Remembering the Life and Legacy of Dr. Karl H. Muench
For more than five decades, Karl H. Muench, M.D., enriched the University of Miami Miller School community as a leader, instructor and mentor. A beloved professor of medicine and genetics, Dr. Muench passed away on March 26 at 88 years old.
“Nobody took more joy in being a physician than Karl,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School. “He often stated his belief that ‘medicine is the greatest profession in the world,’ and that was demonstrated by his devotion to his patients and his students. His excitement for novel discoveries was passed down to hundreds of young physicians and is his legacy.”
Dr. Muench was fascinated by the field of genetics and its rapid progress, which is why he took on some of the most challenging cases. ‘It’s too exciting to quit,’ he once told an interviewer when he already in his 80s.
“Dr. Muench’s greatest professional commitment and devotion was teaching medical students,” said Roy E. Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the Miller School.
“His connection with students was legendary, with many becoming his lifelong friends,” Dr. Weiss said. “He viewed his course in medical genetics as an introduction to all of medicine, in which he embodied and projected his blending of science with traditional doctor-patient bonding.”
Legacy in Genetics Education
After graduating from Washington University School of Medicine in 1960, Dr. Muench was recruited to the Miller School in 1965 as an instructor in human genetics. His approach to teaching genetics was practical yet simple, as recalled by Alex Mechaber, M.D. ’94, president of the Miller School’s Medical Alumni Association.
“Dr. Muench was one of a kind,” Dr. Mechaber said. “He will always be remembered for making genetics fun and easy to learn. Revered by Miller School alum, he taught us about the art and science of medicine, with many of us recalling his artistic masterpieces displayed in his lectures. May his memory be a blessing.”
In 1975, ten years after his initial lecture, Dr. Muench founded the original required course in medical genetics at the Miller School. He went on to author his 1988 textbook, “Genetic Medicine,” which was favorably reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine. As an avid educator, Dr. Muench challenged his students to follow their passions.
This teaching style made Dr. Muench a relatable and impactful educator, earning him the George Paff Awards for Teaching Excellence in 1986,1993,1995 through 1998 and 2001, with nominations virtually every year.
“He was a great professor and among the most enjoyable people to have a conversation with,” said former student Jon Gottlieb, M.D. ’02. “I think we all remember how he taught as much as what he taught.”
Achievements as a Leader and Clinician
Apart from his work in the classroom, Dr. Muench served in many capacities within the Miller School, in leadership and physician roles. He was the director of the Sickle Cell Center, chief of the Gaucher Disease Treatment Program, and head of the Ph.D. to M.D. program. From 1968 to 2009, Dr. Muench also served as the first chief of the Division of Genetic Medicine and held appointments in the Departments of Biochemistry and Pediatrics.
“Through his tireless dedication to his patients and students, Dr. Muench has instilled in us the passion for excellence in medicine and lifelong learning,” Mustafa Tekin, M.D., professor and interim chair of human genetics and director, Division of Clinical and Translational Genetics at the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics and the Hussman Institute for Human Genomics. “His contributions to medical genetics and to the care of patients of all ages have been profound. His legacy will continue through every life he has touched.”
A viewing will be held Friday, April 21, at 7 p.m. at the Van Orsdel Funeral Home in Coral Gables. Funeral services will be Saturday, April 22, at 10:30 a.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove.