LeeRoy Meyer, M.D., legendary educator at UNMC, dies

by Karen Burbach, UNMC public affairs | February 15, 2005

picture disc.LeeRoy Meyer, M.D., a pioneer for more than 35 years in the education of medical students at UNMC, died Sunday, Feb. 13, from pneumonia. The internal medicine professor was 69.

"This is a devastating loss to the university community," said Thomas Tape, M.D., professor and chief of general internal medicine at UNMC. "Dr. Meyer was a pioneer in the education of medical students and has probably had more of an impact on the generations of medical students that have been educated here since he joined the faculty in 1966 than any other faculty member in the history of this institution. We will do our best to continue his legacy of excellence in medical education."

Visitation will be today (Tuesday, Feb. 15) from 6 to 8 p.m. at Heafey-Heafey-Hoffmann-Dworak-Cutler Funeral Chapel, 7805 W. Center Rd., Omaha.

Services will be Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 11 a.m. at the Pacific Hills Lutheran Church, 1110 S. 90 St. (90th Street and Pacific Avenue). Services in his hometown of Sidney, Neb., will be Friday, Feb. 18, at 10 a.m.

Dr. Meyer's record of teaching excellence is unprecedented in the College of Medicine. He had taught two courses in the College of Medicine every year since 1969. The courses are offered year-round and form the backbone of internal medicine education at the College of Medicine.

A 1961 graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, Dr. Meyer did his internship and internal medicine residency at UNMC. He joined UNMC as an instructor in 1966 and at the end of that academic year, won a Golden Apple teaching award from the American Medical Student Association. The award is given annually to one clinical teacher in the College of Medicine.

In the ensuing years, Dr. Meyer won the Golden Apple award for teaching 25 more times -- no other faculty member has won the award more than 11 times. In 1995, the awards committee gave Dr. Meyer lifetime teaching recognition by creating a "Golden Apple Hall of Fame" and made him the first such recipient. This made him ineligible for more Golden Apples so other teachers would have a chance to be recognized.

picture disc.Dr. Meyer also garnered several other particularly distinguished awards: The Hirschman Prize for Teaching Excellence in 2001, the Presidential Hippocratic Dignity Award in 1988, and the American College of Physicians/Nebraska Chapter Dedicated Teacher Award 2003.

"He was the true model of a teacher, dedicating all his time and talents to making his internal medicine students the best they could be," said Nick Behrendt, a third-year medical student and Student Senate president. "He spent every day of the year working with third-and fourth-year students in small groups, lectures, and one-on-ones. Not only did he teach students, but he also helped celebrate their hard work by hosting a party for fourth-year students who took his class. The effects of his teaching are seen throughout UNMC in each faculty member and student he has taught. I trust that his legacy will continue to be passed on by the thousands of students he has educated. He will be greatly missed."

"Dr. Meyer combined caring and genuine concern for each student with an encyclopedic knowledge of medicine, superb clinical skills and an ability to stimulate students' desire to learn and curiosity about clinical medicine," said Robert Wigton, M.D., associate dean for the UNMC College of Medicine. "As one student once said, 'Dr Meyer doesn't just instruct, he teaches you how to instruct yourself, and how to be resourceful when you can't find the answer to a problem.' "

Dr. Meyer served as a major in the U.S. Army from 1967 until 1969, when he returned to UNMC as an assistant professor in internal medicine. He achieved the rank of professor in 1990, and served as section chief of general medicine and occupational health from 1971 to 1993.

"This is a big loss," said Bill Gust, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine. "He was the mother hen of 35 years of medical students. There is nobody who has done more for medical education in Nebraska. Since he came back to UNMC, he has been involved in teaching virtually every medical student. He was demanding, but he really felt for the students."

