Remembering Dr. James Scheuer, Consummate Teacher, Leader, and Physician-Scientist
Einstein and Montefiore lost a shining light in medicine and cardiology on Wednesday, February 17, 2021, when James Scheuer, M.D., died just four days shy of his 90th birthday. The much-beloved distinguished professor and university chair emeritus of medicine loomed large to his many trainees and colleagues, and he was known and widely respected for the rigorous standards of care that he upheld and reinforced.
“Dr. Scheuer was one of the giants of cardiology and a consummate physician, serving as a role model to generations of physicians,” said Yaron Tomer, M.D., current professor and chair of medicine. “He left an incredible legacy at Montefiore.”
“Although I didn’t have the good fortune to train under him directly, Dr. Scheuer was renowned in American cardiology,” added Gordon F. Tomaselli, M.D., Einstein’s Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean, and executive vice president and chief of academic affairs at Montefiore Medicine, who also is a cardiologist. “His colleagues, trainees, and many other physicians would flock to his presentations at national meetings.”
From his arrival in the Bronx in 1972, through and beyond his retirement in 2011, Dr. Scheuer served Einstein and Montefiore in numerous roles, including vice chair, interim chair, and Baumritter Professor and Chair of Medicine, physician-in-chief, chief of cardiology, director of medical service and of the medical house staff program, professor of physiology, and principal investigator.
Marvelous Mentor, Leading by Example
“He was a tough teacher who held us to the highest standard,” recalled Mark Greenberg, M.D., who first met Dr. Scheuer in 1974 and is now professor of medicine and associate professor of radiology, and associate chief of the cardiology division. “Woe to the trainee who came unprepared to a presentation. Jim was an expert clinician who taught us to be expert clinicians, and he accepted nothing less. We all feel privileged to be trained by him.”
Mark Menegus, M.D., another former trainee who is professor of medicine and directs the cardiac catherization lab at Montefiore, agreed, remembering Dr. Scheuer’s prowess at the bedside and as a diagnostician. “Jim was very precise. He made sure that we paid attention to details and always stressed getting to the meat of the matter. Most impressive, though, was his keen ability to identify heart murmurs in spite of being hard of hearing. If there was a murmur, he could detect it.”
Even after retiring as chair of medicine, when he was no longer active with research, at Dr. Greenberg’s request Dr. Scheuer took on the role of director of the cardiology training program. “In doing so, he trained a whole new generation of cardiologists. Not only was it good for Jim to get back into the role of mentor and teacher, which he loved, but it was especially good for another generation to be exposed to him,” said Dr. Greenberg.
But Dr. Scheuer also was mentor to countless trainees and colleagues within other disciplines of the medicine department. Victor Schuster, M.D., who was appointed chief of the renal division under Dr. Scheuer—and later was among Dr. Scheuer’s successors in the role of department chair—recalled his leadership qualities, noting, “I was constantly amazed at the exactly right course of action he would take, be it political, moral, empathic, or financial. His action was not some clever intellectual academic fantasy, rather, it was always practical and effective. Jim had the keen ability to discern the appropriate course of action to be taken in a given situation at the appropriate time.”
And, in a special video presented to Dr. Scheuer in anticipation of his approaching 90th birthday, numerous colleagues—many former trainees—reflected on his capacity for listening. Dr. Schuster captured this quality, observing, “Jim always listened to both sides of any argument between members of his faculty, and then settled the issue, firmly if needed, while preserving the dignity of both parties, no matter how egregious one or the other might have acted. If you failed to get a grant renewed, he listened and empathized, and he was fair in the support he provided you.” Like Dr. Schuster, these other colleagues thanked Dr. Scheuer for the support and encouragement he afforded them toward becoming their best selves.
A True Triple Threat of Medical Academia
Besides being a masterful clinician and mentor, Dr. Scheuer’s colleagues considered him an amazing administrator and talented researcher. “He had continuous funding from the NIH for 40 years, which is unheard of in cardiology,” said Dr. Menegus. “He ran his lab and trained lots of cardiac researchers, many of whom are leaders in the field today.”
“Jim was a dedicated researcher who always relentlessly sought to have a complete understanding of things, and he would not settle for anything less,” added Richard Kitsis, M.D., professor of medicine and of cell biology, and director of the Wilf Family Cardiovascular Research Institute, at Einstein.
While his own work explored the most basic aspects of heart muscle function, Dr. Scheuer was instrumental in establishing collaborative research laboratories in biochemistry, physiology, and electrophysiology as well as one of the country’s first and most prominent molecular cardiology programs. He also recruited top-flight clinicians and clinical researchers to position Montefiore and Einstein as a premier site for all fields of advanced cardiac care and research.
“As the unified chair of medicine, Jim was the first person who truly believed that the department should be unified between the East and West campuses for the good of education and patient care,” recalled Edward R. Burns, M.D., executive dean, who first met Dr. Scheuer as an Einstein student and later as a medical resident learned much from Dr. Scheuer, who was then chief of cardiology. “Predecessors gave lip service to the concept but did not actually promote it. Jim, having served on both campuses and knowing every detail of departmental, hospital, and medical school operations, actually made it happen. He was also a chair who promoted all of the three legs of medical academia, namely research, teaching, and clinical care.”
Dr. Burns shared an experience he had as a resident at Montefiore, presenting research that related to one of the causes of atherosclerosis at an American Heart Association annual meeting. “To my utter surprise, Jim Scheuer was the person on the podium to introduce me. He used the moment to put in a plug for both Montefiore and Einstein for having created an environment that allowed a young pre-investigator to immerse himself in research while still carrying a full clinical load as a student and house officer.”
Nurturing A Legacy
With his wife Ruth, Dr. Scheuer established the Ruth and James Scheuer M.D. Endowment in Cardiology to support special training in research for future cardiologists at Montefiore. In an interview for a Montefiore publication, he noted, “The next wave of leaders in cardiology will need to be wonderful clinicians and teachers, as well as being specially trained and productive cardiovascular investigators. The endowment seeks to assist in providing adequate time, resources, and the educational environment for them to persist and succeed. Our hope is that they will bring credit to Montefiore, but also play a role in maintaining the trajectory of improving cardiovascular health in the Bronx, in the tri-state region, and around the world.”
On Montefiore’s Moses Campus, the division of cardiology bears his name: the James Scheuer M.D., Division of Cardiology.
The couple also created the James and Ruth Scheuer Fund at Einstein, which provides an annual award for a graduating M.D./Ph.D. student whose disciplinary focus will be internal medicine.
Noted Dr. Greenberg, “His legacy will not only be remembered for his contributions to the medical center and medical school but also by the numerous practicing cardiologists throughout the tristate area and the United States who had the unique opportunity to be trained by Dr. James Scheuer.”
A native New Yorker, James Scheuer attended the Fieldston/Ethical Culture Schools, in the Bronx. His own father, Sidney, a successful businessman, was a founding member of the Ethical Culture Society and the influence of his values and example were often exemplified by Dr. Scheuer through his devotion to his craft and his keen interest in helping others to achieve to the fullest of their capabilities.
He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Rochester and his medical degree at Yale School of Medicine. He completed his medical internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York and his residency at Mount Sinai, where he served as chief resident and met his wife Ruth, who was a student nurse at that time.
She recalled “I had been pulled from the emergency department to care for a young woman who suffered a catastrophic injury and was in an iron lung. The rest is history.” The couple married three months after he returned from serving in Korea as an internist, chief of cardiology, and cardiology consultant to the Eighth U.S. Army Surgeon at the 121st Evacuation Hospital, as well as an internist and cardiologist at Dewitt Army Hospital in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He then did a National Heart Institute post-doctorate fellowship in internal medicine at New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center and, at the same time, was a research associate at the Institute for Muscle Disease, in New York.
In 1963, he headed to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he first was a trainee in metabolism and nutrition at the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. Between then and 1972, he rose through the academic ranks at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, reaching associate professor of medicine and of biochemistry as well as co-director of the division of cardiology and director of cardiovascular research before heading to the Bronx to become professor of medicine and associate professor of physiology at Einstein and director of the division of cardiology at Montefiore Medical Center. He remained at Einstein and Montefiore until his retirement in 2011, rising to the pinnacle of leadership roles in his field.
Dr. Scheuer is survived by his wife, Ruth Lucas Scheuer, their children Dr. Kim Scheuer (Derek Olsen), Jeff Scheuer, and Greg Scheuer, and their grandson James, as well as his brother Robert, and many nieces and nephews. His brother Thomas predeceased him.
To honor his memory, contributions can be made to the Ruth and James Scheuer, MD Endowment in Cardiology at Montefiore, established to support special training in research for future cardiologists who will be the next wave of leaders.
You may leave a memory of Dr. Scheuer on our Remebrance page by clicking on the link provided.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 02, 2021