Merlin DuVal, M.D. '44: On the ball
How will I look when I'm 21?" muses the handsome college student in a 1940s ad. He's pictured as a baseball player—"what I'm hoping for," the ad continues. "So I'm eating the right foods now—Nabisco Shredded Wheat."
That all-American boy was Merlin "Monte" DuVal, who did indeed go on to become a champion—not on the ball field, but in the health-care arena. He pioneered surgical procedures; founded Arizona's first medical school; served as U.S. assistant secretary of health; and, even in retirement, continues his quest to make health care universally accessible.
But back in the 1940s, he was juggling several jobs to pay for college and medical school. He modeled at the then-lucrative salary of $25 an hour for ads— for cereal, toothpaste, breath mints, and other products (including, DuVal is chagrined to admit now, cigarettes)—that appeared in magazines like Look and Life. He also lifeguarded at Hanover's Storrs Pond, washed dishes at the Dartmouth dining hall, and worked at the local Rood's Eating Club.
DuVal grew up in Montclair, N.J. His mother was a singer, actress, and model. His father was a successful stockbroker who didn't suffer any personal losses in the 1929 stock market crash—mostly because he didn't have much invested himself—but he felt responsible for his customers who'd suffered significant losses. So he spent the rest of his career helping his customers recover. "He did his best to calculate their total losses, and he paid them back," says his son.
Not only was DuVal imbued with his parents' work ethic and sense of responsibility, but he was also influenced by his Dartmouth mentors— including Sidney Hazelton, a professor of physical education and the supervisor of Storrs Pond, and Dr. Rolf Syvertsen, the dean of the Medical School. Syvertsen "could have been a faculty of one if people had allowed him to do it," DuVal says. Syvertsen felt that if he could have taught all the courses himself, he would have been able to ensure an integrated curriculum.
Little did DuVal know that 20 years later, he would be a faculty of one as the
founder of Arizona's first medical school and that he would be pushing for an integrated curriculum, too.
After graduating from both Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School in 1944 (he was able to complete both his undergraduate requirements and the two basic science years of medical school in just four years due to wartime acceleration of the programs), DuVal went on to complete his M.D. at Cornell in 1946. He spent two years in the Navy, stationed first at a naval hospital in St. Albans, N.Y., and then at a naval amphibious base in Little Creek, Va. Next he did a rotating internship at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, and then a surgery residency at the Bronx VA Hospital under Dr. Allen Whipple, a pioneer in surgery for pancreatic cancer and inventor of the still-performed Whipple procedure. DuVal recalls his mentor as kind and modest, "a very, very great American surgeon," and someone who
had "a heavy influence on all of his residents." Whipple stimulated DuVal's interest in pancreatic surgery and encouraged him to go into academic medicine.
"When I finished the residency, [I] got a stunning offer to open a practice in Mount Kisco, N.Y., with two other people," recalls DuVal. "They said, 'You can easily make $200,000 in your second year,' " an astounding income back in the 1950s. "I spoke to Dr. Whipple," DuVal continues. "He said, 'Don't do it. You can always quit [academic medicine] and go into private practice, but you cannot turn around and do it the other way.'"
So DuVal joined the surgery faculty at the State University of New York at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn. He developed an innovative surgical procedure used to treat patients with chronic pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas associated with alcoholism
Laura Carter is the associate editor of Dartmouth Medicine magazine.