William Schumer, M.D.
William Schumer, M.D.

by Michael J. Zdon. M.D.

Dr Schumer was born June 29, 1926 in Chicago, IL where he also spent his childhood. He received his M.D. in 1950 from The Chicago Medical School. He also received an M.B. degree in 1949 and an M.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois in 1966. He did his Internship and Residency training in Surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital Medical Center in Chicago, IL, following which he entered the private practice of Surgery in Chicago. He quickly realized that private practice did not suit him and began his academic career as an Assistant Professor at Chicago Medical School. He was recruited to establish a Surgical training program at the University of California at Davis in 1965 before being lured back to Chicago by Lloyd Nyhus as an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois. During his tenure at Illinois Bill served as Chief of the Surgical Service at the West Side VA and was promoted to Professor of both Surgery and Biochemistry. He remained at the University of Illinois until 1975, when he returned to his alma mater, Chicago Medical School, as Professor and Chairman of the Dept. of Surgery. In 1988, he merged the Surgical training programs of Chicago Medical School and Mt. Sinai Hospital and in 1990 came full circle when he became Chief of Surgery at Mt. Sinai, positions he held until his death.

Dr Schumer’s academic career was one of great success and distinction. He was a member of a long list of organizations and served as President of both the Association of VA Surgeons in 1976 and the Shock Society in 1978. He also served as Editor of Circulatory Shock from 1979-1988. In addition to his positions nationally on editorial boards and study sections, he chaired innumerable committees locally and was instrumental in the development of the Medical School and the Faculty Practice Plan.

Dr Schumer’s love of and involvement in bench research spanned his entire career starting with his first project on the effects of norepinephrine on oligemic shock (which was awarded as most original by the Illinois State Medical Society in 1963), to his last on the effects of sepsis on gene expression of carbohydrate metabolism enzymes, published after his death. His academic output included 154 scientific publications, 45 book chapters, 12 books, 61 abstracts, and 481 presentations and invited lectures. His primary research interests throughout his career were shock, sepsis, and metabolism. He will, no doubt, be best remembered for his controversial papers regarding the use of steroids in septic shock.

Above research, however, his first love was the hundreds of surgeons that he trained. Dr Schumer’s priorities were always 1) optimal care of patients, 2) the residents and the training program, and 3) academic integrity. He never made a decision where these were not taken into account. He was a very traditional, old school, surgeon. And as such he was somewhat feared by some (usually a resident presenting at M&M or being called in to meet with the boss over some transgression), but respected by all. He believed doctors needed to always look and act as professionals and would not tolerate what he liked to refer to as the “Gonzo” (of TVs Trapper John M.D.) mentality in residents or students.

He had a knack for making everyone in the department feel that their contributions were important and mattered. Although there was never any doubt as to who made the decisions, no important decisions were made without first seeking out everyone’s ideas and opinions both individually and as a group. Bill’s greatest strength as a Chairman was that he was an absolute straight shooter. Although opinions might differ, you always knew exactly where you stood with him.

Bill’s main loves were his family, Surgery, and his residents and faculty. Outside the hospital he had really two main interests. He was an accomplished pianist and a lover of Italian sports cars. His love of cars dates back to his childhood when he used to help his father repair cars. One cannot think of Bill without picturing him driving around in one of his red Ferraris.

Bill’s life was his work. Although he was planning to step down as Chairman two months after his death, I think he would have had a difficult time not being involved with Surgery. As it turned out, it was a situation he did not have to face as he was active until the end. He will be remembered as an accomplished academic surgeon and administrator and, more importantly, a mentor to the countless number of surgeons he trained.

Life in Discovery