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Memories of Loyal Davis, MD

Submitted by James J. Monge’, MD ’55 (Excerpts from 4-page letter written April 5, 2012.)

We encourage other alums to share their recollections of Loyal Davis, MD, who was named chair of the Department of Surgery at Northwestern in 1933 and remained in that post until 1963. He inspired and trained many physicians and surgeons during his years at Northwestern. He achieved emeritus status in 1964.


My relationships with Dr. Loyal Davis tended to alternate with each year I was at Northwestern Medical Center, as you will gather from the following:

In the first quarter of school, all freshman students were required to arrive at the medical school at 8 a.m. dressed in jacket, shirt, and tie to meet with Dr. Davis. Students were asked to stand, introduce themselves, share where they had grown up and which college they had attended.

When I was called upon, I mentioned having graduated from the University of Chicago. Dr. Davis immediately launched into a long dismissal of the U of C based on the chancellor who had canceled football… . I with some temerity stated that I liked the University of Chicago and thought I had received an excellent education. Looking displeased, Dr. Davis brought out a notebook, asked me to spell my name, and wrote it down. Needless to say, I regretted saying anything, although, nothing ever came of it.

In the junior year, each medical student had to meet with Dr. Davis in his office. At the meeting that started out very pleasantly, Dr. Davis asked about my future plans, what internships I was interested in, and my plans for practice. I foolishly stated that I liked all types of practice and wanted to do general surgery and family practice. There was an immediate eruption: ‘How do you expect to be a competent surgeon as a general practitioner and not having had a surgery residency?!’

I at once stated that I intended to take a surgical residency and then do both. I was dismissed with a harrumph; as I left the office I could hear an irritated Dr. Davis dictating, “This student thinks he could do both general practice and surgery.’

Students were allowed to take an elective service for six weeks during the senior year. I requested anesthesia. The next day I was told to report to Dr. Davis at his office. Dr. Davis demanded to know why I wanted to be an anesthesiologist. The response: ‘Since I was going to be a surgeon, I wanted to know what was going on at the head of the table.’  A smiling Dr. Davis said, ‘Why didn’t you say so?’ He called Dr. Mary Karp at Wesley Hospital, explained the situation and asked her to take good care of me, put his arm around me as he walked me out of the office, cautioning that if I had a problem, to call him. Mary Karp was wonderful and I had a very good six weeks.

Dr. Davis took me with him as he made his special noon rounds on patients, giving instructions for when they would be dismissed and at home. He also discussed his fee with them. His standard fee, whether for a back operation or a craniotomy, was one month’s salary (of the patient). At the time few patients mentioned having health insurance. He would ask the patient how many children he had, was he paying any tuitions, and whether he was supporting anyone besides his family, such as his parents. If there were excessive expenses, the fee would be trimmed. The fee was never increased.

If the reader senses a great amount of respect and admiration that I had for Dr. Davis, even affection, he is correct.

Jim Monge’, MD ’55