September 28, 2001

Meet the Dean — Gabbe leads VUSM into 21st Century

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Dr. Steven Gabbe and his wife Dr. Patricia Temple came to Vanderbilt in March — Gabbe as the new medical school dean, Temple as a pediatrician. (photos by Dana Johnson)

Meet the Dean — Gabbe leads VUSM into 21st Century

Dr. Kristina Storck, an ob/gyn resident, and Dr. Steven Gabbe talk with patient Keshea Reid in the hospital Sunday morning. Storck was a student in Gabbe’s first graduating class at VUSM.

Dr. Kristina Storck, an ob/gyn resident, and Dr. Steven Gabbe talk with patient Keshea Reid in the hospital Sunday morning. Storck was a student in Gabbe’s first graduating class at VUSM.

Gabbe and Temple greet guests at the Dean's Picnic held for the medical school students in August after their first day of medical school.

Gabbe and Temple greet guests at the Dean's Picnic held for the medical school students in August after their first day of medical school.

Gabbe and Temple spend many evenings at Vanderbilt functions.

Gabbe and Temple spend many evenings at Vanderbilt functions.

Gabbe laughs at graduation after Chancellor Gee said the medical students "weren't doctors yet." Dean Gabbe's first graduation at Vanderbilt was in May.

Gabbe laughs at graduation after Chancellor Gee said the medical students "weren't doctors yet." Dean Gabbe's first graduation at Vanderbilt was in May.

When Steve Gabbe graduated from high school, he was only 16 with two choices in mind for a career––play-by-play sports reporting or medicine. Luckily, for both Gabbe and medicine, although maybe not for sports broadcasting, he chose the latter.

Gabbe, 56, who has been a chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at two other schools since 1987, became Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s 10th dean in March. His wife, Dr. Patricia C. Temple, a pediatrician with extensive expertise in managed care administration, is clinical professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Gabbe replaced Dr. John E. Chapman, who graduated nearly two-thirds of the school’s living graduates during his 25-year tenure. Chapman’s were big shoes to fill, but Gabbe has eased into his new role gracefully, gaining the respect of those who work closely with him.

Gabbe had never planned to be a dean early in his career, but it became a serious interest when he got a phone call last year from Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, VUMC vice chancellor for Health Affairs.

“I can’t think of anyone who could be doing a better job as dean of our medical school than Steve,” Jacobson said. “For more than 30 years he has proven that he is an outstanding educator, scientist and clinician. Now he has added ‘dean’ to the list of things that he does remarkably well. He is passionate about his work here and is committed to the success of our students, faculty and staff.”

“Being a dean was not in my plan,” says Gabbe. He received about a dozen inquiries about applying for deanships while he chaired departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Ohio State and at the University of Washington. “Nothing really interested me until Harry called. The thing that I found appealing about this job is that it was a dean’s position and not a dean/vice president’s post. That combination is not ideal. It is hard for one person to do both of those jobs.”

At Ohio State, serving as professor and chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology from 1987 until 1996, Gabbe assumed several administrative responsibilities, including chair of the College of Medicine Strategic Planning Committee and chair of committees on appointments and promotion and of the planning process for a new research building in the College of Medicine. In 1990, at Ohio State, Gabbe and Temple quickly became acquainted with the university’s new president, Gordon Gee. A decade later, in July 2000, Gee was named Vanderbilt University’s new chancellor. Eight months later, Gabbe was named the medical school’s new dean.

“I was absolutely delighted to find out we were recruiting Dr. Gabbe,” Gee said. “I personally told Vice Chancellor Jacobson that he could make no better choice. He brings great skills as an academic and a dean. I’m pleased to have been part of the process.”

At Ohio State, Gabbe was the only department chair to receive the Professor of the Year award from graduating medical students.

In 1996, Gabbe and Temple left Columbus for Seattle where Gabbe became Professor and Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Washington Medical Center. At UW he served on the Clinical Management Committee, the most important committee at the medical school, overseeing education, practice and research. And although Gabbe and Temple, who was an associate clinical professor of Pediatrics and special assistant to the vice president for Medical Affairs, loved their jobs, the dean who hired them to come to Seattle was killed by an avalanche in Nepal three months after they arrived. “The first year at a place is so very important. I don’t think we had that bonding experience,” he said.

