August 15, 2013 - By Ruthann Richter
William Creger, MD, a professor emeritus of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine and strong advocate for medical education, died peacefully at his home Aug. 9 after a short illness. He was 91.
An internist with a specialty in hematology, he spent his entire career at Stanford — from his undergraduate days to his retirement in 1992. He attended the School of Medicine when it was located in San Francisco and helped plan its historic move to Palo Alto in 1959. He established the Division of Hematology on the new campus and, as its chief, oversaw the care of patients with blood diseases and directed the hematology clinical laboratories. He had a keen interest in medical education and served for nine years — from 1968 to 1977 — as the school's associate dean for student affairs.
"Bill was a very bright, insightful, creative, sensitive, wonderful physician, a spectacular teacher and fine investigator," said Tom Raffin, MD, a professor emeritus of medicine who knew Creger as a medical student and, later, as a colleague and friend. "He always made insightful comments at grand rounds and on patient rounds and gave wonderful lectures in hematology. The students loved him."
Peter Greenberg, MD, professor emeritus of medicine and a longtime hematology colleague, said Creger was "a kind, compassionate and caring person. He cared greatly about his patients, was a dedicated teacher and also was scientifically rigorous with regard to hematologic issues. He was a puzzle-solver and modeled himself in many ways after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [creator of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes]. He attempted to approach dilemmas in hematologic diagnosis by deductive reasoning."
Creger was born in San Francisco in 1922 and watched the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge from his family's apartment on Broadway. He received a bachelor's degree from Stanford in 1943 and an MD in 1947. He joined the faculty in 1949 and became a full professor in 1952. He took a break from academia in 1952 to serve as an Army captain in the Korean War, conducting research on tuberculosis.
During the medical school's move to Palo Alto, he served on a committee that developed an innovative curriculum integrating medical care with university-based medical education. He later joined the Department of Medicine's student education committee, helping to expand the medicine clerkship beyond Stanford so that trainees could work with a diversity of patients at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente.
"Bill was a dedicated teacher," said Stanley Schrier, MD, a professor emeritus of medicine who was among Creger's first hires in 1959. "He was always involved with students and worked as closely with them as he could, and they treasured his viewpoint. ...He was a very good bedside clinician and a very good bedside teacher."
Creger also contributed to advancements in the field of hematology and had a particular interest in the immune system and its link to blood disease. He wrote a key 1963 paper in which he reported that lymphocytes, white blood cells that carry out some of the major activities of the immune system, could cross the placenta from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. The finding cast a whole new light on mother-to-child immunity and disease transmission. On the basis of the research, he obtained a Commonwealth Fellowship in 1963 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1970.
Before he retired in 1992, he delivered a last grand-rounds talk in which he lamented the growing trend in medicine toward specialization, and paid homage to the importance of teaching and bedside care. "Basic scientists and clinicians alike erect little fences of self-importance around themselves and feel better when they look down on others," he said. "But to learn, to teach and to care for, in the most human and scholarly ways possible, are what we all want to do."
Creger had wide-ranging interests beyond medicine and was a "kind of renaissance man," Schrier said. He loved music and played viola weekly with a string quartet. He enjoyed literature, especially Sherlock Holmes stories, and always had a well-read book of Keats at his bedside. His mind remained actively engaged until his death, said his daughter, Russell Barajas.
"He maintained a remarkable intellect to the end, with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things classical. Couple that with a tenacious memory for just about everything under the sun, and it was consequently understood that we could — and often did — use him as our own personal Google," she said.
Creger and his wife, Nancy, lived in an eight-bedroom home on the Stanford campus, where he loved to tend his beautiful gardens, which were featured in Sunset magazine. The couple often took in students, both undergraduates and medical students, as boarders, said his son, Philip Creger, MD.
"A lot of them considered him like a second father, and we've kept in touch with many of those people," he said. "Many physicians in the community trained under him, so he had an impact on a lot of people."
Creger received a number of awards for his teaching and other accomplishments, including the Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching, the J.E. Wallace Sterling Muleshoe Lifetime Alumni Achievement Award and the Award for Outstanding Contribution in Medical Education from the Santa Clara County Medical Association.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years; daughters Russell Barajas of Washington, D.C., and Austen Creger of Santa Cruz, Calif.; sons Philip Creger, of Mountain View, Calif., and John Creger, of Berkeley, Calif.; and nine grandchildren.
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