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The Oesterling Era (1994-1997)

Urology Ranked #14 in the Nation
In just one year, the section advances from #24 to #14 in national rankings

Joseph E. Oesterling, MD

  • Head, Section of Urology (1994-1997)

In 1994, Joseph Oesterling, MD, assumed the role of chief of the Section of Urology, having trained at Johns Hopkins and then serving on the Mayo Clinic staff. Urologic research grew under Oesterling and he attracted numerous clinical trials for a range of drugs and techniques such as transurethral microwave ablation of the prostate.

Oesterling recruited new faculty, including Johns Hopkins-trained Kenneth Pienta, MD, and Cleveland Clinic-trained James Montie, MD, in 1994, who came from the oncology faculty at Wayne State University Medical School in Detroit. Two years later, Oesterling recruited Stuart Wolf, MD, to develop a program in laparoscopy and minimally invasive surgery in urology.

Oesterling garnered attention for his support of the nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy as the procedure of choice in the treatment of localized prostate cancer. His practice grew rapidly and soon he was performing three to four radical prostatectomies per day.

By the time Oesterling arrived at U-M in 1994, he had published over 100 technical journal articles focused largely on prostate cancer and prostate-specific antigen. In 1991, he became editor of Urology, one of the two major urologic journals published in the United States.

Oesterling found the section on a trajectory of innovation and growth when he stepped into the role. In 1995, the U-M Urology program was ranked 24th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Just one year later, in 1996, that ranking catapulted to #14 nationally.

In 1997, Oesterling was abruptly relieved of his position due to “administrative irregularities.” He was found misrepresenting travel expenses and payment and submitting misleading research data. Oesterling resigned as section head and from the faculty. He subsequently pleaded guilty to felony charges.

Despite this setback, several trainees during this era continued onto stellar academic careers, including John Park, MD, who went on to train in Pediatric Urology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Cheryl Lee, MD, who went on to train at Memorial Sloan Kettering, in the footsteps of her mentor Dr. Montie.

Park returned to the University of Michigan Department of Urology and is now Chief of Pediatric Urology. Lee returned to University of Michigan Department of Urology in the division of oncology prior to taking her new role as Chair of the Department of Urology at the Ohio State University.

We listen to patients’ concerns and then just fight like crazy to find the answer, working collaboratively with other providers in different specialties. We never stop looking for a solution and then we find it. And in the middle of all of that, we have created a culture for the patients and families in that they know we care about their kids like we care about our own kids. And that’s not sexy and fancy, but we do it better than anybody. That goes for the physicians, but we also have a team of nurses who are incredibly dedicated. We share constantly about the quality of care that we provide which is really second to none.

John Park, MD

One of my most important contributions was in serving as a mentor and role model for women in urology. There weren’t many women on faculty. We were starting to have more women on faculty. Diversity in the residency pool. Balance and honesty. Carol Bennett may have been the first women to finish. There were very few women of color in Urology, particularly women who would be successful in academic medicine. Carol paved some of the way. I was the first tenured female faculty member in Michigan Urology. At Michigan for 21 years between training and being on faculty – I’ve seen ups and downs as resident and faculty.

Cheryl Lee, MD

Also happening around the world in 1994

  • U.S. troops invaded Haiti to restore power to deposed President Aristide.
  • AIDS became the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44.
  • Urology witnessed the identification of sildenafil (Viagra) for treating erectile dysfunction.

Also happening at Michigan Medicine

  • 1994: Giles Bole, MD, served as dean of the University of Michigan Medical School.
  • 1997: The U-M Board of Regents officially approves “University of Michigan Health System” as a designation for the U-M Hospitals and Health Centers, Medical School, M-CARE and Michigan Health Corp.
  • 1997: U-M moves its cancer and geriatrics clinical and research programs into the $88 million Cancer Center and Geriatrics Building.