Huntington Hospital Graduate Education Staff says ‘Farewell’ to Dr. Underman

Dr. Arvid Underman Retires from Huntington HospitalDr. Arvid Underman Retires from Huntington HospitalDr. Arvid Underman Retires from Huntington HospitalDr. Arvid Underman Retires from Huntington HospitalDr. Arvid Underman Retires from Huntington Hospital

by EDDIE RIVERA, Community Editor

10:26 pm | September 10, 2016

Huntington Hospital’s Director of Graduate Medical Education Dr. Arvid Underman has finally left the staff at the vaunted Pasadena hospital, but clearly he will never leave the hearts of those he taught and mentored over the last 26 years.

Underman was honored by more than a hundred friends and students and their guests Friday evening, most of whom had trained or were teaching attendants in the Huntington Hospital’s Internal Medicine Residency Program. Also quick to remember and honor the good doctor was perhaps his most well-known graduate, Dr. Drew Pinsky, noted drug rehab doctor and reality TV star.

The program’s director, Dr. Myron J. Tong, brought Underman into the program in 1990, where for 15 years, Underman also served as the Director of Graduate Medical Education, where he oversaw the Medicine and General Surgery Programs.

Underman took special care Friday evening to acknowledge that the program could never have existed without the thousands of hours spent voluntary attending doctors who threw themselves into teaching the residents and helping to care for their patients. The program has now trained 157 internal medicine residents over the last 25 years, many of whom went on to subspecialty training. The General Surgery program itself has graduated more than 25 surgeons, 68 of who remain on the Huntington Hospital’s medical staff.

State Assemblymember Chris Holden, Pasadena’s representative to the state legislature, also attended the evening, presenting a certificate of recognition to Dr. Underman on behalf of the California Legislature.

Dr. Underman grew up in the Lynwood-Compton area and graduated from Inglewood High School. He obtained both his B.A. and M.D. from Stanford University.

Underman likes to say, however, that he never learned medicine until he joined more than a hundred other interns entering the internal medicine residency at LAC-USC Medical Center in 1970. It was there he would meet his lifelong role models—Drs. John Leedom, Telford Reynolds and Donald Feinstein. After completing his residency and fellowship in Infectious Diseases he joined the LAC-USC staff, followed by The Good Samaritan and Huntington Hospitals.

Underman currently holds an appointment as a Clinical Professor of Medicine and Microbiology at The Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and is an emeritus fellow of The America College of Physicians as well as the Infectious Disease Society of America.

As one former resident wrote to him, “When I completed residency, you gave me a book called Blood and Guts, and admitted that it was your fault that I was chosen for residency. For a lot of us, you made our residency more than just a bland educational experience. You added juice and spice to it. Our rounds together were never boring or painful. We smiled and laughed, no matter how tired and sleep-deprived we felt during those morning rounds. I will always remember your kindness and attention. How can I forget the way you fixed my post-call messy hair and constantly adjusted my sometimes soiled white coat?”

More than one fellow doctor recalled Underman’s most-noted brush with fame, when, in 1978, the LA Times and the Associated Press picked up the story of his treatment of a Los Angeles attorney bitten by a four-foot long rattlesnake placed in his mailbox by supporters of Synanon, an alternative drug rehab facility. The photo of a dashing young Dr. Underman kneeling and holding the rattlesnake high over his head, ran in newspapers across the country, and was happily passed around during the evening’s festivities.

As a chagrined Underman, who saved the attorney’s life, noted, “All that attorney could talk about was the pretty young intern working with me.”

But, as Dr. Magdalena Arias, a former student, noted during the evening, “Dr. Underman is part of an era of medicine, that unfortunately, has become something of the past, and we don’t want to wait to read obituaries about these great men. We want to celebrate their lives while they’re here with us, and let them know that, for all the time, and all the energy that they invested in training future doctors

After a short “rare but not overdone” roast, former students and now fellow doctors traded stories and memories. At the conclusion of the party, former residents were presented with a simple red pencil on which was inscribed, “Trained by Dr. Underman.” The simple irony was acknowledged by the doctors there, who deal every day with the complexities of modern electronic medical record keeping.

As Dr. Underman lightly admonished his audience, “All you need is a pencil. Keep it sharp.”