In Fords in Four, we ask an alumnus four questions; he shares insights and stories. In this blog post, H. Richard Winn ’60 shares impactful moments from his Haverford days and from his ensuing career. Winn, The Haverford School Distinguished Alumnus in 2000, is editor-in-chief of Youmans and Winn Neurological Surgery, Adjunct Professor of Neurosurgery and Neuroscience at Mount Sinai Medical School, Professor of Neurosurgery at University of Iowa, and as a Visiting Professor of Surgery at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Please share the story of an impactful moment in your career.
There were many impactful moments that influenced my life and career:
My father was a MD, and medicine was a constant feature in our family, so becoming a physician was my default life option. I followed my older brother to Princeton and to Penn Medical School. After medical school, I started training in general surgery at Case Western Reserve University Hospital in Cleveland but veered into neurosurgery by an encounter with a very charismatic young faculty neurosurgeon. He convinced me that “The brain is the last frontier.” I followed him to UVA where I was a resident in neurosurgery and also acquired training in basic vascular biology. As part of my neurosurgical residency, I also spent time in Plymouth, England and conducted further vascular research on brain aneurysms in Wimbledon. These foreign experiences taught me that there were “many ways to skin a cat.” After completing my residency, I served in the US Army as a neurosurgeon at the 2nd General Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. This tour of duty taught me the valuable lesson of teamwork. Then I returned to UVA on the faculty until 1983 when I moved to the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle as Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery and Professor of Physiology and Biophysics.
As Chair, I had multiple impactful experiences and multiple responsibilities, including managing the neurosurgical services at four Seattle hospitals as well as overseeing the UW Department of Neurological Surgery, which included MDs (neurosurgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists) and PhDs (neuro-physiologists, -anatomists, -pharmacologists and biostatisticians). The department and my own mission were focused on patient care, education (medical students, residents, and postdoctoral students) and research (both basic and clinical). The latter was broadly focused, reflecting the scope of neurosurgery in the areas of pain, epilepsy, oncology, vascular biology, and trauma. As a consequence of our department’s activities, the department became the highest recipient of grant support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for neurosurgery for more than a decade. I had continuous NIH funding for almost four decades with a primary focus on the regulation of brain blood flow.
What about neurosurgery and neuroscience sparked your interest at the start of your career?
My interest in biology was spurred by a special research project in Mr. Rugg’s IV Form Biology Class. In this project, funded by a grant from the American Heart Association, the entire class section studied the effects of cold temperature on hibernation in hamsters, which The Philadelphia Bulletin featured in its Sunday Magazine. Our investigation never reached a definitive conclusion but resulted in the demise of several of the test subjects and may have contributed to the subsequent demise of the Bulletin.
What maintains your interest in neurosurgery and neuroscience?
Neurosurgery: Despite the popular belief that neurosurgery is a stressful specialty, neurosurgeons, through both surgical and non-surgical approaches, can significantly benefit many patients. In my career, I felt that it was a great privilege to be able to help in a meaningful manner many patients who had life-threatening and life-altering disorders.
Neuroscience: Obviously, the complexity of the brain is a challenge, but that is also a positive because there remains much to be discovered and unraveled. This applies not just to brain tissue itself but to a variety of associated brain components such as cerebral blood flow, which is tightly tied to brain activity.
What lessons from The Haverford School do you carry with you?
I entered The Haverford School in IV Form and was immediately struck by the faculty’s dedication to and interest in the students. Many of the Haverford teachers seemed to enjoy their work and even seemed to have fun interacting with the boys. My previous somewhat lethargic approach to learning was transformed to a real interest tempered by teenage nonchalance. Nevertheless, my interaction with many of the teachers at the Haverford School caused me to give serious thought to becoming a schoolteacher; this intent did not survive my college experience. Fortunately, as Departmental Chair, I was able spend time teaching medical students and especially neurosurgical residents, many of whom went on to assume positions at US universities, educating students, providing patient care and doing research.
I've learned that, when faced with a difficult task, whether it is taking a school quiz or operating on a brain aneurysm, there is no substitute for being prepared. Work hard and your life will be rewarded…or to quote Gary Player: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”