January 10, 2010

The 50th Annual Pediatric Symposium

Benjamin Fass, MD

Contributed by Bryan Culp, Former Heritage Archives director

Kaiser Permanente founding physicians Sidney R. Garfield and Raymond Kay, fast friends from their days as residents at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles County Hospital, shared a dream to practice medicine as they had experienced it in an academic setting.  

The teaching hospital’s proximity to research; complement of specialties; “doctor-to-doctor” consultation; peer review; and pedagogy of apprenticeship were features they would knit into Permanente medicine.

When the California Permanente medical groups were forming in the 1940s and 1950s, Garfield and Kay recruited physicians who had an affinity for the intellectual rigor of academic medicine. They nurtured a tradition of life-long learning and committed resources for academic symposia that have continued over 50 years.

In November 2008, Southern California Permanente Medical Group sponsored the 50th Annual Pediatric Symposium at which 9 distinguished guest faculty lectured on new developments in pediatric medicine.  Professor Zvi Laron delivered the keynote address. 

Laron, author of over 1,400 scientific papers and 30 books and the editor-in-chief of Pediatric Endocrinology Reviews, is Director of the Endocrinology and Diabetes Research Unit at Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel and Professor Emeritus at Tel Aviv University.

Benjamin Fass, MD, chairman of the symposium since 1993, celebrated the 50th year achievement in his opening remarks, "The Meaning of a Number."  Dr. Fass practices pediatric endocrinology and general pediatrics at Kaiser Foundation Hospital West Los Angeles and is Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA.

The meaning of a number

By Benjamin Fass, MD, SCPMG pediatric endocrinologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA

On a winter day in 1955, a man stepped off a train at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. He was wearing a gray Fedora and a brown winter coat, and was easily recognizable to the two men who came to pick him up. They were from Kaiser Permanente. They knew that he took the three day train trip from New York because he had a fear of flying. His name was Hodes, Dr. Horace Hodes, and the men were Dr. Erwin Goldenberg and Dr. Sam Sapin. Dr. Hodes was Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York, and renowned in the world of infectious disease. He had been invited to this new medical organization, Kaiser Permanente, by one of its early members – Sam Sapin – of a budding pediatric department, to discuss the recent polio epidemic and the Cutter vaccine catastrophe. Little did these two men know that this episode would initiate a long tradition of pediatric symposia of which we celebrate the 50th event this weekend.

In 1953, Dr. Raymond Kay and 16 physician associates organized the Southern California Permanente Medical Group (SCPMG). At that time, there were only three Kaiser Medical Areas, Fontana (the first) and Sunset, both with their own Hospitals, and Harbor City. These new and outstanding pediatricians, spearheaded by Dr. Erwin Goldenberg, determined to build an organization based on an ethos of life-long learning... The man in the gray Fedora and brown winter coat could not have imagined that he not only helped birth these symposia, but also helped set a very high bar as to the extraordinary quality of all future conferences.

The first 10 years of the symposia were “chaired” by different pediatricians, but in truth, organized and managed by Shirley Gach, who was then what is today the Department of Physician Education. By 1965, the symposia, which previously were held at Sunset and generally consisted of one nationally prominent speaker, grew in scope and became more formal. The Chiefs of the Pediatric Departments at that time wisely chose Dr. Billie Moore to officially Chair the symposia, aided by a committee composed of pediatricians from each medical area. I was fortunate enough to be one of those members in later years and learn at the master's knee. Billie chaired the symposia from 1965 to 1992 with unparalleled success. She was kind enough to ask me to chair subsequently, and I began in 1993.

Those early “founding fathers” conceived of these symposia as not only superior educational opportunities, but also as a way to bring together the pediatricians of all areas and to network and socialize in order to help knit the pediatricians into a solid and interconnected group. Today, there are over 300 pediatricians in the Southern California area and to a great extent we have been wildly successful in achieving both goals.

Over the course of these symposia, things changed due to the nature of our expanding group, the growth of subspecialties, the question of pharmaceutical support, and the emergence of the internet as an important educational tool, to name but a few. The unspoken understanding by our early founders that these symposia would be part of the Kaiser Permanente experience and offered at no charge, also changed. In 1999, the first registration fee of $50 was imposed to a great outcry from the group. But let us speak of happier things. Despite these changes, the symposia have continued to attract speakers of the highest caliber to present topics that are current, useful, and are on the cutting edge of medical research and medical practice.

Benjamin Fass, MD, and Zvi Laron, MD

Benjamin Fass, MD, and Zvi Laron, MD

So, the meaning of a number, of our number, 50, is simply an opportunity to not only celebrate the success of these symposia, but also to reflect on our beginnings and to thank our “founding fathers” who conceived of these symposia; to thank those who, as a labor of love, have been involved with the creation of each of these conferences: our chairs, chiefs, committee members, presiders, moderators, and educational coordinators, and mostly you, the attendees, who have been faithful to our historical educational mission. Our sincere hope is that our organization unwaveringly continues to support these symposia for another 50 years.

As the man from New York in the gray Fedora might have said at this point, “fuhgidehbowdid,” and go find your dear friends, have a cup of tea ... learn from this outstanding guest faculty, and enjoy this superb conference.