David Greer was 13 years old when he took his first patient history.
“He was in the clinic with me and we were very busy that day,” explained his dad, Melvin Greer, MD, UF’s first chairman of neurology at the College of Medicine. “I pointed to a room and told him to go inside and listen to the patient. He just looked at me and said, ‘what do I ask him?’
“Have him tell you a story about himself,” the elder Greer recounted. “David came out and said he didn’t understand a thing.
“Come to find out the patient was aphasiac.”
“It was disastrous,” David Greer said. “And it was classic ‘Mel Greer’ for my dad to tell me to go in and talk to a patient – and one who’s lost the ability to speak clearly on top of that.”
That doomed experience didn’t discourage the young Greer. He later received his medical degree at UF and followed his father’s footsteps into a career in neurology. Today David Greer, MD95, practices at Massachusetts General Hospital and is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
Greer followed not just his father into the profession but also his two older brothers as well as a gang of children who grew up around the College of Medicine. – sometimes known as the faculty brats.
It’s no secret that medical schools throughout the world are filled with doctors’ progeny. Just as with law, business and the military, there is no shortage of “chips off the old block.” Yet in the mid to late 80s, the student roster at UF’s College of Medicine read like a Who’s Who of the college history. In addition to the Greers there were Enneking, Small, Smith, Gessner, Conti, the Gravensteins and Rhotons, to name just a few.
“There was a whole gaggle of faculty kids who went on to medical school at UF,” said Kayser Enneking, MD86, daughter of William Enneking, MD, the founding chairman of orthopaedic surgery (now department of orthopaedics and rehabilitation).
“I think it really shows the positive attitudes toward the profession of medicine at that time,” said Melvin Greer, whose three sons all received medical degrees from UF. “These kids were exposed to so much and they liked what they saw and they appreciated their parents’ work.”
Faculty and alumni offspring continue to attend medical school, but the numbers don’t match those from a couple decades ago. One survey conducted in 2005 by a California insurer, Doctors Co., found that nearly three-fourths of the physicians questioned are less willing today than in the past to encourage their children to follow their footsteps.
But for David Greer and his brothers Jonathan Greer, MD83, and Richard Greer, MD85, the constant exposure to the world of medicine and hospitals made their career choice seem natural.
“I grew up around Shands,” David said. “Since I was two feet high I was chasing my dad through the hallways. It was natural that I go into medicine. Nothing steered me away.”
Little Gandy Road
A tiny street that runs parallel to S.W. 13th Street behind the old University Centre Hotel known as Little Gandy Road was home for several of the faculty offspring while they were in medical school. The “brat row” of small homes housed Kayser Enneking, Lynn Million, MD86, Brad Gessner, MD88, Peter Small, MD85, and Mark Scarborough, MD85.
“I knew all these people before medical school. We grew up together,” said Enneking, now assistant dean for clinical affairs at the College of Medicine. “I have to say I never thought I would see them all again after college.”
Enneking explained there was no master plan for everyone to attend medical school or to say in Gainesville. “The only one of us who knew he was going to be a doctor was Mark (Scarborough). He knew it when he was 15 and he was the only one whose father wasn’t a doctor.”
Scarborough, who is married to Enneking, does have a legendary UF physician for a father-in-law. He began working in William Enneking’s orthopaedic research lab while in high school.
The only one of us who knew he was going to be a doctor was Mark (Scarborough). He knew it when he was 15 and he was the only one whose father wasn’t a doctor.
– Kayser Enneking, MD86
A family atmosphere is the recurring premise for explaining the trend of UF medicine kids coming back to Gainesville for their MDs. Mel Greer, now a retired professor and chair emeritus of neurology, said the children felt a sense of belonging and recognized they were part of the extended UF family.
“Of course that wasn’t always a good thing when they were medical students and residents,” he said. “I think my sons might have been picked on a little by the professors. But it was in fun.”
Ira Gessner, MD, assistant dean of admissions who joined the UF faculty in 1965, said he never discussed career choices with his son, Brad.
“I think the children knew what was going on and saw that their parents were happy and saw them as useful to society,” Gessner said. “But Brad made the decision to go into medicine entirely on his own. He felt he could make a difference and truly believed he could cure the world’s children of infectious diseases.”
