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Miller School Colleagues Remember Longtime Endocrinologist Dr. Lawrence M. Fishman

Lawrence M. Fishman, M.D., touched the lives of thousands of patients, students, trainees and colleagues in a 41-year career as an endocrinologist with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Miami. After retiring in 2008, he continued to serve as professor emeritus before his death on January 27 at the age of 87.

“Dr. Fishman was a warm, compassionate human being and a great endocrinologist with a sharp, penetrating mind,” said Ronald B. Goldberg, M.D., professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and the Diabetes Research Institute. “Everyone listened to his opinions with great care. As a teacher, he was one of the best.”

Dr. Lawrence M. Fishman

Adrenal disease was Dr. Fishman’s primary clinical interest. “He led an active research program at the VA Medical Center, and continued to stay on top of things after his retirement,” said Dr. Goldberg, who met Dr. Fishman in 1980 and remained friends through the decades. “Two months ago, he listened to one of our lectures and complemented me on the presentation.”

Roy E. Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Medicine, remembers Dr. Fishman as “an inspiration for all of us in academic medicine:  an ultimate educator, clinician and scientist driving for excellence and the pursuit of knowledge. He never stopped learning, teaching and caring.”

Reflecting that dedication to medical education, Dr. Fishman endowed an annual lecture series presented by the Lawrence M. Fishman Visiting Professor in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. On February 3, Samuel Klein, M.D., the William H. Danforth Professor of Medicine and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine, will deliver a the 2021 remote grand rounds lecture on “Physiological and Clinical Implications of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?”

Supporting bioethics

Dr. Fishman was an early supporter of UM’s Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy,

said Kenneth W. Goodman, Ph.D., professor of medicine, founder and director of the institute, and co-director of the university’s Ethics Programs. “Larry Fishman was a medical rara avis,” said Dr. Goodman. “He wed scientific brilliance with a commitment to social issues – and he did so with gentleness, grace, and generosity.”

Under Dr. Fishman’s guidance, the Miami VA was one of the first sponsors of UM’s “Florida Bioethics: Debates, Decisions, Solutions” conference in 1993 and has continued the annual sponsorship since then. Dr. Fishman also was an early supporter of the Miller School’s Dialogues in Research Ethics and led the first dialogue in 1992. He also developed and delivered a course in Jewish medical ethics for Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest with Dr. Goodman.

“In addition to medical and research ethics, Dr. Fishman’s interests included gun control and nuclear disarmament,” said Dr. Goodman. “He believed physicians should commit themselves to public health and safety and what used to be uncontroversial moral stances.”

Early career

Dr. Fishman was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933. His father was a doctor who passed away, along with his sister, when he was 12 years old. He enrolled at Harvard, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He then spent a year as an Adenauer Fellow at the University of Munich, before returning to Harvard and earning his medical degree in 1960. He completed an internship and residency in medicine at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, followed by three years as a clinical associate at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

In 1967, Dr. Fishman was recruited by William Harrington, M.D., to be chief of the Diabetes and Endocrinology Section at the VA and assistant professor of medicine in the newly formed Diabetes and Endocrinology Division at the University of Miami School of Medicine.  After joining the faculty, he pioneered the lecture-seminar format for the teaching of pathophysiology – a format still in use today.

Building the VA research program

While maintaining an active clinical practice, along with teaching, Dr. Fishman was appointed associate chief of staff for research at the Miami VA Medical Center in 1975, and held this position until 2003.

Working with then-Dean John Clarkson, M.D., Dr. Fishman was instrumental in the creation of a joint UM/VA HIV/AIDS Research Initiative, funded by UM and the South Florida VA Foundation for Research and Education that he headed.  Together with Jay Skyler, M.D., then director of the medical school’s endocrinology division, Dr. Fishman was one of the primary architects of the University of Miami/VA General Clinical Research Center, then one of only three such VA-affiliated centers in the nation.

Dr. Fishman was a reviewer for several journals and served on the editorial board of the Annals of Internal Medicine. He was a member and chair of several committees of the Endocrine Society, including terms on the Postgraduate Committee and as Planning and Program Co-Chair for the Society’s Annual and Postgraduate Meetings in Miami.

Over the years, Dr. Fishman and his laboratory made contributions in clinical and basic adrenal endocrinology resulting in more than 120 publications. One of his early studies involved evaluating the incidence of a newly described disorder, primary aldosteronism, in patients with hypertension. He also helped develop a model for understanding the interactions between the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla, and studies of the effects of various steroid hormones on cells in tumors of the adrenal medulla often associated with severe hypertension.

Dr. Fishman and his colleagues also had a continuing interest in comparative adrenal endocrinology, and collaborated with researchers at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science to study the biochemistry of the Atlantic whale adrenal, as well as the effects of unusual agents found in marine sponges on the adrenal gland.

Throughout his academic career, Dr. Fishman was active in mentoring students and trainees. He was elected to several terms in the Faculty Senate and School Council, as well as serving as an extra-departmental faculty representative in various chair and dean searches.

After Dr. Fishman had taught for more than 40 years and became a professor emeritus, UM celebrated his achievements, creating the Suzanne R. and Dr. Lawrence M. Fishman Endowment Fund and Lawrence M. Fishman/Jay S. Skyler Visiting Professor Program.

In a 2009 announcement of the program, Dr. Fishman said, “I am very grateful to the University and the medical school for my professional life. I have been very blessed in a professional way and have some wonderful colleagues. I have had the opportunity to take care of patients, to teach, and to do research in a stimulating and developing medical center.”

Tags: Dr. Lawrence M. Fishman, endocrinology, Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, Miami VA Medical Center