Infectious-disease expert Kenneth Vosti dies at 88

An authority on the causes and management of infectious diseases, Vosti was also known as a committed teacher and administrator, admired for his empathy and warmth.

- By Bruce Goldman

Kenneth Vosti
Courtesy of the Vosti family

Kenneth Vosti, MD, professor emeritus of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine and an expert on urinary tract infections, died April 26 at his home on the Stanford campus after a long illness.

During the decades he served on the Stanford faculty, Vosti published dozens of papers, taught multiple generations of students and held several administrative posts at the medical school, including acting chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, director of the clinical microbiology lab and associate dean for student affairs.

Vosti was admired for his wisdom and kindness and venerated for his listening ability, empathy and commitment to student issues, said Neil Gesundheit, MD, MPH, associate dean for advising and professor of medicine.

“He was extraordinarily warm and nonjudgmental,” said Gesundheit, who first met Vosti nearly 40 years ago, when Gesundheit was doing his internship at the medical school and Vosti was leading the Division of Infectious Diseases. “He looked after his students as he did his own children.

‘Committed citizen of the university’

“He was an extraordinarily committed citizen of the university who not only taught in our classrooms and practiced in our hospitals but lived on campus,” Gesundheit said.

For Vosti, Stanford turned into a family affair. He earned his bachelor’s and medical degrees from the university, and his brother also earned a Stanford medical degree. His four daughters all attended Stanford as undergraduates, and two of his grandchildren have earned degrees from Stanford.

Vosti turned a visual impairment — he eventually became legally blind — to his advantage. “It’s made me a better listener,” he said wryly in a 1984 interview.

In 2013, Vosti was honored as the first recipient of the Stanford University Medical Center Alumni Association’s Reach, Inspire, Serve and Engage Award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to Stanford Medicine and the alumni community through acts of leadership, volunteerism, mentoring and teaching.

In addition, the Division of Infectious Diseases presents an annual award in his name: The Kenneth Vosti Teaching Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“Kenneth Vosti’s contribution to Stanford — as an educator, as a researcher and as a caring administrator — was immense,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “He advanced our understanding of infectious disease and of the medical-training process itself. We will all miss him.”

Modesto native

Born Sept. 15, 1928, in Modesto, California, Vosti grew up on ranches in Salida and Modesto. He never outgrew his love of wilderness and outdoor activities. After two years at Modesto Junior College, he matriculated at Stanford in 1948 and, on graduating in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in medical science, moved on to the Stanford School of Medicine. He earned an MD in 1953. He completed an internship, as well as a fellowship in infectious diseases, at the University of Illinois Research and Education Hospital and a residency the West Side Veterans Administration Medical Center in Chicago.

In 1957, Vosti joined the U.S. Army. Assigned to the Walter Reed Medical Research Unit, he drove a new, red-and-white Chevrolet Bel Air from Chicago to Fort Detrick, in Maryland, to report for duty. The next year, he met and became engaged to Anne Merrick, a graduating student at nearby Hood College. They married in 1959.

Recruited by Stanford that year, Vosti joined the medical school’s Division of Infectious Diseases as an instructor and founding member. In 1962, he became an assistant professor, and in 1964 he was appointed chief of the division, as well as assistant Stanford Hospital epidemiologist. He was promoted to associate professor in 1967 and granted both a full professorship and directorship of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratories in 1972.

From 1977 through 1980 and again from 1992 until 1995, when he retired, Vosti was associate dean for student affairs. Between 1984 and 1991 he was Stanford University’s associate ombudsman.

A careful scientist

Vosti was a careful scientist. “‘Meticulous’ is the word,” said Gesundheit. “We once collaborated on a project in which it was necessary to hand-enter 10 data points apiece for 1,800 medical students — so, 18,000 data points in all. Ken not only did that by himself, he double-checked every data point. This, despite his failing vision.”

Among Vosti’s published works, Gesundheit said, are review articles written as long as 40 years ago that remain classics in internal medicine, such as “Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections,” published in JAMA in 1975. He wrote or co-wrote more than 70 peer-reviewed publications on topics ranging from the pathogenesis of endocarditis to the pathogenesis of urinary tract infection. In addition, he published extensively in the field of medical education.

During his tenure at Stanford, Vosti sat on several department, school or medical center committees. He also held memberships in numerous national medical societies. In 1976, he served as president of one of them, the Lancefield Society of America.

Vosti’s wife, Anne, also worked at Stanford, where she rose to the level of assistant dean of the university’s Department of Undergraduate Admissions. After retiring, Gesundheit said, Vosti unfailingly attended biweekly meetings of the medical school’s curriculum committee, on which he served pro bono for 20 years. Vosti’s visual problem precluded his driving, so Anne drove him to the meetings and back.

“He never missed a meeting,” said Gesundheit.

He almost never missed a Stanford basketball game, either, Gesundheit added. Vosti’s daughter, LeeAnn McDermott, noted that he was also a fan of Stanford football.

In addition to his wife and McDermott, Vosti is survived by daughters Laura Tauscher, Caroline Kohn and Aimee Lehr; brother Gordon Vosti; and 11 grandchildren.

A celebration of Vosti’s life will be held at 3 p.m. June 12 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., in Palo Alto.

His family requests that in lieu of flowers, individual donors direct their gifts to causes they favor.

About Stanford Medicine

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