The younger Dr. Gessner, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist living in Alaska, agreed with his father.
“He never spoke to me about going into medicine, but I could see that he loved his job,” Brad Gessner said. “It was the golden age for academic medicine and that probably influenced a lot of us.
“I think the reason most of us stayed here for medical school was because it was considered one of the top schools in the country,” he added. “Why spend a ton of money to go away when you could get just as good an education right here? There really was no reason to go anywhere else.”
Since I was two feet high I was chasing my dad through the hallways. It was natural that I go into medicine. Nothing steered me away.
– David Greer, MD95
Families Full of Doctors
J.S. Gravenstein came to UF in 1958 and built the department of anesthesiology. He and his wife, also built a family. Of their eight children, three became doctors and one a veterinarian. Nick Gravenstein, MD80, said growing up he was never encouraged by his dad to go into medicine. In fact, he said, he blossomed late and “flunked out” of UF. He regrouped and received his medical degree and followed his father right into UF’s department of anesthesiology where has been the chairman since 1997.
After earning a degree in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve University, Dietrich Gravenstein, MD89, returned to Gainesville for his medical degree and stayed for his residency – also in anesthesiology.
“Maybe there was something in the water,” joked Nik Gravenstein. “I know that my father never pushed us into medicine or into his field of anesthesiology. The only thing that was important to him was that we moved forward in our lives.”
Alice Vlasak Rhoton, MD89, will tell you a good day at work for her includes stopping in at the Shands gift shop to say hello to her mother, Joyce Rhoton, heading upstairs to see her sister, Laurel and brother-in-law, James, both nurses. She then heads over to the McKnight Brain Institute to visit with her dad, world-renown neurosurgeon, Dr. Al Rhoton.
“This is a great place to be,” said Alice, a clinical assistant professor in the department of OB/GYN at the College of Medicine. “Any career in medicine is wonderful.”
The Rhoton family knows plenty about medical careers. Each of Joyce and Al’s children were trained at UF. Eric Rhoton, MD85, followed his dad into neurosurgery and lives in Asheville, N.C. Albert Rhoton, MD87, practices gastroenterology and internal medicine in High Point, N.C. Laurel Rhoton-Selner and her husband, James Selner received their nursing degrees from UF in 1988, and Alice’s husband, Dr. Richard Vlasak is a 1988 College of Medicine graduate.
“Believe it or not, we never talk about medicine at home,” father Al Rhoton said. “With 12 grandchildren there are too many other things to talk about.”
A Mother’s Influence
Passing down the family business to your kids isn’t just for men. Longtime UF physician Alicia Maun supported a son and daughter through UF’s medical school.
“I was actually shocked when my kids said they wanted to become doctors,” said Maun, director of UF’s Student Health Services. “They went into medicine at a time when doctors began to get discouraged with the profession. I didn’t realize they had assimilated to my lifestyle.”
Angeli Maun Akey, MD93, and her older brother Noel Maun, MD95, saw plenty of their mother’s work life. As toddlers, they went with their mom to nursing homes and pediatric clinics in New Jersey. When the family moved to Gainesville, all four Maun children spent their days after school at the UF infirmary where their mother has worked for the last 30 years.
“I would pick them up from St. Patrick’s (School) at 3:00 and at 3:15 be back to work,” Alicia Maun said. “They did their homework in the basement (of the Infirmary) and I’d watch them play out front. The University of Florida was their playground.”
Angeli chose primary care medicine like her mother and practices in Gainesville. Noel is a medical oncologist/hematologist in Venice, Fla.
“My mother loves what she does and she always had,” said Noel. “Her longevity is inspiring and she truly is a role model.”
Alicia Maun, whose husband died in a car accident in 1990, pointed out that of three of her children went into health care. Consuela is a PhD student in occupational therapy and Jessica is a student at the College of Business.
“I feel very privileged to raise four very successful adults,” she said.
It is easy to see the pride that all the parents feel for the second and sometimes third generation physicians. And according to J.S. Gravenstein, having doctors in the family is very “reassuring.”
“Especially since one is a geriatrician,” he said half-serious, half-joking.