Link: University of Iowa

Information About

Alumni Interview

Bob Eaton, M.D.



What is your home town?

I was born in Tangshan, China and was raised in Iowa City.  I graduated from City High in 1936.  Incidentally, four of us who graduated in that class of 124 students graduated from the University of Iowa
College of Medicine in 1943.  Three of that group are still alive and planning on coming back for our 65th reunion next June. 

How/when did you become interested in science and medicine?

I became interested in medicine when I was in junior high school and never changed my goal.

What interested you to pursue a career in medicine and medical education?

My mother began working at the University of Iowa Hospital in 1925 when it was on the east side of the river.  The building is now known as East Hall.  She drove an electric cart transferring records from the General Hospital to the Children’s Hospital which was on the west side of the river in its present location.  The new hospital was built in 1927 at which time she was working in surgery admissions.  I was in junior high school and developed an infection in my hand with lymphangitis extending up to my axilla.
My mother took me to surgery out patient, and I went over there every day for the next 3 weeks.   That was in the days before antibiotics.  I was under the primary care of Dr. Dulin, who was a staff surgeon.  Dr. Dulin made a great impression on me which continued throughout medical school.

Please highlight your major career achievements, awards, discoveries, etc.

If it was an achievement, after my freshman year I was picked to be a demonstrator in the anatomy lab for two years, going to my own classes half time.  I was also elected to AOA my senior year.

After returning from the Western Pacific in 1946, I came to Clarion, Iowa with a classmate, and we started a family practice together.  I have stayed in Clarion ever since.
We were joined in 1951 and again in 1958 by two other general practitioners.  This relationship continued until 1981 when it was ended by the death of one of the partners.  During those 23 years we operated with only a handshake. We were together every Friday afternoon from noon until 3 o'clock at which time we ate and discussed any questions we had.  We had no written agreement, and during that time we never had a serious argument.

Is there a teacher, mentor, or University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine faculty member who has helped shape your education?

Two men who shaped my education while I was in medical school were Dr. J.W. Dulin (29BS, 29MD, 40R- Surgery) in surgery and Dr. J.H. Randall (28MD) in Obstetrics and Gynecology.  Dr. Dulin presented facts in such a unique way that we called them “Dulinisms” and we never forgot them.  Dr. Randall used common forms or objects in describing things so that it was easy to understand.

How or why did you choose the University of Iowa for your education and medical training?

I went to school during the depression years.  Tuition was cheap at the University of Iowa.  I had a fee exemption because of good grades.  Tuition was $96 a semester in medical school.  Room and board were free since I lived at home.  I made 35 cents an hour ushering at the Englert Theater every day including Sundays and holidays for 3 years, from 1936 to 1939.   During that time I had one day off when my sister got married.

What kind of professional opportunities or advantages has your University of Iowa medical training provided?

I interned at the Youngstown Hospital Association hospitals in Youngstown, Ohio where the other interns represented 5 different medical schools.   It very soon became apparent that the training and instruction I had received at Iowa were superior to the other schools represented there.  For example, I was the only intern there who could do a bone marrow biopsy or start a bone marrow IV.  I also was the only one who had any experience in anesthesia.

Please describe your professional interests.

I chose general practice for the variety of problems a doctor sees and the closeness that a doctor has with his patients.  Of all of the things I treated people for, I enjoyed obstetrics the most.  In this specialty you are dealing with life and seldom with death, although when it occurs it is heart wrenching.  You have close contact with your patient and usually the rest of the family is also involved.  In a general practice the offspring is then followed for years.  Also, in general practice it is not unusual to deliver a baby for a child you have previously delivered.

What are some of your outside interests?

In the past I used to enjoy hunting and fishing and traveling but I am getting too old for that now.  I still enjoy golf, watching athletic events, reading, and the computer.  I like to keep in touch with my family, friends, and medical classmates via e-mail.

Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your professional work?

Quite a few years ago a patient sent me a poem which has served as a beacon that I have followed in treating patients and dealing with people in general.  It is pasted on the mirror of my dresser and has served me well.  It is as follows:

My life shall touch a dozen lives,
      Before this day is done.
Leave countless marks of good or ill,
      Ee'r sets the evening sun.
This, the wish I always wish,
      The prayer I always pray;
Lord, make my life help other lives,
      It touches by the way.

If you could change one thing about the practice or business of medicine what would it be?

In 1965 one of my partners said to the other three, “This is the beginning of trouble.”  What he was referring to was the beginning of Medicare and the entry of government into the practice of medicine, which has continued to increase for the succeeding 42 years.  The one thing I would like to see in the practice of medicine is the discontinuance of this interference.  In order for this to occur doctors are going to have to start policing themselves.  I question whether this will ever happen.

What is the biggest change you've experienced in medicine since you were a student?

Without question the biggest change I have seen in the practice of medicine since I started is the introduction of antibiotics.  Midway through my senior year penicillin was first used in treating patients.  It was the first of the antibiotics.

Penicillin was used very sparingly during my internship and never in the field during the war.  I will never forget when I was at Blank Hospital in Des Moines after returning from overseas, a small girl came into the Emergency Room with a fever and complaining of pain in the upper end of her tibia.  A presumptive diagnosis of acute osteomyelitis was made.  A blood culture was drawn and she was started on 5,000 units of penicillin every 3 hours.  The blood culture was reported positive for staph aureus, and the patient was cured with no surgery or further treatment necessary.

What piece of advice would you give to today's medical students?

The one piece of advice I would give to medical students is to be honest with their patients and not be reluctant to say, "I do not know".  In their future practice, they are going to encounter problems and diseases that they do not have the knowledge and skill to handle.  The smart doctor is the one who realizes this and sends the patient to a doctor who is better qualified to treat them.

What do you see as "the future" of medicine?

While in medical school I believed that a cure of cancer was possible in my life time.  In the past 65 years that has not been achieved, but inroads have been made, such as in acute leukemia. Great progress has been made in the treatment of other diseases, but it is difficult for one who is not in an investigative branch of medicine to predict what research will develop.

Two things I hope will be discovered in the future.  First, I hope that a cause and cure for cancer will be found.  Secondly I hope that the absence of a neurilemma sheath will be overcome and nerve fibers will be grown to replace those that have been destroyed either by injury or disease.


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