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Abbott Northwestern's Medical Residency program celebrates 50th anniversary

MINNEAPOLIS 10/24/2016

Have you ever heard of the Vampire Disease? The vampire and werewolf legends might have their roots in a medical condition known as porphyria (poor-fear-ria).

Some people affected by porphyria experience receding gums that enhance their incisors, or canine teeth. They are sensitive to sunlight. And their treatment includes blood injections. Some grow lots of hair.

Porphyria was mysterious and confounding -- until the 1940s. That's when Dr. Cecil Watson of Minneapolis, who was internationally known for his liver research, developed a test for it.

Dr. Watson is remembered at Abbott Northwestern Hospital this month, not because of Halloween, but because he started the hospital's Medical Residency program, which is 50 years old this year.

The Abbott Northwestern Medical Residency program has a tradition of excellence. More than one thousand students have been enrolled. Of the 450 graduates, nearly all – 99 percent – have achieved board certification in Internal Medicine.

In 1966, there were no CTs, MRIs, immunotherapies or genetic treatments. Dr. Claus Pierach, chief resident in 1968, remembers when Dr. Watson conducted Grand Rounds with live patients on a stage.

After Dr. Watson died, Dr. Pierach continued his porphyria research for many years.  

And he still teaches. Methods have changed, but the basics are the same: "You must develop a relationship with the patient. You cannot teach from a book. The patient is the teacher," says Dr. Pierach.