While in Seattle, Gabbe was elected as one of only 1,364 members of the Institute of Medicine, a National Academy of Sciences institute whose members are elected on the basis of their personal achievement. He also currently serves as president of the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society and was recently asked to serve an unprecedented second term.

Dr. Carlos Pellegrini, chairman of Surgery at UW, chaired the search committee that brought Gabbe to Seattle. Gabbe, Pellegrini said, was considered the top ob/gyn chair in the country, due to his “extraordinary” relationship with students and residents and the visibility of his work in high-risk obstetrics.

“From the time they (Gabbe and Temple) arrived, it was obvious that they were both extremely caring individuals,” Pellegrini said. “They hosted a reception at their home every week for applicants to the residency program. All residents in his program became enamored with ‘the professor’ and had extraordinary faith in him.”

Gabbe also became an advocate for women’s causes at UW, particularly women faculty, and participated in the university’s standing committee on women’s issues.

Education, even in Gabbe’s early years, has always been an important part of his life. He was raised in Newark, N.J., by schoolteacher parents intent on seeing that he and his sister were educated properly.

The family moved from Newark to Millburn, N.J., when Gabbe was in junior high because the schools were better. He founded and became president of the Future Physician’s Club and also worked as a sports reporter for the town newspaper during high school. Gabbe breezed through his classes and was allowed to skip coursework so that he graduated and began college at age 16. Out of his graduating high school class of about 250, an unprecedented seven students were accepted at Princeton University —Gabbe one of them.

At Princeton, he graduated magna cum laude and played ice hockey and lacrosse. He was the sports director of the student radio station, hoping one day to become a play-by-play sports reporter because of his love of sports. He’s still an avid sports fan and especially loves ice hockey.

“I made a wise decision,” he said of his decision to become a doctor.

Gabbe said he first thought about becoming a physician when he was nine and his family cared for his grandmother who was dying from cancer.

“It was a unique experience caring for her every evening, watching her illness progress but seeing how much my family supported her,” Gabbe said. “I guess that’s the first time I thought about becoming a doctor.”

Another health-related event, when he was a busy third-year medical student at Cornell University Medical College, would steer Gabbe toward his specialty and subspecialty.

On Feb. 3, 1968, Gabbe diagnosed himself with type 1 diabetes. After suspecting his symptoms were a result of diabetes, he tested himself and confirmed what he already knew. “I had the symptoms. It didn’t take a rocket scientist,” he said.

He was encouraged by his medical school adviser and others to go into a specialty with a more structured schedule, like radiology or pathology, one where you have more control over your time, but he followed his heart instead and chose obstetrics and gynecology.

Gabbe, who has worn an insulin pump for the past five years, has been able to avoid the many complications that are common with diabetes. He monitors his glucose very carefully, is careful about what he eats, and has been an avid runner for the past 25 years, even taking part in two marathons and many half marathons.

“I have never been hospitalized; never been taken to the emergency room; and have never had any serious complications,” he said. “In that respect, I’m unusual.”

Gabbe says his insulin pump is a good match with his hectic life.

“I can live a much more normal life, and a ‘normal life’ today is nonstop meetings and travel and exercising when I can, all of which would have been very difficult without the pump,” he said. “I can sit on a plane and check my blood sugar. I can travel and not have to worry about time changes. I can go to a three-hour meeting, and I don’t have to stop and take a reading.”

He remembers being told once that people with diabetes age more rapidly. Gabbe was told he could add the number of years he’d had diabetes to his chronological age.

“In that case, I’d be 89,” he said. “It’s a scary thought, though, that diabetes could age your body like that.”

Gabbe received his medical degree from Cornell in 1969. There were 85 in his graduating class. The atmosphere was much like that at VUSM, where close relationships exist between students and faculty, Gabbe said.

After Cornell, Gabbe served an internship in Medicine at New York Hospital in New York, and later was a research fellow in Reproductive Medicine at Boston Hospital for Women and in Biological Chemistry at Harvard Medical School. Following that, he was a resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Boston Hospital for Women and a clinical fellow in ob/gyn at Harvard.

