A l u m n u s  P r o f i l e

 

 

          Norton Spritz, '52
      Multiple Degrees
                  of Compasson

                By W. Thomas Carey

Dr. Spritz conducted

groundbreaking research on

cholesterol metabolism,

became chief of the medical

service at the New York

Veterans Administration

Hospital, a position he held

for nearly 30 years; earned a

law degree when some

people contemplate

retirement and defended

AIDS patients against

discrimination.

More than 50 years after Dr. Norton Spritz interviewed to gain entrance into medical school, he still remembers his answer to the question: “Why do you want to become a doctor?”

The answer was simple: “Medicine attracted me because it combined science and a humanitarian thing to do,” says Dr. Spritz, 73. “I wanted to deal with people.”

While his mission was clear, his career has been wide ranging. Dr. Spritz conducted groundbreaking research on cholesterol metabolism, became chief of the medical service at the New York Veterans Administration Hospital, a position he held for nearly 30 years; earned a law degree when some people contemplate retirement and defended AIDS patients against discrimination when few understood or tolerated the disease.

Dr. Spritz, a 1952 graduate of the medical school, is the 2002 recipient of Medical Alumni Association’s Honor Award & Gold Key, awarded for outstanding contributions to medicine and distinguished service to mankind. The award will be presented at Reunion in May.

Dr. Spritz was introduced to medicine at an early age. The younger of two children, his father, Harry, was a dentist and his mother, Sara, a homemaker. He also had an uncle, Nathan, who was a general practitioner. “On Sundays he (Nathan) would take me on house calls with him,” Dr. Spritz recalls. “That was exciting. He was a wonderful, warm, kind person.”

After earning a degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1948, Dr. Spritz enrolled at Maryland, graduating four years later. Then he told his parents that he wanted to work in New York City for a year. “My parents were sort of horrified and were sure I would hate New York,” Dr. Spritz says. He worked as an intern at Cornell Medical Division of Bellevue Hospital. While in residency he met Marilyn Karmason, an intern, who was studying to become a psychiatrist. The two later married.

Soon, Dr. Spritz developed an interest in research and, in1961, became an assistant physician at Rockefeller University. He studied the mechanism by which certain foods lower serum cholesterol.

Dr. Spritz joined the faculty of New York University School of Medicine as professor of medicine and chief of the medical service at the New York Veterans Administration Hospital in 1969. He continued his research, but most of his time was spent teaching and running the service. In 1983 his career took a sudden turn as the New York VA became deluged with AIDS patients. Dr. Spritz began focusing on law, medicine and policy issues in medicine regarding AIDS patients.

He became a member of the New York Bar Association’s medical committee, and was impressed with the lawyers’ compassion for AIDS patients. “We had a young man who was very ill,” Dr. Spritz recalls. “We got him through the illness. He lived in a one-room apartment but returned to my office in tears a short time later. Apparently, when he got to his apartment, the owners had changed the lock. They had taken all of his furniture and put it on the street. They didn’t want anybody with AIDS. That broke my heart.”

To sharpen his understanding of the law, Dr. Spritz entered Fordham University’s law school at age 55 and graduated in 1987. “I thought with a law degree I could play a more definitive role in the protection of these AIDS patients from discrimination,” he says.

Dr. Spritz became more heavily involved in biomedical ethics and did a sabbatical at the Hastings Center for Biomedical Ethic. He was named chief of the office of forensic medicine of the VA in 1997 and decided to call it quits a year later.

Retirement hasn’t slowed him down. He and Marilyn attend the philharmonic in New York. They have a daughter who is married to a physician, and two grandchildren. Dr. Spritz continues to consult and teach on legal issues and bioethics. Innovatively he has developed lectures for medical students on the legal aspects of medicine. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” he concludes. “I just feel so fortunate things fell into place.” 

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