Noted clinician, educator Lefkowitz mournedSep. 30, 2021, 9:39 AM
by Wayne Wood
Lewis Lefkowitz, MD, professor of Preventive Medicine, emeritus, whose dedication to health equity and underserved communities helped thousands of patients and influenced generations of Vanderbilt medical students, died Sept. 26. He was 90.
“Dr. Lefkowitz was a noted public health practitioner and historical clinical educator, bringing the educational experience of generations of students into the community. He will be remembered for his warmth and humility, and for always helping others,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer for VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “On behalf of the Medical Center and School of Medicine, I want to express my sympathy to his wife, Judy, and their family for their loss.”
Dr. Lefkowitz was a native of Dallas. He earned an undergraduate degree from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, in 1951, and an MD from the University of Texas Southwestern in 1956. He was an intern in Internal Medicine at Duke, then returned to Dallas for a residency at Parkland Hospital and at the Dallas Veterans’ Hospital.
He came to Vanderbilt in 1965. For decades he taught the required medical school course in Preventive Medicine, and later also taught an elective dedicated to teaching medical and nursing students about public health and how to reach underserved communities. He was also active in his support for nurse practitioners and was a mentor to many in that field in its early days.
For many years Dr. Lefkowitz diagnosed and treated Vanderbilt employees as one of the physicians at the Occupational Health Clinic, but his universe of patients was wide and varied across the community and region. A partial list of the places he practiced and the organizations in which he was active includes the Campus for Human Development; the Appalachian Student Health Coalition; the Cayce Homes Community Clinic; the Lifestyle Health Services; the Tuberculosis and AIDS Clinic of the Public Health Department in Columbia, Tennessee; Alive Hospice of Nashville; the Vine Hill Community Clinic; and the HIV Clinic at the Regional Health Center for the state of Tennessee.
“Throughout a lengthy career where he touched so many, Dr. Lefkowitz generously committed his time to the Vanderbilt community and in myriad other ways to provide our students and trainees unique learning opportunities, all while improving the lives of countless patients in the process,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Health System Officer for VUMC. “I want to offer my condolences to Judy and his family as we mourn his passing.”
Even after retiring from active practice in 2001, he continued to participate in the screening and interviews for potential medical students.
“I have many fond memories of Dr. Lefkowitz, dating back to my days as a medical student in the early 1980s,” said Donald Brady, MD, VUMC Senior Vice President for Educational Affairs and Senior Associate Dean for GME and Continuing Professional Development.
“He taught me the value of understanding a person’s background and life conditions as an important part of their health and their health care needs. For many of us, he was our primary teacher on the social determinants of health, even before that phrase became popular.”
VUMC’s Office of Health Equity maintains the Lewis B. Lefkowitz Fund in his honor. It funds community-based student projects that create opportunities for better health in all populations.
He was a member of the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the Infectious Disease Society of America and Campus-Community Partnerships, and was elected to the honorary medical society Alpha Omega Alpha.
He also contributed to the community while expressing his love of music. He sang with the Nashville Symphony Chorus for 36 years (serving a term as its president) and with the High Holy Day volunteer choir at The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Sholom.
In his spare time Dr. Lefkowitz exercised by swimming and walking, and loved to travel. His family said he had been residing in assisted living due to Alzheimer’s disease for several years.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Lewis Benjamin Lefkowitz and Blanche Mittenthal Lefkowitz, and younger sister Emily Lefkowitz Hexter. He is survived by Judy, his wife of 60 years whom he met while he was an intern at Duke; sons David (Elizabeth Lathrop) of Northfield, Minnesota; Jerry (Sara Brazil) of Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Paul (Heather Connelly Lefkowitz) of Nashville; and three grandchildren: Emmett Lefkowitz, Carter Lefkowitz and Charlotte Lefkowitz.
The family requests that memorial gifts be made to the student-run clinic for underserved populations, the Shade Tree Clinic (which he worked with students to establish), or to a charity of one’s choice.
Plans for a memorial will be announced at a later date.
Even in death, Dr. Lefkowitz will continue to teach; he arranged for his body to be donated to the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine for the training of future physicians.
A memorial service for Dr. Lewis B. Lefkowitz Jr., who died Sept. 26, will be held Sunday, Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. at The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Sholom, 5015 Harding Pike. Visitation with the family will take place at 1 p.m., immediately preceding the service.
Masks are required at the service and visitation, and the family requests that, in honor of Dr. Lefkowitz, attendees come fully vaccinated.