Obie surgeon spurs passion for medicine in student interns
by Eric T. Everett
Dr. Douglas Kirkpatrick '65 has stood in an airport
terminal in Provo, Oregon, every January for the past 20 years,
awaiting his next Oberlin "transplant."
He and his unsuspecting student intern will become
nearly inseparable during the coming weeks--darting in and out of
operating rooms, conducting early-morning hospital rounds, or talking
together in Kirkpatrick's home. For the student, it will be a winter-term
project like no other.
"Doug told me, 'You'll go wherever I go, except
the bathroom,'" Dr. Paul Samuels '82 recalls with a laugh.
As Kirkpatrick's first intern, Samuels went on to graduate from
NYU's School of Medicine and today is associate professor of anesthesia/pediatrics
at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati.
"My experience with Doug was incredible--he was
extremely skilled. I was in my third year at Oberlin and was undecided
about my career."
His mind-set soon changed. During his four-week tour
with Kirkpatrick in 1981, Samuels took a front seat to several surgical
procedures, including a craniotomy (he remembers being awed by the
exposed, pulsing human brain) and an STA-MCA bypass on an anesthetized
mouse. Samuels was equally impressed by his mentor's ingenuity when
a power outage in the operating room forced the surgeon to complete
the job via lantern light.
"I returned to Oberlin knowing I wanted to go
into medicine," says Samuels, whose fond memories of Kirkpatrick
run deep, especially given the surgeon's announcement of his retirement
this past December, ending his 25-year career.
Kimberly Betz, director of internships in Oberlin's
Office of Career Services, says that Kirkpatrick's popular internship
gave students complete access in and out of the operating room.
"Support from alumni like Doug is invaluable in helping students
assess their goals and interests," says Betz. "Many of
these opportunities lead students toward their post-Oberlin path."
"It's been a pleasure," says Kirkpatrick.
"Having new, fresh minds with which to share experiences revitalized
me. I wanted the students to experience medicine, not necessarily
create doctors or neurosurgeons." The tactic worked: nearly
all of his 20 interns have become doctors, health care providers,
or business owners. Many recall his gentle bedside manor, vibrant
personality, and pure enjoyment of teaching.
"I saw procedures and emergency situations that
I didn't even see during my years of medical training," says
Shannon Sims '93, whose current career combines health care and
information technology. "Dr. Kirkpatrick provided an extremely
intimate view of the medical world, from allowing us to view neurosurgical
procedures in the OR to letting us sit in on clinic visits to initiating
frank discussions about the financial rewards and lifestyle issues
"He turned me on to detailed anatomy and minute
surgical technique," says Charles Soparkar '83, an associate
ocular plastic eye surgeon in Houston. "And I expect it was
his compassion, balanced against stark, community prejudice, that
contributed to my own acceptance of different cultures."
"Kirkpatrick did a great service to Oberlin students
by showing them the good and bad sides of medicine," says David
Brand '92, an epidemiologist and director of research and evaluation
in the Chronic Disease Department at the Colorado Department of
Public Health. "He immersed students in the experience and
let them sort out, on an individual basis, whether or not they wanted
to pursue medicine."
Kirkpatrick's influence on his interns extended beyond
the professional; many recalled his sense of humor, devotion to
his children, passion for art, and his extravagant greenhouse in
which he maintained a collection of parasitic plants. Soparkar claims
that the doctor "quite literally shoved me down my first ski
"Many things I will not forget," he adds,
"like his wry humor in operating to Pachelbel's 'Canon in D'
and his human frailty when, after slogging like a healing God through
12 hours of sick and dying patients, he looked up at the mountains
as we drove home and said, 'They make me remember how small we are.
That makes it better.'"
"My fondest memory was driving with him and singing
'The Hallelujah Chorus' at the top of our lungs," says neuroscience
major Ayo-Lynn Richards '03, who interned in 2000 and now is considering
a career in surgery. "The experience made me a better medical
school candidate--the admissions officers seem really surprised
and impressed that I spent a month with a neurosurgeon."
Old habits are hard to break, and even in retirement
Kirkpatrick continues his cycle of giving; he plans to volunteer
in a high school biology lab, teach, and write a technical paper
on a subject he knows well: what a typical neurosurgeon does to
guide the training of future neurosurgeons.
Thank you Dr. K.," says Soparkar. "Your
lessons will forever travel on through successive generations of
To learn more about sponsoring an internship,
write to firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.oberlin.edu/career/Alumni/alumni.html