Doctor to visit students at UA

CW Staff

Dr. Arnold G. Diethelm, founder of the University of Alabama Birmingham Transplant Program, as well as the first surgeon to perform a transplant of any kind in the state, will speak at the eighth annual Susan and Gaylon McCollough Medical Scholars Forum on campus Friday and Saturday.

The McCullough Forum is an annual event at the University to better provide students with an understanding of different parts of health care. The event is open to students, faculty, members of the community and high school students interested in perusing a career in medicine.

Dr. Gaylon McCollough, president of the McCollough Plastic Surgery Clinic and founder of the McCollough Institute for Appearance and Health in Gulf Shores, said he has been a close friend of Diethelm for over 35 years.

McCullough said Diethelm is an “outstanding surgeon and a fabulous teacher,” and noted that he is highly respected among his colleagues. After developing a friendship that began with the discovery that they both played the same position in college football, McCullough witnessed Diethelm’s move to Alabama to create a kidney transplant program.

When asked why McCullough chose Diethelm as the featured speaker for the forum, his answer came with ease. While the most obvious answer is, McCullough said, that they have “never had a surgeon speak at the conference before,” he noted that his reason for inviting Diethelm is much deeper than that.

“I felt like it would be good for the students to be exposed to a surgeon, because even though we’re all doctors of medicine, surgeons have a little different approach to things,” McCullough said. “We more of ‘identify the problem, go in and get it take care of,’ where as medical doctors are oftentimes involved in the more chronic care of the patient.”

Diethelm is scheduled to hold two lecture sessions, the first titled “The Importance of the Doctor/Doctor Relationship.” McCollough said he asked Diethelm to speak on the subject due to its importance in “running a medical center or taking care of a patient.” He also noted that his athletic background and understanding of “team philosophy” has helped him, as well as Diethelm, as far as assembling teams and working with colleagues.

“Oftentimes, you have to refer a patient from one specialist to another in order for them to get the best care, and many times, you also have to have a team of doctors involved,” McCollough said. “I thought it was important for students to be involved in all of this.”

The second lecture Diethelm will conduct is titled “A Brief History of Surgery in Alabama: The People that Made the Difference.” Diethelm is writing a book on the subject, which ventures back over the last 150 years and covers the history of all types of surgery in Alabama. He also authored or co-authored over 210 publications in various peer-reviewed journals. In addition, Diethelm has also distinguished himself within the medical community by being a member of 26 surgical societies.

Diethelm, a Baltimore native, graduated with an undergraduate degree from Washington State University in 1953 and went on to attend Cornell Medical College, graduating with his medical degree in 1958. After working two years at Harvard University with Dr. Joseph E. Murray, a Nobel laureate who performed the first human kidney transplant in 1954, Diethelm moved to Alabama in 1967 to work at UAB, where he started the transplant program.

Dr. John Kirklin recruited Diethelm to Alabama and Diethelm says Kirklin was his biggest influence in medicine. He succeeded Kirklin as chair of the department of surgery at UAB, which McCollough thinks “speaks highly of what his peers think of him.”

“I admire his leadership qualities, his thoughtful approach to surgery and his knowledge of medicine and surgery,” Diethelm said.

Diethelm said that it was not his parents, who both worked in the medical field, that influenced him specifically, but rather his college classes.

“When I was in college, I took some courses in biology, especially advanced biology, and that’s when I became really interested in medicine,” Diethelm said.

Since those early college years, Diethelm said his passion for medicine has grown, resulting in a distinguished career as a renowned doctor and surgeon. However, he makes sure he never forgets the true reason why he practices medicine.

“The practice of medicine is the opportunity to help others. Every operation I ever did was important to me, and I hope important to the patient,” Diethelm said.