A 55-Year Legacy of Wisdom, Excellence, and Thoughtfulness
Image: Milford Fulop, MD
After 55 years on the faculty at Einstein, Milford Fulop, MD retired March 31. Dr. Fulop spent most of his professional life as an internist at Jacobi Medical Center , and held a number of administrative positions in the Department of Medicine, including Chief of Medicine at Jacobi, Interim Chairman of the Department, and, most recently, Vice Chairman for Academic Affairs. "From the very start Milford set standards of excellence for the department, and for 55 years he has been a remarkable center for these values," said Irving London, MD, founding Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Einstein, at a symposium held in Dr. Fulop's honor Wednesday, April 14.
"I have deeply appreciated Milford's wise counsel," said Victor Schuster, MD, Chairman of the Department of Medicine. "He has put the wind in our sails as a department with all of the history and legacy behind us, and and it's been a real pleasure to work with him and know him."
Dr. Fulop was born in the Bronx in 1927, the oldest of three children for Ettu Karl and Herman Fulop, two young Hungarian immigrants. His father died of rheumatic heart disease when he was eight, and he and his siblings were raised by their mother. In the late 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Fulop fulfilled a childhood marked by academic excellence. Educated in New York City public schools, he entered the newly opened Bronx High School of Science at age eleven, and was awarded a Pulitzer scholarship (full tuition plus support) for Columbia College at fifteen. After two years as an undergraduate, he was admitted to Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha. He credited his success in part to his mother, who came from a large family of high school and college graduates including two lawyers and two engineers. “There was never any pushing, but she often talked of her brothers and I think she felt I at least ought to emulate them,” he said.
After graduating from medical school, Dr. Fulop completed an internal medicine residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center . He served for two years in the U.S. Air Force as a medical officer during the Korean War, stationed in upstate New York and at a forward fighter plane base in Kimpo, Korea. In 1955, the new Albert Einstein College of Medicine recruited its first class of 56 students and began instruction. Dr. Fulop was recruited by Dr. London to develop the Medicine residency program at Bronx Municipal Hospital Center (BMHC, later renamed Jacobi Medical Center ). "We had an unknown house staff, a load of patients ready to occupy medical wards at Jacobi, and a yet-to-be-developed chest service that would become the largest in New York City," recalled Dr. London. "There was a resident at Columbia-Presbyterian who was universally recognized as the best and brightest, and when he accepted the opportunity to embark od a career at a medical school yet to prove its mettle, on a service that would be full of problems, I knew that we were very lucky."
"The college started from ideas germinating in a number of minds, a little house on Morris Park Avenue, and a deal made with the city," Dr. Fulop said. "The faculty was small enough that we each knew one another on a first-name basis, and the exchange of ideas and conversation was perfectly free."
Dr. Fulop oversaw residents and orchestrated a number of medical school courses, including Physical Diagnosis, Laboratory Methods, and third- and fourth-year clerkships. "In 1958, this young fellow just a few years older than I was seemed to know everything that was going on, and he even seemed to know what we were thinking about," recalled Leslie Bernstein, MD, Professor Emeritus (Gastroenterology). "He's just as amazing now as he was in 1958."
"Making rounds with Milford was memorable. I think he was the first person who used thoughtfulness as a way of developing clinical skills," said Harold Adel, MD, MPH, Professor Emeritus and one of Dr. Fulop's first trainees who later assisted him in leading the residency at Jacobi.
In 1970, after Dr. London left Einstein to develop and head the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology, Dr. Fulop became the acting Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Einstein for the next five years. He served as Vice Chairman, and also Director of Medicine at Jacobi, until 1993. After that, he continued to make teaching rounds with students and residents at Jacobi. "Generations of patients and trainees were fortunate to have a doctor when Milford made ward rounds," wrote David Hamerman, MD, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus and Chairman of the Department at Montefiore from 1968 to 1979, who later formed and directed the Department’s Division of Geriatrics.
“Fostering the careers of the students and residents who came through our training programs has given me the greatest happiness,” Dr. Fulop said. “A handful were ready to quit their residency after a couple of weeks, and some thought that their early research ventures were disastrous. I was able to persuade most of them to stay on and to help steer them to the right path, and many of them became quite successful.”
As he advanced through the academic ranks, Dr. Fulop became Professor and Gertrude and David Feinson endowed chair in Medicine in 1968, and Distinguished University Professor in 1994. He received numerous awards, including Einstein's Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching in 2000, the Silver Anniversary Honorary Alumnus of Einstein's first graduating class in 1980, and a Master of the American College of Physicians in 1993.
"Milford's influence has been infinite. Einstein has probably the largest number of medical students going into internal medicine and I think that's been largely due to him," said Edward Burns, MD, Executive Dean.
Dr. Fulop’s research included whole-animal studies focusing on the renal excretion of bilirubin and of phosphate (with Paul Brazeau, former Chairman of Pharmacology at Einstein). He also undertook observational studies of acid-base disturbances in patients, particularly those with pulmonary edema (with Arnold Aberman, who went on to be Chair of the Department of Medicine and Physician-in-Chief at Toronto Hospital) and alcoholic and diabetic ketoacidosis (with Henry Hoberman, Professor of Biochemistry and a founding member of Einstein).
"The time I spent in Milford's renal clearance laboratory converted me from a young man with a general, casual way of thinking about science to one with a much more rigorous, reproducable, infinitely concerned with detail approach to science. I took from this the enormous benefit of having a quintessential mentor, a person who made an indelible imprint on my life at a very important stage of my career," recalled Barry Brenner, MD, who went on to lead the Renal Division at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Dr. Fulop married Dr. Christine Lawrence, a fellow Columbia graduate, in 1957. Dr. Lawrence became Director of Hematology at Jacobi and Professor of Medicine (and later, Distinguished University Professor Emerita) at Einstein. Their son Michael is a psychiatrist in Baltimore, and their daughter Tamara is Director of Breast Imaging at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. They have four grandchildren. “I think some of the major challenges have been related to helping my wife raise our children,” he said. “While she played a much stronger role than I did, she herself had a very busy academic and clinical career as a hematologist, and we had a busy time of it. Among my great joys, as an outgrowth of that, have been the children. They are terrific and have been very successful professionally.”
Today, Dr. Fulop has written his last scientific paper and attended his final early-morning administrative meeting. He will continue to participate in teaching conferences and make rounds with the chief residents at Jacobi. "I have enjoyed my career in medicine, particularly the taking care of patients part and the opportunity to interact with many residents who taught me a great deal," he said. "I've had a very, very happy career as a perpetual student, husband, father, and grandfather."