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Six degrees of Paul Beeson

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2015 - Spring


The Iron Terns, as they were known, began their internships in medicine under Paul Beeson, M.D. in the 1960s. Jack Levin, their chief resident, coined the name at a softball game marking the end of their internship year. The name was an abbreviation of intern and their moniker of “iron men” for their stamina on the wards. Of the 14 physicians in this group, nine went on to become full professors; four held endowed chairs; five became department chairs; one became a medical school dean; and two became division chiefs. Collectively, they published more than a thousand articles. The legacy of Paul Beeson, dubbed the “Beeson mystique,” has been handed down through them to later generations of physicians. In June 1965, the Iron Terns posed on the steps of the Sterling Hall of Medicine with Beeson and the assistant residents in internal medicine.

1: Stephen Ross, M.D., HS ’69, FW ’73, was in private practice in Maine.

2: Dave Dear, M.D., HS ’66, a cardiologist, lowered the mortality rate in heart surgery from 50 percent to 1 percent in just one year in a hospital in Mississippi.

Paul Beeson, M.D., (front row, center) chaired internal medicine from 1952 to 1965 and taught the importance of treating patients as human beings. He mentored scores of young doctors who went on to make their mark in medicine.

3: James J. Fischer, M.D., Ph.D., HS ’65, was chair of therapeutic radiology at Yale for 30 years, and played a major role in improving radiation therapy.

4: Larry Knight, M.D., HS ’67, FW ’68, was both chief of staff and chair at the Elkhart Clinic in Indiana, an early multispecialty clinic.

5: Michael Viola, M.D., HS ’66, delivers health care in the developing world as the chief medical officer of Medicine for Peace, which he and his wife founded along with the MFP Center for Torture Victims in Washington, D.C. In his earlier career he was a professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut and SUNY Stony Brook.

6: Ira Silverstein, M.D., HS ’65, was in private practice in psychiatry in New York City and Laguna Beach, Calif. He was also a member of the part-time faculties of the schools of medicine of Columbia University and the University of California, Irvine.

7: Lewis Landsberg, M.D. ’64, HS ’70, was dean of the medical school at Northwestern University. As a researcher, he made major contributions to the understanding of hypertension and the role of the sympathetic nervous system.

8: Richard Lee, M.D. ’64, HS ’70, FW ’71, was a professor of medicine, obstetrics, pediatrics, anthropology, and social and preventive medicine. He wrote 44 essays for the American Journal of Medicine; 81 essays and commentaries; and a book on his medical travels.

9: John N. Forrest Jr., M.D., HS ’70, FW ’71, has directed student research at Yale for 29 years, and has seen more than 2,500 medical students pass through the program.

10: Jack Levin, M.D. ’57, HS ’65, though not an iron tern, served as their chief resident. He was a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and professor of laboratory medicine and medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. At the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., with his colleague Frederik Bang, M.D., he developed the Limulus amebocyte lysate test, which is used to detect bacterial endotoxins in parenteral drugs, intravenous fluids, and medical devices.

11: Hugh Tilson, M.D., Dr.P.H., HS ’65, an epidemiologist and outcomes researcher, was director of product surveillance at Burroughs Wellcome, and of epidemiology, surveillance, and policy research at GlaxoWellcome. Most recently, he has served as a county health officer in Bath, Maine, and adjunct professor at the UNC School of Public Health in Chapel Hill.

12: Peter Gross, M.D., HS ’66, FW ’71, spent much of his career in epidemiological surveillance and quality improvement, and was chair of medicine at Hackensack University Hospital in New Jersey.

13: John Burke, M.D., HS ’67, was one of the first to use modern computer technology for surveillance of patients with infectious diseases. He trained 70 fellows in infectious diseases at the University of Utah.

14: Thomas Spackman, M.D., HS ’69, moved into the business world after a career at the University of Connecticut. He became the chair, CEO, president, or managing director of companies in medical imaging and medical care.

15: Harold Federman, M.D., HS ’65, personally delivered hospice and palliative care to hundreds of patients while establishing a hospice organization in Cooperstown, N.Y.