Discoveries Magazine


The Pioneer – Looking Back | The Educator – Looking Forward

The Pioneer - Looking Back | The Educator - Looking Forward

Dr. Leon Morgenstern reflects on nearly six decades with the Department of Surgery at Cedars-Sinai, while Dr. Ali Salim projects what the future of medical education may hold.

I came to Los Angeles in 1952 and, a year later, I joined the Cedars of Lebanon staff. I was a fledgling surgeon, fresh out of my residency, an émigré from New York City, seeking professional roots and a reasonable livelihood. Cedars at that time provided no reasonable livelihood. But in the ensuing years, it provided a fertile ground for professional roots—and so much more: It provided a life.

Cedars was already well known then. George Gershwin underwent brain surgery there. It also already had a reputation for clinical excellence. But Cedars was still like a village—it wouldn’t become a city until much later. There was a camaraderie that was inviting and pleasurable.


Dr. Leon Morgenstern on what it takes to be a good surgeon Watch video »

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The hospital was small enough so that we doctors met at the elevators, in the halls, the cafeteria, or the lounges daily. I have pleasant memories of those days.

Around the time of my arrival, the hospital embarked on a program of promoting academic achievement in the clinical departments, with a full-time staff dedicated to fostering clinical excellence, research, and education. The first full-time staff appointment was Dr. David State as director of Surgery in 1954. I became his part-time assistant for research and resident training. So, in 1954, the entire staff of the Department of Surgery consisted of one and a half persons. Today, in contrast, that number is 49.

The surgical residency was accredited in 1956 and had just six residents. Today there are more than 25. In our new surgical research laboratory, the major focus was open-heart surgery using a heart-lung machine developed by the resident physiologist, Dr. Peter Salisbury. That same year, we traveled with this machine to the University of Minnesota, where it was tested successfully in a heart operation. Upon our return, the first open-heart surgeries—among the first in California—were performed at Cedars of Lebanon using this new apparatus. Those were heady times as the new surgical discipline took hold.

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