This series, Faculty Remembered, features profiles of former faculty members at P&S. The author of the series is a 1951 P&S graduate and former professor of medicine. He is now special lecturer in medicine and writer-in-residence at P&S.

MOST BIOGRAPHIES OF MEDICAL ACADEMICIANS GIVE TRANQUIL accounts of steady advancement to full professorship in a peaceful, scholarly setting. Doctors who practice medicine “outside,” struggling with patients and a complex bureaucracy, look on medical school teaching as a soft job-—what Sam Johnson called “the soft obscurities of retirement... under the shelter of academick bowers” (1755). But Johnson spent only one year at Oxford and never worked in a university. He could not have known that modern medical-academic politics rank high in toxicity, abrasiveness, and wear and tear. A distinguished 20th century colleague has described working in a contemporary department of medicine as akin to swimming with sharks in a small space while making sure never to bleed (Richard J. Johns).

Stanley E. Bradley’s early life prepared him for hard going. His mother died when he was 12. Not the heir of privilege, he became the first member of his family to attend college. An outstanding student in the public schools of Baltimore, he excelled in the sciences and fell in love with botany while still a boy. On horticultural field trips his lively interest and obvious intellectual prowess caught the attention of senior people who arranged for him to be admitted to Baltimore’s City College High School, whose mission was to prepare promising students for college. Bradley, aided by scholarships, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1934 and from the University of Maryland medical school four years later, receiving his medical residency training there. The year 1940 found him in Manhattan at NYU, the recipient of an honorific fellowship, studying renal function with Homer W. Smith. At Bellevue Hospital he worked also at the Columbia Medical Division with Andre Cournand, learning how to catheterize internal blood vessels, how to measure splanchnic blood flow, and how to interpret data obtained from blood samples. Bradley spent the next six years at the Boston University School of Medicine, where, with F.J. Ingelfinger, he devised an original method for measuring hepatic blood flow. With his left hand, to make ends meet, he engaged in private practice.

In 1949 he moved back to New York and P&S where he continued to work on the physiology of the liver and began a wide variety of studies on the kidney in hypertension, the nephrotic syndrome, chronic renal failure, and many other disorders. Through the 1950s, he became a dean—perhaps the dean—of American nephrologists. His laboratory attracted many gifted fellows. Bradley became known for his insistence on exploring new territories, where no one else had ventured before him. This may account for the strangeness of some of his papers; many seasoned nephrologists had trouble understanding some of his work. Nevertheless, the young people who worked in his laboratory—about 50 in all—revered his uncanny ability to analyze complex data, devotion to detail, and unrivaled skill in the analysis of experimental facts—finding gaps, pointing out errors and faulty interpretations, and suggesting new ones, even in fields foreign to him. The people he trained became Bradley devotees. His laboratory skills made him famous, earning him the editorship of the Journal of Clinical Investigation and the presidency of more than one scientific organization.

In 1959, his scientific eminence won him appointment as chairman of medicine at Columbia and chief of the medical service at Presbyterian Hospital. Continuing nevertheless to direct his laboratory, he still managed, during the 11 years of his chairmanship, to produce nearly 40 serious articles. Not so gifted a clinician as his predecessor, the legendary Robert Loeb, Bradley conducted bedside rounds on patients that were informative and entertaining because of his rich store of information in many fields, scientific and humanistic. He maintained good relations with students, the medical house staff, and the attendings. In his early years as chief he became a fostering mentor to his divisional chiefs; immediately after assuming the chairmanship, he rapidly obtained numerous NIH training grants, indispensable in supporting the several clinical subspecialties.

The opening paragraph referred to the imagined tranquility of academic medicine, as compared to the rigors of medical practice, and to the cold truth that scholastic medicine is not always tranquil. About six years after Dr. Bradley’s assumption of the chairmanship, this supposed peaceful atmosphere seemed to change. The writer makes no claim that he understands exactly what went wrong, but in 1969-70 the dean and the senior faculty reluctantly concluded that a change in leadership had become necessary. It is fair to suppose that Dr. Bradley’s intense pursuit of science had not left him the time or energy to develop the cruder skills in diplomacy—not all of those admirable—that are necessary for survival in a crowded, intense, and highly competitive academic atmosphere. Whatever the reasons, Stanley Bradley’s relations with too many constituencies became untenable, and he was asked to resign in 1970. At this point, it may not be too much to say that we then witnessed a species of Greek tragedy, but with a less drastic outcome. The professor, of course, resisted this decision, but when the pressures became intolerable he resigned graciously. His farewell speech to the assembled department was spirited, dignified—one could say noble—and elicited respectful and protracted applause.

As we know, heroes of Greek tragedy, as a group, do not do well. Dr. Bradley not only survived but prevailed. He absented himself from the scene for a time. Best of all, a former student of his offered him a visiting graduate research fellowship at the University of Bern, Switzerland. There followed 10 steadily productive years of laboratory research with Swiss and American colleagues, yielding many scholarly papers. As he had done in New York, Bradley acted as mentor to Swiss research fellows, teaching them scientific analysis and critique. Bradley’s last published article appeared in 1992 when he was nearly 80. It described the application of the clearance techniques he had used for years in renal and hepatic studies. This piece of work suggested a way to determine how rapidly a foreign substance could be cleared from a measured volume of soil, a finding with ecological implications for the pollution of land.

During the Swiss decade, Bradley and his wife, like good guests, learned Swiss German, facilitating travels throughout Switzerland. The couple also visited just about every country in Europe, having what they described as the time of their lives. Better still, Bradley went out of his way to mend old friendships with Columbia colleagues. In a way, what we might call the tragic hero redeemed himself—if redemption was necessary.

But the gods had other ideas. Sadly, the professor developed Alzheimer’s disease. This seemed to his friends an unnecessarily harsh irony—here was a man who lived by his brain, abruptly deprived of reason. He died at age 86, and—here the irony becomes excessive—his widow succumbed, also to dementia. Their daughter, Dr. Jane Alavi, survives.

Dr. Bradley, among other qualities, had intellectual passion that he was able to transmit. A good conversationalist, he was also an attentive listener. We judged him to be the most learned man we had known—along with Dickinson Richards, and, like Richards, he wore his learning lightly. Some of us heard him debate the great Linus Pauling; the contest was a draw. Bradley developed an idiosyncratic style of writing didactic papers. Unlike most of us who have been taught to supply subsection headings in bold type—an attempt to aid the reader—he insisted on omitting such visual aids, counting on the uninterrupted flow of thought to carry the argument. Reading him, you find a deeply thoughtful mind perpetually and restlessly moving forward. He left an indispensable body of scientific work, but his main achievement may be what he gave to his research fellows: Like Dana Atchley in clinical medicine, he taught research students how to think critically. That influence goes on and on.


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