During the first year of his residency, he was referred to a Boston internist for his diabetes care, who told him that he did not enjoy treating patients with type 1 diabetes, then called juvenile diabetes. He was referred to a physician, the late Dr. Priscilla White, who took care of pregnant women with the disease. It was a referral that would change the course of his career. He ended up working with White who had pioneered the treatment of diabetes in pregnant women, and carrying on her work.

In 1975, Gabbe left Boston and headed cross-country to Los Angeles and his first faculty position, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Southern California. In 1977, he became an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, then left after a year to become an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

In 1981, Gabbe, with two young children and a failed first marriage, married Temple, herself a recent divorcee with two young children. They had met 13 years before as medical students. Gabbe and his first wife and Temple and her first husband became friends and sporadically kept in touch over the years until they would both divorce, then marry.

Gabbe and Temple remained in Philadelphia until 1987. For six months in 1985, the family traveled to England where Gabbe was a visiting professor at King’s College Hospital in London. It was also around this time that he co-edited the first edition of Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies, one of the major textbooks used to teach obstetrics and gynecology to students. The book’s fourth edition, with Gabbe still one of three editors, was released this year. In 1987, the family moved to Columbus, where they would remain for nearly another decade, until they moved to Seattle in 1996.

Dr. Frank H. Boehm, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and, along with Gabbe, one of the world’s leading experts in maternal-fetal medicine, has known Gabbe for 20 years. When he found out that Gabbe was being considered for the dean’s position at VUSM, he was delighted.

“I knew he’d be perfect for Vanderbilt,” Boehm said. “I knew the students would love him because you always feel comfortable and warm when you’re with him. He has a very infectious personality. He plugs into you when he’s with you and has a genuine interest in you. And that’s a very nice characteristic to have. He has impeccable people skills.”

“I may not remember all he’s said or done every time we’re together, but I always remember the good feeling I have when I’m with him.”

Gabbe’s first official function as dean was the 2001 medical school commencement ceremony. He and Dr. Deborah C. German, senior associate dean of Medical Education, conferred the academic hoods on the 104 May graduates.

“He’s a great guy and a wonderful person,” German said, adding that Gabbe has a “passionate interest” in diversity issues in the medical school and is interested in expanding the foundation that has been laid in cultural and gender issues.

“He has a kind of compassion and concern for everyone and has the same level of caring that he gives his ob/gyn patients for his colleagues and our students,” she said. “He’s very concerned about the students’ well being.”

After welcoming the Class of 2005 at the August orientation, he and Temple opened their home for a pool party, a tradition begun by Chapman years ago.

Gabbe continues his clinical work with diabetic pregnant women in VUMC’s diabetes and pregnancy clinic. He works closely with Dr. Cornelia R. Graves, associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, in the specialized treatment of women who are diagnosed with diabetes. He is also involved in the Diabetes Research and Training Center as an investigator and plans to become active in local diabetes organizations.

But it’s the dean’s job that occupies most of his time, from long before 7 a.m. until the evening hours. Gabbe, who loves rock ‘n’ roll and Motown music, has little time for hobbies. But he and Temple recently took a 20th anniversary trip, a weeklong Mediterranean cruise with time tacked on in Paris and Rome.

A soft-spoken man, described by those who know him as kind and thoughtful, Gabbe is a man who sends handwritten notes to his faculty members congratulating them for everything from lectures to published papers to news media interviews. For months after his arrival at VUMC, Gabbe left a loaf or two of fresh bread and jelly from a local bakery in the staff kitchen every Friday morning.

“It was a challenge stepping into John Chapman’s shoes,” Gabbe said. “But I have been welcomed so warmly. Everyone has been so friendly. It’s clear my responsibilities are broader, but I am devoted to medical school education and want to be involved in clinical practice and research as well.

“We rank among the top 20 medical schools and that makes it a very special privilege and a great opportunity to be here. Vanderbilt Medical School is such a fine institution already, but I will do everything I can to raise it up even further.”