Approaching 50-year milestone, alumnus continues
long history of giving back to Medical College
Robert J. Toohill, MD ’60
It has been nearly 50 years since Robert J. Toohill, MD ’60, donned his robes and walked to the front of a crowded auditorium to receive his medical school diploma. Only about three months remain before he relives that moment, and Dr. Toohill is working to encourage as many of his classmates as possible to join him in that unique experience.
Dr. Toohill is serving on his 50th reunion committee at The Medical College of Wisconsin, helping prepare for an anniversary that is celebrated by alumni participation in the Class of 2010’s commencement ceremony in May. As a local alumnus and Medical College faculty member, he thought it appropriate to be involved, and he is personally looking forward to reconnecting with old friends, many of whom he hasn’t seen since graduation.
“I’ve been here continuously since 1967,” he said. “Remembering what things were like when we left in 1960 and coming back to see this campus will be impressive to those who haven’t been here since.”
A full-time faculty member at the Medical College since 1978 and currently Professor of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences, Dr. Toohill has forged a distinguished career and helped his department reach new levels of excellence.
He served as the department’s second ever Chairman from 1985-96. When he first started in that position, there were only three full-time faculty members in the department. By the time he stepped down as chairman, the full-time faculty had grown to 13, and they had become a leading referral center for otolaryngology in southeastern Wisconsin.
Today, the Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences has 20 full-time clinical faculty, plus five PhD research faculty and is continuing to grow, which makes Dr. Toohill proud.
“We have recruited top-notch people – to a person they are very good doctors and good surgeons,” he said. “Our ability to attract patients as a referral center is quite firm. That’s good for our students and residents, but it’s especially good for our patients.”
The department’s commitment to collaborative research is also aligned with his interests. For 25 years, Dr. Toohill has studied the diagnosis and treatment for extraesophageal manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux, which can result in stomach contents infiltrating the throat, lungs, sinuses and even ear canals. He was one of the first to discover that reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus can be a cause of vocal problems.
With his research predominantly funded through the VA system, Dr. Toohill has become a nationally recognized expert on nasal and sinus diseases as well as laryngeal and swallowing diseases. He has a special interest in the voice box and helping patients with injured voice boxes regain productivity at work and home.
For the last seven years, Dr. Toohill has been a mentor to young faculty members in sinus diseases and the nose, voice and throat. The part-time responsibilities suit him well and he is still active in research and clinical care. Dr. Toohill’s commitment to the Medical College is evident in his financial support as well.
When he retired as chairman, alumni of the department established the Toohill Research Fund. Otolaryngology residents are required to do a research project, and this is the only fund supporting ENT residents. Over the past 10-12 years, it has raised close to $1 million. Former residents have helped sustain it, and Dr. Toohill is a frequent supporter.
“When residents come into the program, they don’t have the knowledge or wherewithal to get a research grant,” said Dr. Toohill, who is a Zeit Fellow. “To have this money available for their project is a valuable thing. There is much good that benefits a resident doing a research project, even if they are going into community practice.”
Dr. Toohill was president of the Alumni Association in 1990. He recalls writing a personal letter to every living member of the Class of 1960 at the time and enjoyed meeting and befriending alumni from many different classes. He now hopes members of his class and others will be generous in their support of the Medical College, including through the upcoming 1960 reunion gift. With competition continuing to stiffen for National Institutes of Health grant support, private funding is becoming increasingly important, and alumni have an opportunity to make a difference, he said.
The Class of 1960 50th Reunion Committee is chaired by Anthony P. Ziebert, MD ’60, GME ’63, Fel ’64, and William G. Weber, MD ’60. For information on the Toohill Research Fund or other giving options call (414) 955-4700 or visit mcw.edu/giving.
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