Faculty members key to USF Health growth and success retire

When Thomas Klein, PhD, first visited the campus of the University of South Florida to interview for a position as an instructor, the university’s College of Medicine was still just a series of sketches and blueprints.

Dr. Klein, professor of molecular medicine and interdisciplinary oncology, had recently received his PhD in medical microbiology from Creighton University when he left Omaha, NE, in 1973 to become a charter faculty member at the newest medical school in the country. Over the years, he advanced from junior faculty member to several leadership positions, including vice chair and interim chair of the department formerly known as Medical Microbiology and Immunology and president of the USF College of Medicine Faculty Council. 

This month, after 37 years of service and a distinguished career as a teacher, mentor and federally-funded researcher, Dr. Klein, will retire. In the first year of retirement, he will split his time between “much neglected” golf and tennis, volunteering at the health science center with renewed focus on research, and traveling with his wife Patricia (trips to Australia, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom are planned).

Dr. Thomas Klein

Dr. Klein recently recalled his early days at the fledging USF medical school.

“One of the things that attracted me to USF was all the funding available for equipment and resources,” he said. “I earned $17,000 as a postdoctoral faculty member, and that was a pretty good salary at that time.”

Dr. Klein worked out of university’s Science Center with other medical faculty while the College of Medicine was constructed on a scrubby patch of land at the northeast corner of campus.   He used blackboards (“we called them chalk talks”) when he taught medical microbiology and immunology to USF’s first medical students and conducted research in basement laboratories.

“When we moved into the new Phase 1 building, it was luxurious,” he said, then paused and quipped. “Little did we know it would stay exactly the same for the next 35 years.”

Dr. Klein joins a cadre of veteran USF Health faculty members retiring in December 2010. They include:

• Mary Evans, PhD, College of Nursing — Dr. Evans, a Distinguished University Professor, was instrumental in laying the foundation for the College of Nursing’s thriving research and PhD programs.  She has been a leader in federally funded research studies investigating the outcomes of innovative children’s mental health services.

• Patricia Gorzka, PhD, College of Nursing – Dr. Gorzka, associate professor of nursing, has been an advocate and visionary in the field of multidisciplinary nursing education. Her leadership roles have included service as interim dean, associate dean for student affairs, and continuing education director at the USF College of Nursing. She established one of the first endowed chairs for nursing informatics in the country and developed the college’s first community advisory board for minority students.

• John Malone, MD, Department of Pediatrics – One of four founding members of the Department of Pediatrics, Dr. Malone has been a national leader in diabetes treatment and clinical research. In the 1970s, he started the first pediatric diabetes clinic in Tampa, which evolved into USF becoming one of three diabetes centers statewide. Dr. Malone’s work laid the groundwork for the USF Diabetes Center’s expanding research and education initiative. Last year, he received a medal from the famed Joslin Diabetes Center as a 50-year survivor of diabetes.

• Juergen Nord, MD, Department of Internal Medicine — Dr. Nord, professor of medicine, was a founding faculty member of the USF Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition. He was chief and director of the USF Gastroenterology Service at Tampa General Hospital and built the USF Endoscopy Center, one of the country’s first ambulatory endoscopy centers affiliated with an academic medical center.

• Lynn Ringenberg, MD, Department of Pediatrics – Dr. Ringenberg has served as medical director for the award-winning USF Pediatrics Mobile Health Program with the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, which provides medical and dental care to underserved children in Hillsborough and Pasco counties.   A former division chief of general pediatrics at USF, she also helped lead graduate medical education in the department.

• David Sheehan, MD, MBA, Clinical Translational Science – One of the world’s leading authorities on anxiety disorders, Dr. Sheehan, a Distinguished USF Health Professor, has been a pioneer of psychopharmacology research evaluating several classes of antidepressants in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Other December retirements are Jan Korthals, MD, PhD, Department of Neurology; David Shapiro, MD, Department of Surgery; Frances Marton, MSW, Department of Psychiatry; and Kathleen Sheehan, PhD, Clinical Translational Research.

In addition, three key faculty members from the College of Public Health retired earlier this year following many years of service. They were pulmonologist Stuart Brooks, MD, professor and a former chair of Environmental and Occupational Health and past director of the occupational and environmental medicine residency program; Jeannine Coreil, PhD, professor and a former chair of Community and Family Health; and W. Michael Reid, PhD, MBA, associate professor of Environmental and Occupational Health, who founded and directed the Center for Leadership in Public Health Practice.

Several retiring faculty members, including Dr. Klein, will continue their relationships with USF in some capacity as emeritus professors.

Dr. Klein has spent the last 25 years (long before the medical pot debate became a hot news topic) studying the effects of cannabinoids – the active compounds in marijuana – on the immune systems of mice and blowfish. He will continue this research and also gravitate toward more patient-centered studies. He intends to collaborate with USF’s Allergy and Immunology Division to study the potential connection between cannabinoids and allergic diseases in humans, and to work with University of Florida researchers examining what role adolescent marijuana use may play in HIV infection.

“I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” he said.

Asked what he’ll miss most about his day-to-day work at USF, Dr. Klein doesn’t hesitate: “In the end,” he said, “it’s always the people you remember the most.”

Note:  A retirement celebration for Dr. Klein is scheduled from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. this Friday, Dec. 17, in the USF Health College of Nursing Rotunda.

Story by Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications