Medicus: Dr. Bernard Gersh

From humble beginnings in southern Africa, Dr. Bernard Gersh has risen through the ranks of international medical prestige to become a leading practitioner in the area of cardiovascular disease and internal medicine.

Born in South Africa, Gersh spent his early years in neighboring Zambia (Northern Rhodesia at the time), later returning to South Africa to complete his secondary schooling at the exclusive Hilton College for boys. Upon completing his schooling, Gersh moved to Cape Town and enrolled in Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery studies at the University of Cape Town, one of the top-ranked universities on the continent. He describes his first year of study as “rather checkered” — a reference to his poor performance that resulted in him repeating the year’s courses. Nevertheless, he went on to graduate in 1965, having obtained a clean sweep of first-class passes in the final years of his course.

Testament to his stellar academic potential, Gersh was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, affording him the opportunity to enrol in postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford. He opted to pursue a DPhil in anesthesiology (his thesis was titled Ventricular Function and Hemodynamics in the Dog During Anesthesia) and completed this in 1970. He subsequently spent some time at the National Heart Hospital in London as a Research Fellow in the Department of Cardiac Surgery. Gersh considers his time in the UK as a delight, as he often had the opportunity to watch live cricket matches. To this day, and much to the bemusement of his American peers and friends, Gersh takes an annual trip to London to watch a game at Lord’s.

Gersh then returned to South Africa to commence training at Groote Schuur Hospital — home of the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant as performed by the late Dr. Christian Barnard. Experiencing a burgeoning interest in the subject, Gersh decided to pursue opportunities at Mayo Clinic, a highly regarded academic medical center in Minnesota, US, to which he moved in 1978. Shortly after joining the center he took up the position of Director: Coronary Care Unit. Gersh contin- ues to work at the center (he is currently Professor of Medicine at the College of Medicine), and his time there has seen him leap from one success to another. Reflect- ing on his cross-continental pursuits, he says, “I think moving [to America] has been good for both sides. That I slotted in so well is testament to the high standards I learned at the University of Cape Town. I feel not only has America lived up to my expectations, but I have lived up to what was expected of me.”

Indeed he has. In 1993, Gersh was appointed the W. Proctor Harvey Teaching Professor of Cardiology and Chief of Cardiology at Georgetown University Medical Center, a position in which he served for five years. And in the years that followed, he received plenty other nods, including: the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Council of Clinical Cardiology’s Distinguished Achievement Award in 2004; an honorary PhD from the University of Coimbra in 2005; the American College of Cardiology’s Distinguished Service Award in 2007; the Hatter Award for Advancement in the Cardiovascular Science from the University College London in 2009; the AHA James B. Herrick Award for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Cardiology in 2012; the Mayo Clinic Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015; and the AHA Distinguished Scientist Award in 2017.

A keen advocate for scholarly productivity among professionals, Gersh has a phenomenal record of academic publish- ing, which includes roughly 900 manuscripts and almost 150 book chapters — impressive by all accounts. For this achievement, Gersh was acknowledged by Thomson Reuters as being one of the most highly published individuals for the period 2002–2012. He remains the editor of over 10 books and sits on the editorial boards of almost 30 journals.

With over 50 years’ experience, Gersh continues to see patients and often treats for acute coronary syndrome, cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

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