Doctoring students, John Dorman saw it all

John Dorman
John Dorman

It’s been 44 years since JOHN DORMAN started tending to Stanford students. Five Stanford presidents and thousands of sick undergraduates later, the doctor has finally hung up his stethoscope. He officially retired on Sept. 1, but will be working periodically at Vaden as needed. Writer SAM SCOTT of Stanford magazine asked him for a few highlights.

Why ‘Layla’ had him on his knees
One of the early perks of working as a doctor at Stanford was staffing events like football games, including Super Bowl XIX, and concerts at Frost Amphitheater, at the time a frequent stop for stars such as Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie. Eric Clapton’s sold-out 1975 show caused such a frenzy that officials opened the gates to keep fans from tearing down the fences. Some 10,000 people attended, at least one of whom is unlikely to remember the experience: “I have this distinct memory that when Clapton was playing ‘Layla’ I was somewhere behind some bushes trying to get a totally intoxicated woman to at least respond to me.”

The arrival of AIDS
In the early ’80s, Dorman had a patient who he first suspected had appendicitis, though further examination pointed to an infection linked to AIDS. At the time, there was no test for HIV, nor was its transmission understood. Dorman had to put on a mask, a hooded gown and gloves to visit the student. “I recall thinking this is not the time that he needs to be isolated — he needs to have people around him,” Dorman wrote in an article in the Stanford Daily in 1986. “I tried to visit him every day.” The student recovered, and Dorman kept him as a private patient after graduation. Eventually the young man moved back home where his health declined rapidly.

First daughters of Stanford
Dorman has three children, the youngest of whom, LYDIA (now LYDIA SMITH), ’99, was a contemporary of CHELSEA CLINTON, ’01, who as “first daughter” required a plan for medical attention should such a need arise. Dorman’s daughter wasn’t shy about using her family connection for similar access for sick friends. “The saying with the nurses at the time was there are two people on campus who can get care anytime they want,” he says. “One is Chelsea Clinton, and the other is Lydia Dorman.”

Why he did it
A lot of doctors view campus health work as just dealing with sprains, sniffles and sore throats, Dorman says. And it’s true that the job requires an abundance of patience for dealing with students — freshmen, in particular. “But you need to know, in that forest of people coming in, how to pick out the ones who need more help,” he says. One of the lessons he gathered over the years was to listen to what wasn’t said as much as what was. His message to parents: “I tried to treat their kids as my own kids.”

Read the entire story in Stanford magazine.