Classnotes - 1950s

Alfred E. Falcone, DDS ’47, MD ’50, is a 94-year-old retired plastic surgeon, in good health, who lives in Jamestown, NY. The following are a collection of memories he has of medical school.

“I was 18 years old when I was accepted into UB Dental School, by virtue of a wartime accelerated program. I graduated dentistry in February 1947 at age 21. At the time, Dean Koch of the UB Medical School offered an acceptance to the top three dental graduates. They would enter as sophomores and advance to the third year if they passed Part 1 of the National Medical Boards. I accepted his proposal.”

“I worked at the Howard Johnson ice-cream store located at Delaware and North Streets. I was an evening short-order cook and filled in at the front ice-cream counter. A frequent customer wearing a small tipped hat was Dr. Stockton Kimball. I would give him extra portions at no charge knowing that he was involved in some way with the medical school.”

“I arranged to attend lectures in the second year medical, but I was excused from the long labs. Instead I spent the time reviewing for the boards. The anatomy board questions from the previous five years were available. I noted a lack of questions regarding circulation and the diaphragm. I studied these in depth and the board exam was all about circulation and the diaphragm. In biochemistry, I asked the teacher what was most topical at that time. He responded, ‘Lipids.’ I studied lipids thoroughly and the board exam was mostly about lipids. So I lucked out and came in twelfth in a class of 73.”

“There was a great division between medical students and the vivacious dental students. Medical students were more reserved, quiet and dedicated to the study of medicine. The difference was obvious and I had to take on the roll of a serious student. The class had nine women, which was new to me. They were excellent students and blended in well. In addition there was one black fellow, which was a revelation to me. His name was James C. Dunn and he was from Lackawanna. He was the youngest individual in a class of 73. Jim became a good friend and we blended in very well. The biggest and best fraternity in medical school was Nu Sigma Nu. Jim had such a great following and personality that we wanted him in Nu Sig. He joined much to our pleasure. When the national chapter of Nu Sigma Nu heard about it they were upset. ‘What if Dr. Dunn were to travel in Georgia and Alabama and wanted to stay at Nu Sig house?’ Our response was ‘So what!’ The Buffalo chapter was then expelled until graduation in 1950.

Once Jim and I were partners on call for obstetrics in the call room behind the Buffalo General Hospital. In the early evening we had time to chat. I had the nerve to ask him how the patients reacted to a black doctor. He said he had no problem—‘a doctor is a doctor.’ When I was a resident in Syracuse [my hometown], I received a phone call from Jim and he asked me to be his best man at his wedding. Indeed I was honored and accepted. When his first son was born, he asked me to be godfather. I was again overjoyed. Just a continuation of our friendship in medical school. I refer you to you to read his most interesting obituary from last year, as he made it to almost 91. Dr. James C. Dunn, Tucson, AZ.”

The following are some experiences in the third-and fourth-years medical school.

“The chief of surgery at the Buffalo General was Dr. Payne. We referred to the Buffalo General as the “’House of Pain.’ Buffalo General was the ultimate in private hospitals, and many times the students could not examine private patients. Not so at the Meyer Memorial. It was an Erie County hospital with many ward or welfare patients. Trolley car #13 took us from Main and High Streets over Delevan to the hospital.

“The wards at Meyer Memorial were often four to six occupied beds with sectional curtains. One such ward had only elderly males on respirators. Dr. Levine was our instructor and started with the first bed on the left. The patient was an elderly male sitting to ease his breathing. Dr. Levine went on, mentioning the therapy—antibiotics such as penicillin measured in small units, oxygen and so on. The next bed was another male probably in his eighties. ‘What to do?’ asked Dr. Levine. We knew the answer: penicillin, oxygen, etc. ‘No,’ said Dr. Levine, ‘just congratulate him.’ Such was our lesson. An eighteen-year old white girl was confined to a psychiatric ward. Her wrong doing was she was dating a black man.”

“At the Meyer Memorial the chief of surgery was Dr. John Stewart. He was a stalwart and well respected. It was an honor to assist him even though the student was redundant and apart. One day I scrubbed to the elbows for ten minutes and entered the operating groom. The surgery was underway when the circulating nurse hurried me out of the room. I had forgotten to put on a mask. The least service I enjoyed was psychiatry. Too much talking with uncertain results, unlike surgery where one would cut, tie and be done with it. I knew where my future lied.”

“We saw little of our classmates since we went off in pairs and only assembled for occasional lectures. With my being a dentist, I was more relaxed as a medical student since I had something to fall back on if I did not succeed. I succeeded. Toward the end of medical school, we had to select a hospital of our choice for internship. I chose the ‘three M’s’—the Royal Victoria in Montreal, the Millard Fillmore, and lastly Jackson Memorial in Miami. The Royal Victoria was an immediate no. Millard Fillmore was slow to respond, so I chose Jackson Memorial. A good choice for some sunshine after seven years in Buffalo.”