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OE 07: Edson

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2016 - Spring


At nearly 89, Mitchell Edson, M.D. ’56, is considering retirement.

It’s been quite a career. Edson, a urologist, put in decades working at Washington Hospital Center and other D.C.-area hospitals, teaching in medical schools, and serving in the Navy. For the last 17 years, he’s been in private practice. He also found time for his medical school, for which he will receive a Distinguished Alumni Service Award at his 60th class reunion this spring.

A Chicago native, Edson and his family moved to New York City when two siblings took up musical careers there. Always interested in medicine, he landed a desk job at a city hospital while still in his teens. Soon, though, he joined the Merchant Marine, serving at sea as a midshipman shortly after World War II. He completed a bachelor’s in engineering at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point in 1949, then took pre-med classes at Columbia Teachers College.

At about $800 a year, Edson recalls, tuition at the School of Medicine was low enough that he paid it with savings from his service in the Merchant Marine. Classmates and professors gathered at four o’clock near the medical library for tea. As a Nu Sigma Nu medical fraternity brother, he was nicknamed Oedipus Edson.

After graduation, Edson trained in urology at St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens (the building now houses a VA Community Living Center). While studying for his boards, Edson received the unsettling order to go to Okinawa as a medical commanding officer for a Marine division’s medical battalion. The military base at that time had a sanitation problem‒“you [could] smell it 10 miles out”‒but he found the Okinawans “very nice.” Once, servicemen exited an airplane with guns out, mistakenly thinking the plane had flown to Vietnam.

Back Stateside, Edson returned to St. Albans. “At the time, there were still injured people around from the [Korean] War,” Edson recalls. ”Then the Vietnam War started up, and you saw casualties again.”

In 1970, Edson settled in the Washington, D.C., area, where he took up leadership positions at the National Naval Medical Center; the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; and Washington Hospital Center, among other institutions. He became a prolific researcher, with special interests in urologic cancers and impotence.

At his class’s 50th reunion, Edson established the Mitchell Edson, M.D., Endowment for International Clinical Rotation, and generously supported the Class of ’56 Scholarship. He’s also served many times as Reunion Gift Chair.

His wife Janet is active in the Historical Society of Fredericksburg, Virginia, where the couple lives in a house built in 1818. They have two sons. Edson enjoys art and woodworking, and he’s not quite ready to stop seeing his patients.

As he said of working his way up a modest pay ladder as a young physician, “Time doesn’t mean anything. As long as you enjoy what you’re doing, that’s what counts.”

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