“Don’t Get In The Way Of Helen Martin’s Cane.”

Dr. Helen Martin was an extraordinary individual and teacher.  She taught medical courses at the University of Southern California when my dad was a student in the 40s.  He relates the above anecdote and his personal relationship to Dr. Martin, who had a great influence on his medical focus.

MW:  One of the most outstanding professors was a woman called Helen Martin.  She had polio(so did my Dad as a child, but he had a complete recovery) and was quite crippled, but she was ambulatory with a cane, then two canes.  During the war, she practically ran the Department of Medicine, because everyone else had been drafted in the army.  She was a brilliant woman, and for some reason, she liked me.  She was a very, very difficult teacher.  The standing joke was “don’t get in the way of Helen Martin’s cane.”  She would poke at you and say:  “What do you think that is Mr. Weiss?  What has this patient got?”

She taught me the ethics of medicine.  She would approach a sometimes disheveled alcoholic guy in bed.  She would walk up to him and say:  “How do you do Mr. So and So.  I’m Dr. Martin.”  She would shake his hand and say:  “Do you mind if these medical students talk about you and examine you?”  She was one of the few professors that did this.  Many professors just walked up to the patient, and ignored any politeness, but Dr. Martin really taught the ethics of medicine.

She seldom gave A’s, but for some reason, she gave me A’s in a 10 or 15 unit class.  It really shot my grade point average up.

I stayed on the faculty for 35 years, and she had Diabetes Ward in the County Hospital and was the senior attending physician.  She always wanted me on what was called “her service”, so I was a junior attending physician to her services group for 30 years.  We used to go to the County Hospital on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, making what they call rounds;  seeing patients and the residents and interns, acting as faculty to the medical students.  Incidentally, that was considered part of your job, so you never got paid for it.  I also was the Chief Physician of the Diabetes Clinic, and ran that for about ten years.

Helen Martin was a graduate of USC and one of the Claremont schools.  She stayed full time faculty all her life and lived to be 100.