Archives benefit from alumnus’ attention to history
When you spend as much time in the stacks as Walter E. Gager, MD ’63, GME ’67, accepting a position at the library seems a logical choice. Dr. Gager is among select company as the Medical College of Wisconsin’s third archivist, a calling that has only ever been answered by an alumnus.
An interest in history and a proclivity for writing led Dr. Gager to this role. He has been working on both a book about the history of the development of ophthalmology in southeast Wisconsin as well as a lecture for the upcoming Alumni Clinical Conference about the history of the development of medical education in the region. His research has required frequent visits to MCW Libraries, so volunteering as archivist has bridged his interests and his avocation.
“As an archivist, you have access to the history of medicine, dating back two to three thousand years, and all of that impinges on the practice of medicine today,” he said.
Dr. Gager practiced ophthalmology in Waukesha for 30 years while also maintaining a referral-based caseload of neuro-ophthalmology patients at the Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Eye Institute. He jokes that his general ophthalmology practice supported his “habit” of neuro-ophthalmology, a field that fascinates him, in part because of how disparate specialties coalesce around the visual-neurological systems. “Many times, we find neurologic disease through neuro-ophthalmic means,” he said.
Professionally, Dr. Gager often participated as an expert witness in legal cases because of the types of injuries that tend to occur to the eyes and head. He was also active in medical education, particularly in teaching residents who rotated through the Medical College’s neuro-ophthalmology service. He retired with the title of Clinical Professor Emeritus of Ophthalmology, but his dedication to the College continues.
He said he wrote his first book, Practice Management Life Management, to give residents, as they leave their training, a better idea of what to expect in their careers and in life. The book, which covers practice topics such as contracts, leases and the business of medicine, as well as life topics such as wills and trusts, is provided to all graduating ophthalmology residents at the College. He also meets with the graduates to answer questions about life after training.
A retired ophthalmologist, Walter E. Gager, MD ’63, GME ’67, serves as archivist for the Medical College.
Dr. Gager has served on the College’s Admissions Committee, and he is Director Emeritus of the Medical College of Wisconsin/Marquette Medical Alumni Association Board. He still gives periodic lectures today.
“If you have a job that you like, and enjoy it, and wonder why people pay you to do it, you want to stay close to it,” he said. “The medical school was good to me, and so I wanted to be good back.”
Preserving the College’s century-long history as archivist is part of that commitment. He is involved in a number of initiatives, including the cataloguing of historical documents and visual media as well as a revival of the Libraries’ oral history program, which has recently expanded to include new video of individuals who have contributed to the tapestry of the College’s past.
A physician who has been honored in any number of ways—American Academy of Ophthalmology Award of Merit, MCW Alumni Distinguished Service Award, Eye Institute Alumnus of the Year (to name a few)—Dr. Gager believes it is important to honor the past.
“As the field of medicine continues to develop, we don’t live in a vacuum,” he said. “We learn from other people, other entities, and the knowledge is based upon their needs at the time. If you don’t know the origins of those needs, you can’t fully understand the context for what we do today. That we developed from the minds of so many great people is important for young people to know.”
Dr. Gager’s predecessors are former archivists Norman Engbring, MD ’51, and James Cerletty, MD ’58, Fel ’64.
The Medical College of Wisconsin Libraries established a Digital Collections initiative in 2010 to make unique library and archival materials available to faculty, students, staff, alumni and the community as a whole. Coordinated by MCW librarians and the archivist,
digitization projects are currently under development.
Access the collections, which include the MCW Heritage Portrait Gallery, the MCW History Collection and the Armand J. Quick, MD, PhD, Collection.
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