Remembering Dr. Thomas L. Leaman: A pioneer in family medicine

As Penn State College of Medicine’s founding Dean Dr. George T. Harrell met with the local practitioners at Hershey Hospital in the early 1960s, the story goes that he laid out three conditions for employment at the soon-to-be built Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

First, they had to give up their private practices and move their offices into the Medical Center. Second, they had to accept an academic salary. And third, they had to complete a year of training at their own expense working with medical students and residents.

Dr. Thomas Leaman was the only one who agreed.

“The other doctors from town – around 10 or 15 of them – were incensed,” recalled Dr. C. Max Lang, who came to Hershey in 1966 as the founding chair of the Department of Comparative Medicine. “Tom didn’t agree right away. Some of the doctors asked Tom to go talk with Dr. Harrell and he made an appointment to do so. Dr. Harrell began to explain his vision where teaching would come first, then patient care, then research. By the time the meeting was over, Tom said he would like to join.”

Leaman, the founding chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine – the first of its kind in the United States – died on Friday, Sept. 2.

“I’ve known Tom for 50 years and I’ve never heard a single person say anything unkind about him,” Lang said.

“If patients don’t like the doctor, the first person they tell is the nurse – and no one ever gave one complaint to me, “ agreed Tillie Stover, who joined him as his nurse when he first opened his medical practice in an office in his home on Elm Avenue in Hershey. “Patients said all they had to do was go into his office and look at him and they felt much better. That’s just the type of doctor he was.”

Although he had much to boast about in his pioneering role in family and community medicine, those who knew Leaman best say he looked at things the other way around – how much an honor it was for him to have been given the chance to contribute. Leaman was chair of the department from 1967 to 1987, and again from 1990 to 1991.

Read more about Leaman in this Penn State Medicine article.

Dr. Thomas L. Leaman Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated September 07, 2016