March 8, 2010

Skorton Discusses His Other Career as Cardiologist

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In a brief respite from the onerous responsibilities of his everyday job, President David Skorton took time out of his busy schedule to pour his heart out to several dozen undergraduates assembled by the Cornell Cardiology In­terest Group. Skorton graduated with an M.D. in 1974 from Northwestern University and completed a medical residency and cardiology fellowship at UCLA before being named as an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa in 1981.

Addressing students in a Uris Hall atrium, Skorton touched on his family’s emigration to the United States, the trajectory of his career and the similarities between being an administrator and being a doctor.

Yet the most poignant moment of the lecture came when Skorton was questioned about why he left a career as a pediatric practitioner.

Skorton explained how he had been unable to save an “eight year old girl with leukemia.” After her death, Skorton said, he recognized that he “would not be able to handle” the constant wear of the position.

President of the Cornell Cardiology Interest Group, Joshua Novy ’10, introduced Skorton as a true “renaissance man,” likening him to Ron Burgundy because of their shared passion for jazz flute.

He began his lecture with a discussion of his aborted career as a graduate research student, talked about the “emotionally and psychologically satisfying” career of a doctor, stressed his love for his current position as an administrator — and, after all that, still said he would “walk to New York tomorrow” if he was given the opportunity to play in a premier jazz band.

Students in attendance — the majority of whom appeared to have some professional interest in cardiology — said that they hoped to learn how Skorton had managed to use his M.D. for means other than practicing medicine.

A pre-med freshman, Marc Sourour ’13 said before the lecture that he “wanted to learn about Skorton’s experiences and what drove him here,” to a career outside of medicine.

Sourour was not to be disappointed, as Skorton drew parallels between experiences of doctors and administrators.

Skorton’s first point was that “learning to listen [and to] always have great respect for what the patient says” is similar to the way he tries to treat his work as an administrator of a University –– never forgetting the importance of seeking input from those around him before making decisions, whether that be students, administrators or faculty.

Secondly, Skorton said that being a doctor and being anadministrator shared the difficulty of “making tough decisions under conditions of uncertainty.” He evoked the deductive and inductive reasoning techniques of Sherlock Holmes to illustrate the problem-solving techniques that inform both disciplines.

Students said that they were impressed and appreciative that Skorton would take the time off to come speak with undergraduates.

“Lots of professors don’t take time out of their day [to speak with undergraduates],” Adam Carleton ’13 said, so it’s “pretty awesome the President of the University” was able to do so.

Chu Hsio ’12 expressed a similar sentiment, adding that Skorton’s decision to speak to the undergraduate community “shows that [Skorton] cares about students, even in times of financial restraint.”

The Cornell Cardiology Interest Group was founded last year; and, according to its Vice President, Nichita Capurin ’11, has “already grown to 125 members.”

Novy emphasized that cardiology is a field that everyone can take part in.

“From knowing to get up and take a run in the morning … to the most advanced professional research, cardiology has something for everybody,” he said.

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Original Author: Jeff Stein