• Letter to the Editor - Reflections of Bernard Becker, MD


    I enjoyed the article on Dr. Bernard Becker, but I couldn't let pass the statement that there were no residencies at Washington University until he came.

    I trained at Washington, returned as a full-time faculty member and was there at the time Dr. Becker arrived.

    Following World War II, there was a high demand for training, and a number of hospitals started residencies with adequate clinical experience, but no real basic academic training.

    To help this problem, the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University opened one academic year programs to provide a good foundation in basic ophthalmology. Richard Scobee, MD, ran the Washington program, and it did an excellent job. I entered this program in 1948 and there was an excellent residency program with six residents as well as the 12 academic students.

    The first-year residents sat in with the academic course students for their basic training. Stanley Truhlsen, MD, was one of the graduates of this residency program. The reading and being quizzed on Duke Elder, which George Bohigian, MD, mentions, was part of the academic program.

    After the course, I spent another year in St. Louis and left for further training at Wills Eye Institute. However, the Korean War started, and I went to Mare Island Navy Hospital rather than Wills and was the only ophthalmologist for the 600-bed general hospital that received many of the Navy and Marine casualties from Korea.

    For one year, I attended the two-times-a-week evening course for residents, put on jointly by Stanford University and University of California San Francisco. It was excellent, with a wide variety of faculty interests.

    After two years of Navy experience, I had passed my boards, but felt I needed some broader experience and wrote Dr. Post, then the head of the Department of Ophthalmology at Washington University, for advice. At this time, I believe that there were only two fellowship positions in the country – retina in Boston and pediatric in St. Louis.

    One full-time instructor had just left, and Dr. Post offered me the job. I was looking forward to working with Dr. Scobee, but he died of a heart attack at 38 just before I went to St. Louis, and I was given some of his clinics.

    Ted Sanders, MD, the eye pathologist, was named acting head when Dr. Post had a stroke, and I did most of the pathology until Bernard Becker, MD, came and Dr. Sanders went back to pathology. The academic course was Dr. Scobee's baby, and neither Dr. Sanders nor Dr. Becker had much feeling for it. It died within two years.

    I agree with Dr. Bohigian that Bernie Becker was a remarkable mind, one of the best I have known. I won't say the best, because practicing in Pasadena, Calif. with connections to the California Institute of Technology, I had as teachers, patients or friends such men as Thomas Hunt Morgan, Linus Pauling, Richard Feynman, David Baltimore, Max Delbruck and Roger Sperry, all Nobel prize winners.

    I worked with Dr. Becker on a couple projects, and he wanted to send me to Boston for a year with the Schepens Eye Research Institute and then to start a retinal service in St. Louis. I also had offers to practice in St. Louis, but my wife and I had both always wanted to live in California and decided to go to Pasadena in private practice. (By the way, the doctor who started the retinal service in St. Louis had a huge practice and died in six years of a heart attack.) After that, I practiced in Pasadena for 60 years and did and taught eye pathology at Doheny Eye Institute.

    I agree with Dr. Bohigian: Dr. Becker had a remarkable intellect, was an outstanding teacher and a genuinely nice person, and I feel fortunate to have known and worked with him.