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Class of 1953 alumnus Robert C. Olson, MD, establishes chair in radiology through estate gift

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Spring 2012 issue (pdf)

Dr. Robert C. Olson scans his Class of 1953 medical school graduation picture during his 55th reunion at the Medical College in the summer of 2008. Dr. Olson passed away in 2010.Dr. Robert C. Olson scans his Class of 1953 medical school graduation picture during his 55th reunion at the Medical College in the summer of 2008. Dr. Olson passed away in 2010.

Through a trust that he and his wife established more than a decade ago, Robert C. Olson, MD ’53, GME ’66, has posthumously endowed a chair at the Medical College of Wisconsin in radiology, his specialty.

With a gift in excess of $1 million, the estate of the late Dr. Robert and Patricia Olson has funded the Robert C. Olson, MD Chair in Radiology, which will be held by a faculty member recommended by the department’s chairman. James E. Youker, MD, is Professor and Chairman of Radiology and recalls Dr. Olson’s interest in continuing medical education.

“The Robert Olson Professorship will have a powerful impact upon the Department of Radiology and the Medical College of Wisconsin,” Dr. Youker said. “The professorship will focus on enhancing the department’s education program for medical students, residents, fellows and practitioners. Radiology plays a central role in teaching anatomy and pathology to medical students. Educating residents in radiology and preparing them for life in practice represents a central function of the department’s education program.”

Dr. Olson’s son, Steve, also vividly remembers his father’s appetite for lifelong learning. He said he used to think his dad’s return trips to Milwaukee for continuing medical education from his Davenport, Iowa, home were just excuses to visit him. But he quickly learned that Dr. Olson simply reveled in being around his peers at the Medical College. Whether he was the student or the teacher, Dr. Olson cared deeply about education.

“Dad loved teaching residents about radiology,” Steve Olson said. “He had a passion in challenging his students to dig deeper, look harder and above all, have care and compassion for their patients. I believe that his passion was nurtured in his class work at Marquette University School of Medicine (the Medical College’s predecessor). He was intensely proud of his relationship with Marquette and the Medical College, and his children are equally proud of our father and his legacy.”

Family practitioner Francis “Rocky” Kane, MD, trained with Dr. Olson (who had been a general practitioner for 10 years prior to becoming a radiologist) in the 1980s in Iowa. Dr. Kane said that Dr. Olson was generous with his knowledge and was quick to earn the respect of his students.

“When you were attending an Olson talk, you had to be prepared so that you could show this man you were indeed worthy of his attention,” he said. “It was often the most rigorous clinical teaching conference but a favorite of the residents; you knew he’d teach with a balance. He’d be firm on you when needed but not to the point of embarrassment. It struck us that he saw his commitment to his profession as three-fold: perform his job with excellence; always pursue improvement; teach anyone nearby that shows interest. And he really lived it.”

When he established his charitable trust in 2000, Dr. Olson wrote “The Medical College of Wisconsin has become a first-rate institution for medical training and research, with special interest in family practice. Since this school receives only limited governmental support, alumni contributions are essential.” Dr. Olson died Dec. 18, 2010. He was preceded in death by his wife, Patricia, daughter Mary and infant son, Patrick, and survived by daughters Margaret and Jane and son, Stephen (Steve).

“I think Dr. Olson would continue to be proud of the growth and progress of the Medical College, and we pledge to be responsible stewards of the generous gift he has bestowed on the Department of Radiology,” said College President and CEO John R. Raymond, Sr., MD.

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