Vol. 33, No. 1     Winter 2010
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Letter to the Editor

UW Medicine, summer 2009 issue

The summer 2009 article on the new UW Medicine Eye Institute presented an excellent introduction to the history of the UW Department of Ophthalmology. The history is even more interesting when the details of its inception are examined. Dr. Carl Kupfer was not only the first department chair, but he also presided over the transition from a two-year county hospital program to the full three-year university program. To establish the department’s academic bona fides, Dr. Kupfer used initial department finances to hire several top-level laboratory researchers, which included Dr. Sidney Futterman, who was one of the pioneers in describing the cellular physiology of vision. This left Dr. Kupfer and Dr. Robert E. Kalina, a young retinal surgeon just out of his fellowship, as the only clinical faculty at the inception. A number of very skilled ophthalmologists in the community stepped forward and donated their time for the clinical training of resident physicians. Dr. D. Franklin Milam, also in community practice, had fellowship training in ocular pathology and provided this service to the department, overseeing the operations of the Harborview Hospital Eye Clinic in his spare time.

Dr. Kupfer was called away to the National Eye Institute only two years after establishing the department, and Dr. Kalina (although only an assistant professor at the time) became acting chair of the department. Dr. Kalina was not only a superb retinal specialist but he also was an excellent administrator and clinical researcher. The search committee recognized this, and Dr. Kalina became the second department chair and one of the youngest chairs at the University. The clinical staff remained thin and department finances tight, but Dr. Kalina carefully maneuvered through the problems and challenges to continue Dr. Kupfer’s initiation of a true academic department. Shortly afterwards, Drs. John Chandler and Edward McLean arrived to give depth to the faculty while community physicians continued to fill gaps and provide excellent guidance for the resident physicians. Slowly, more sub-specialty-trained faculty were added, many of them recruited from the ranks of resident physicians who returned to the University of Washington after advanced training.

Although Dr. Kupfer oversaw the transition from a small county hospital program to a full university academic department, it is fair to say that Dr. Kalina over the next several decades faced and overcame challenges and brought the department to its current national prominence. The physicians named above, along with Drs. Murry Johnstone, Richard Mills and Steven Guzak, were the team that assisted Dr. Kalina in this achievement, which led to the new eye institute.

Robert F. Sanke, M.D., FACS [Ophthalmology '76]

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