July 9, 2014

Dr. Nathan Leonard Morgenstern, Permanente physician

“Two members of the Cancer Committee in our Oakland hospital review a medical record in consultation"; Krikor Soghikian, MD (left), and Nathan Morgenstern, MD, KP Reporter September 1962

Nathan Leonard (Len) Morgenstern, prominent physician, educator, (San Francisco) East Bay Area civic leader, and dedicated father and grandfather, passed away May 29 from head trauma following a fall. He was 91.

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Dr. Nathan Leonard Morgenstern (standing, left), Planning for Health newsletter, Fall 1960

Dr. Morgenstern was a distinguished physician at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center for 35 years, starting in 1954 and retiring in 1988 as chief of pathology. He authored several articles on cancer (including “Carcinoma of the Thyroid at Autopsy” in the AMA Archives of Internal Medicine, April 1, 1959), and taught as an adjunct professor of neuropathology at the University of California at San Francisco.

He was an active and beloved figure at the Oakland hospital, and over the years he took on many of the tasks that it takes to make a medical facility great.

A 1959 article in the employee newsletter KaiPermKapsul described how he conducted a training program for students who expected to make a career in pathology.

His one-year course in Medical Laboratory Technology was accredited by the AMA and the State of California, and affiliated with San Francisco State University, which gave credit for the work.

The article noted:

Dr. Leonard Morgenstern with Philippines exchange student Rosario Bautista, KaiPerm Kapsul, May 1959
Dr. Leonard Morgenstern with Philippines exchange student Rosario Bautista, KaiPerm Kapsul, May 1959

Rosario Bautista and Clyde James are among those receiving this thorough training in laboratory work, the former as an exchange student from the Philippines. Medical technologists in this state must all be licensed by the State Department of Public Health, following an examination.

Just to mention a few of the newer procedures they encounter in a Kaiser hospital laboratory: there are the microchemical analyses of blood, the assays on hormones, the tests on sensitivity of bacteria to various antibiotics, the investigation of allergic phenomena and use of new isotopes for the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

In many cases where the purpose of the test is the same, it is the method or equipment used which is the innovation. "Some of the procedures are complex and require very careful manipulation," Dr. Morgenstern explained. "We try to adopt these as fast as we can satisfy ourselves of their worth. Where there's doubt of the worth we may return to older, simpler methods. We rather incline toward the scientific caution 'Don't be first, and don't be last'."

In 1963, a Kaiser Permanente newsletter announced a research article he published in the medical journal Cancer, “Work with Doctors in Community” about early diagnosis and treatment of tumors in children, in collaboration with physicians from Kern County General Hospital, University of Southern California, and the Tumor Tissue Registry of the California Medical Association in Los Angeles.

A 1969 article touted the Oakland hospital’s School of Medical Technology, which had been in place for 20 years; as director of that program Dr. Morgenstern supervised the eight students -- six women and two men. Each student in Oakland received a stipend of $3,600 for the year's internship.

One of Dr. Morgenstern’s colleagues noted after his passing, “He always had time for teaching and clearly enjoyed it . . . He also had a great sense of humor and a wonderful kindness. He was a good man.”[i]

[i] Dr. Art Levit, MD, comment in obituary memorial booklet.