually finds Samuel D. Kushlan, M.D. ’35, HS ’37, attending morning report, reading journal articles in the library and going to internal medicine grand rounds. Retired since 1982, Kushlan, now 95, still drives almost every day to the hospital where he has worked for 70 years and continues to be a role model for younger colleagues.
Kushlan has received many honors throughout his distinguished career. In November he received the 2007 Yale Medal in recognition for his years of leadership. The medal, the highest award bestowed by the Association of Yale Alumni, is given annually to five alumni in honor of outstanding service to the medical school and the university.
Born in New Britain, Conn., in 1912, Kushlan was so inspired by his local doctor that by the age of 10 he knew he wanted to be a physician. After graduating from the School of Medicine, he completed his residency at what was then New Haven Hospital, earning a salary of $25 a month. “Medicine was very primitive 70 years ago,” he recalled. His main diagnostic tools were taking a medical history and doing a physical exam—X-rays were the only imaging technique available; and in those pre-penicillin days, the principal medications were aspirin, digitalis, phenobarbital, quinine and morphine. Today more than 4,000 medications are listed in the Physicians’ Desk Reference.
Except for a brief stint at Harvard in 1938, Kushlan spent his entire career at Yale. He established the first endoscopy clinic in Connecticut in 1942 and was the sole member of the gastroenterology section from 1938 until 1955.
From 1967 until his retirement, Kushlan served as the associate physician-in-chief at Yale-New Haven Hospital and as a clinical professor of medicine. When he retired, one of the hospital’s medical services was named for him, although he said he feels out of place among the other legendary physicians—Elisha Atkins, M.D.; John P. Peters, M.D.; Gerald Klatskin, M.D.; Allan Goodyer, M.D.; and Robert Donaldson, M.D.—with whom he shares this honor.
Although he says he does more learning than teaching these days, Kushlan still has some wisdom to impart from the days when the practice of medicine relied more on observation than on diagnostic tests. He advises colleagues to use such simple diagnostic methods as having a patient with back pain lie down to determine its source: if the pain goes away, it’s muscular; if it doesn’t, it’s internal. “I sort of toss in a pearl from time to time to pay my way,” he said.
In addition to his activities at the hospital and the lectures and concerts he regularly attends with Ethel, his wife of 73 years, Kushlan also remains an active member of the executive committee of the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine. “I enjoy the opportunity to be busy,” he said.