Humanitarian award, diversity fellowship founded to honor trailblazing surgeon
BY TRACIE WHITE
When Samuel L. Kountz received his acceptance letter from Stanford University's Surgical Residency Program in 1958, he did not believe it was real. He was, after all, to become the first African-American surgical resident at Stanford.
A native of Arkansas, who battled racism and prejudice to rise meteorically through the field of organ transplantation, Kountz is best remembered for his compassion and sensitivity, particularly to the suffering of patients with end-stage renal disease and the socioeconomic challenges they faced in their efforts to get treatment.
In honor of Kountz, who died early of a stroke at the age of 51, two new awards will be given in his name to the surgical residents at Stanford who best embody the principles of humanism and diversity.
"We have been trying to come up with a vehicle to encourage diversity in the surgical training program," said Ralph Greco, MD, the Johnson & Johnson Distinguished Professor of Surgery, who is promoting the new awards. "Our goal is to make this a part of our culture and be certain that it lasts."
The Samuel L. Kountz Humanitarian Award will be given annually to a resident who reflects Kountz's attributes of "professionalism, compassion and respect for the dignity of his fellow men and women," and has a proven record of commitment to addressing disparities in health care. A $1,000 award will be presented at the Chief Resident's Dinner on June 16.
The Samuel L. Kountz Diversity Fellowship, created through a gift from the Department of Surgery, will fund a sub-internship for a medical student from an under-represented minority group. There may be more than one of these per year. Also, the fellowship will fund the travel of current Stanford residents from under-represented minority groups to attend national meetings that will help in the recruitment of minorities to Stanford's surgery program.
Kountz's son will attend the Chief Resident's Dinner, Greco said. Kountz's family has made a contribution to the endowment as well.
The endowment will help memorialize Kountz's legacy, which includes being a member of the team that performed the first kidney transplant on the West Coast in 1965. He was a professor and director of the transplant service at UC-San Francisco, as well as serving as chair of the Department of Surgery at Downstate University of New York Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he founded its kidney transplant program in 1972. Kountz also successfully lobbied Congress for a Medicare program that would help bring equity in patient access to dialysis and transplantation regardless of financial means or race.
"He was a role model for me," said Oscar Salvatierra, MD, professor emeritus of surgery and pediatrics, who started his fellowship at UCSF under Kountz. "He is an individual who really expressed sensitivity toward everyone, no matter whether you were a janitor, a patient or a colleague."