July 5, 2024

Renowned clinician-educator Gerald Gotterer mourned

Gerald S. Gotterer, MD, PhD, professor of Medical Education and Administration, Emeritus, died at home on June 20 of kidney disease. He was 90.

Gerald S. Gotterer, MD, PhD, professor of Medical Education and Administration, Emeritus, died at home on June 20 of kidney disease. He was 90.

Gerald S. Gotterer, MD, PhD
Gerald S. Gotterer, MD, PhD

Dr. Gotterer, a longtime Vanderbilt faculty member and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) leader, facilitated the implementation of the clinician-educator track in the School of Medicine and played a key role in modernizing the curriculum. He clarified the faculty appointment and promotion processes and was instrumental in creating campuswide policies for conflict of interest.

Remembered for his optimism and soft-spoken and gracious manner, Dr. Gotterer was known for quickly assessing a complex situation and offering a balanced and thoughtful approach.

“Dr. Gotterer played a foundational role in defining what it means to be a student, resident and faculty member at the School of Medicine. He conceptualized a vast array of programs that remain in place today and advanced the depth and breadth of the experience for our students and faculty,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of VUSM. 

“As associate dean for Physician Scientist Development in 1998, I reported to Gerry, and he mentored and supported me in countless ways. At this time, our thoughts are with his wife Shelley and their family as the Vanderbilt community mourns his passing.”  

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Gotterer was a graduate of Harvard College and received his medical degree from the University of Chicago. He served his internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital, then moved to Baltimore where he earned a PhD in biochemistry from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

After serving on the faculty at Johns Hopkins, and as associate dean of students, he moved to Rush University in Chicago where he was associate dean for eight years. After that, he joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1986 as professor of Medical Administration and associate dean for Academic Affairs in Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He was named senior associate dean for Faculty and Academic Administrative Affairs in 1999 and retired in 2008.

A strong supporter of diversity in medical education at Vanderbilt, he established the initial Office of Minority Student Affairs and initiated and managed the summer Minority Medical Education Program for undergraduate minority students, a joint initiative with Fisk University. For his contributions in this area, he was awarded Vanderbilt’s Affirmative Action Award in 1995 and the Medical School’s Levi Watkins, Jr. Award in 2004.

“I was so fortunate to get to know Dr. Gotterer as a second-year medical student in the mid-1980s.  As he did for so many, he gave me his time, his mentoring, and most of all his friendship.  His commitment to medical education and ground-breaking discovery never wavered. Both the faculty award and the medical education research day named after him affirm his legacy as one of the great senior leaders of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.  We will miss him but will never forget him,” said Donald Brady, MD, Executive Vice Dean for Academic Affairs for VUSM.

With the late Dr. Denis O’Day, he worked with faculty and students in developing the Emphasis Program, which from 2004 to 2012 provided the opportunity for all medical students to undertake scholarly activities under the supportive mentorship of faculty during the first two years of medical school. He was recognized by Vanderbilt’s Association of Medical Women for his strong support of women in medicine.

The School of Medicine named one of its prestigious faculty teaching awards in his honor — the annual Gerald S. Gotterer Award for Innovation in Educational Programming That Has Proven to Be Effective.

An annual research day was also named in his honor ― the Gerald S. Gotterer Health Professions Research Day (HPERD). Organized by the Office of Health Sciences Education through the Educator Development Program and the Office for Continuous Professional Development, the goal of HPERD is to provide an opportunity for all members of the education community to display their progress and success in health professions education innovation.

The 16th annual event will be held on Dec. 13.

Dr. Gotterer was a man of many interests, said Shelley Gotterer, his wife of 46 years. He welcomed a chance to repair an item or craft an apparatus to suit a specific need and became accomplished in woodworking after his retirement.

He relished family time at 180 acres of wilderness in West Virginia and almost single-handedly, pre-YouTube, turned a dilapidated barn into a comfortable livable summer home.

For 60 years Dr. Gotterer baked bread and enjoyed traveling to Scotland and Italy where he learned to speak enough of the language to communicate with local residents. He delighted in all his children’s and grandchildren’s endeavors and achievements and developed an interest and skill in photography. Photographs of his family were among his favorites.

In addition to Shelley, he is survived by his children, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Matthew, and Jonathan; their spouses, Yoni, Erin, and Maggie; and his eight granddaughters, Ava, Ella, Adeline, Lilia, Maya, June, Adele and Norah.

A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 11 a.m. at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville. Donations in his honor may be given to the American Kidney Fund at kidneyfund.org.