An innovator in education, Dr. Meyer was at least 20 years ahead of his time, his colleagues said, noting that his methods have become the national norm in medical education. Dr. Meyer developed his curriculum using the case-based method of teaching and a Socratic style that was uniquely his, they said. The case-based method has now been widely adopted for medical student education in the form of problem-based learning.

picture disc.Dr. Meyer also pioneered and championed the use of distance learning starting in the mid-1970s. The technology of the time used two-way interactive television links, which he used effectively for many years to teach students at multiple sites simultaneously. He was one of the early proponents of patient simulators (actors) to assess clinical competence and was instrumental in incorporating them into the required curriculum for the College of Medicine. The National Board of Medical Examiners recently decided to mandate similar clinical competence examinations for medical licensure.

Dr. Meyer is survived by four sisters and brothers-in-law: Mable and Bob Sprengel of Colorado; Donna and Wayne Muenster of Albuquerque, N.M; Marleen and Dennis Kuhn of Sioux City, Iowa; and Betty and Joe DeMers of Colorado; two brothers and sisters-in-law, Victor and Ardele Meyer and Dean and Jan Meyer, all of Sidney; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Family members say they will remember his unwavering loyalty and devotion to his family, particularly his parents. "He was just selfless and showed so much compassion and loyalty to his family," they said, noting he would fly to Sidney, Neb., every weekend on his private plane to care for his parents. After their deaths, the lifelong bachelor continued his travels to Sidney, where he lived in the family home.

They also will remember his faith in God and his love of travel to places including Alaska, Germany and Russia, and regret he will not fulfill his plans to visit Australia and New Zealand. He also enjoyed flowers, particularly red roses, and Godiva chocolate.

Dr. Meyer's family has requested that a fund be established in his memory to support education. Contributions may be made to the "LeeRoy Meyer Education Fund." Checks may be given to Kathy McCormack or Mike McGlade at UNMC. Funds also have been established to Concordia College and the Lutheran Hour, a radio program.

By all accounts, Dr. Meyer's true passion was teaching. "I felt I had a good sense of what students needed to know," he said in a 1998 College of Medicine Alumni News cover story on his commitment to teaching. "I've had the best of all worlds at UNMC. The students have been great, the College of Medicine has been great and I have absolutely no regrets."

Additional tributes to Dr. Meyer
"Rarely in the life of a university medical center does such a dedicated individual emerge who is both legendary in their teaching skills and who impacts on the careers of an entire generation of medical students. Such is Dr. LeeRoy Meyer, and this is how he will be remembered." John Gollan, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the UNMC College of Medicine

"He was out ill for the first time Monday (Feb. 7) in over 20 years, but came in Tuesday saying 'somebody has to teach these students.' That was his focus...He gave his life for medical education. He had laser focus on the education of students, who were his highest priority. He is responsible for many people's career decisions because he had that kind of an impact. At the end of the day, what got him up was making sure students got educated. He literally taught until his last breath." David O'Dell, M.D., associate professor, internal medicine

"Dr. Meyer loved the practice of medicine and was an advocate of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, but he was passionately devoted to teaching students. He told me he felt he had been called to a vocation to teach. It was in large part what he lived for." John C. Ries, a physician assistant who worked with Dr. Meyer for nearly 25 years

"LeeRoy was always a stickler for details. I am sure that is why he was such a terrific teacher. His passion for details never was clearer to me than a few years back when every time I saw LeeRoy he reminded me there was a stain on the carpet in the middle of the floor that all visitors could see as they got off the elevator on the fifth floor of the UMA building. He reminded me this would undoubtedly be their first impression of our department. Well, the environmental staff tried very hard to remove the stain, but could never quite accomplish the task. After a few more weeks of turning the corner quickly when LeeRoy was coming and trying to avoid him as I walked by the elevator, I decided something had to be done. With the help of facilities, we cut out the stain and replaced it with a wonderful pattern of three or four colors of different shaped carpets. For years, I have gotten off the elevator and chuckled every time I saw the pattern. Now, it will forever remind me of LeeRoy, his attention to detail, his love for this department and his teaching of medical students." Mike McGlade, internal medicine administration, has known Dr. Meyer since 1992