May 05, 2017

Norman Komar, MD: Staying connected

University of Michigan Medical School alumnus Norman Komar, M.D. (Radiology Residency, 1964-67; Special Procedures Fellow, 1967-68) retired in 2006, but his Michigan connection is still going strong. This past spring, Dr. Komar graciously hosted one of our M4 students on the residency interview trail—a common practice for our generous alumni. Here, Dr. Komar shares his memories of Michigan and why he keeps coming back to his roots.

Dr. Komar, far left, at annual Michigan Football tailgate gathering

How did you end up at the University of Michigan for your residency?

After medical school and internship there was a physician draft to support the impending Vietnam War. I was assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona for two years. Although I was considered a General Medical Officer, there was need for someone to oversee a small X-ray department as a fully trained radiologist was not assigned. Local radiologists, whose practice I later joined, provided oversight and education several days a week. They were also helpful in helping me apply to residency programs. Although I had several acceptances, they convinced me that the Michigan program was the best of my choices.

What do you remember most about your training at Michigan?

There was an abundance of camaraderie among the six residents admitted that year, as well as with the staff. I was there for the last year of the Dr. Fred Jenner Hodges era, and it was at a time when televised fluoroscopy was in its infancy. I can remember Dr. Hodges being criticized for having us learn to use them rather than the simplistic image intensifiers currently in private practice. He answered critics by saying that if we continued that mentality that we would still be using a bicycle apparatus to charge the X-ray plates.

How would you characterize the quality of your experience?

My years were during the emergence and refinement of catheter angiography. Dr. Joe Bookstein had us all learning to fashion and safely use catheters, which was invaluable to me later as a neuroradiologist. Half of my fellowship was spent doing angiography and the other half was with Dr. Trygve Gabrielsen, who provided guidance and set standards of practice for my career. As residents, we were expected to give presentations, which were critiqued. The most exacting of such mentors was Dr. Bill Martel, who I kept in contact for many decades afterwards. He often came to the University of Arizona program to help residents prepare for Board Exams.

What keeps you connected to Michigan?

I have remained connected even after 49 years in Arizona. Having fellow residents as well as family still residing in the Ann Arbor area made it easy and desirable to return often. Each fall, we are invited to a tailgate party prior to a U-M home football game. What a great way to connect with current and former staff. In Tucson there is an active Michigan Alumni group that provides good camaraderie and educational events across a spectrum of ages and careers. It is one more way of staying connected with the University. For instance, the Astronomy department has usage of two telescopes at nearby Kitt Peak and the faculty has invited many of us to tour with them each year.

When I heard of the need for a Resident travel and equipment fund, it was an easy decision to contribute to its inception as a way of “giving back” to the program. I have remained in touch with the department and it is always fun to return to attend special functions. Last year, the development person for the department asked if I would be interested in hosting a fourth year medical student who was coming to Tucson to interview for an Ophthalmology residency. It was a wonderful experience to meet the young man and hear about the changes in the Medical School curriculum. It was my first, and I hope not the last, such experience.

What is your advice to future physicians?

Be honest, hard-working and think of the patient as someone the equal of your mother or brother or child. Treat them accordingly with dignity and compassion, and with as much knowledge as you can apply in your chosen field. Give them every reason to trust your judgment and recommendations. And remember to be generous and encouraging to staff and technicians as these people are trying to achieve the same results that you are.