Friday, May 11, 2007

Sommer and Saslow

This year marks the 100th presentation of the OHSU School of Medicine's Sommer Memorial Lectures, a continuing education program intended to deal with "the practical problems arising in the general practice of medicine and surgery." The lecture series began in 1941, five years after Dr. E.A. Sommer's death on March 15, 1936. A perpetual trust established by Dr. Sommer continues to fund the program to this day. (Are you noticing that the math doesn't quite add up? In several years, two series of lectures were presented, leading to the attainment of the 100th mark in just over 60 years.)

E.A. Sommer was an 1890 graduate of Willamette University Medical School, and he began his practice as a frontier physician in Oregon City in 1894. The demanding nature of the work caused Sommer to stress the need for broad medical knowledge over specialization. He went on to serve in a variety of posts, from Chief Surgeon of the Portland Railway Light & Power Company to charter member of the American Academy of Surgeons. When he retired from practice in 1931, Sommer donated his entire library to the University of Oregon Medical School and made plans to establish the Sommer Memorial Lecture fund, "to advance medical science, and thereby serve mankind."

This year was also notable for being the first year when the Saslow Lecture was given in memoriam. Named for Dr. George Saslow who died last year at the age of 99, today's Saslow Lecture was given by Fernando Nottebohm, Ph.D., a zoologist and neuroethologist who presented his research on replacement neurons. When asked to speculate on what benefit his research might have on medical science, Dr. Nottebohm said, "Well, it won't benefit anyone in this room" (to general laughter)--making the point that the application of this knowledge will be many, many years in the making. That seemed to be okay with the crowd, who, inspired by the spirit of Dr. Sommer, knew that seeds planted today will continue bear fruit in the coming centuries.

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