2023 Cleveland Clinic Alumni Association Service Award recipient Gary H. Dworkin, MD, RPVI (CATS’92), is a Past President of the Cleveland Clinic Alumni Association Board (2012-2014) and of the Florida Society of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons. A board-certified cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, he has observed, taught and performed cardiovascular and thoracic surgery in Europe, Canada, China and Latin America, as well as led five medical missions to the Dominican Republic. He earned his medical degree at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo, and his internship, general surgery residency, and cardiovascular and thoracic surgery fellowship were at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. He trained in surgery at Cleveland Clinic in 1991, following fourth-year medical rotations in 1983. After leaving Cleveland Clinic in 1992, Dr. Dworkin joined Cardiac Surgical Associates in Tampa Bay, Florida, contributing to the group’s becoming one of the largest private practice adult and pediatric cardiovascular and thoracic surgical groups in the country. Following are Dr. Dworkin’s reflections on his training and career at Cleveland Clinic:
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As a child growing up in Cleveland, the Clinic buildings were a curiosity to me. I would look up at night to the lighted floors and wonder what surgery might be going on and how dedicated the staff must be working in the night trying to cure disease and save lives.
Twenty years later, I found myself standing opposite the CEO of Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Floyd D. Loop (TS’70), as he directed me in performing a coronary bypass. And of course, I became one of those team members performing surgery – at night.
Immediately upon beginning my Cleveland Clinic surgical training in 1991 (preceded by several fourth-year medical school rotations in 1983), I experienced a unique culture of professionalism, respect, and even warmth. This persisted throughout my surgical training. I was surprised at how many people with whom I worked had been there 20 or even 30-plus years. Their uniform loyalty to the process and their conscientiousness were unwavering. The work ethic, efficiency, and “can-do” attitude were pervasive throughout the institution. Yet, they all treated me, the new face, with friendly respect and encouragement. I had never experienced that in my education or in my eight prior years of surgical training. I was indeed in a unique place where I was considered family.
When I left Cleveland Clinic 31 years ago to practice in the Tampa Bay area, I took with me more knowledge, skill and judgement obtained in that short time than from all my preceding years of training. The intraoperative skills, words and thoughts of Drs. Loop, Delos “Toby” Cosgrove (Staff’75), Bruce Lytle (CCF’78), Paul C. Taylor, MD (S’70, TCS’72), and Patrick McCarthy (TS’04) have stuck with me to this day.
It seemed only natural for me to want to maintain a relationship with Cleveland Clinic, and I decided there would be no better way than to campaign for the Cardiothoracic Surgery Alumni Representative position on the Alumni Board. Serving as the CT surgery rep and eventual Alumni President, I learned a great deal about Cleveland Clinic, and I became educated on what I could do to support philanthropy. In 2009, I had my first Alumni event in my home and, along with my first Cleveland Clinic mentor, Dr. Susan Rehm, became an early contributor to the Alumni Legacy Society.
Over the last 25 years, I have been able to represent Cleveland Clinic at the Dubai Health Conference and visit Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and Cleveland Clinic London while both were under construction. I particularly enjoyed speaking to Alumni in the U.K. at a luncheon we gave in London in 2013, and then recruiting two surgeons for Cleveland Clinic London.
Along the way, I have spoken on behalf of the Alumni Association to various Cleveland Clinic groups, including the Orthopedic “Warthog” group, Florida GME Graduates, gastroenterologists and cardiothoracic surgeons, as well as at the Jagelman 34th Turnbull Colorectal Symposium. With the help of key staff, we secured discounts for Alumni subscribers to the Global Care Air Transport Program and for many CME events. Above all, communication with our Alumni was my central focus.
The Alumni Service award is a deeply meaningful honor. Prior award winners represent great Cleveland Clinic leaders: Drs. William Michener (CCF’61), Mehdi Razavi (CARD’67), Edwin Beven (S’62, VS’63), Robert Hermann (CCF’62), Zeyd Ebrahim (AN’81), Lilian Gonsalves (P’81), Robert Hobbs (CARD’79), Lee Adler (IM’75), James Lewis (IM’70, H/N’71, RES’74), Pauline Kwok (TRS’95, DR’00, ABI’01) and Susan Rehm (IM’81, ID’83). These are just a few of the people I have met through my association with Cleveland Clinic. There have been so many more. My only regret is not having had the opportunity to meet Cleveland Clinic Founder George Crile Sr.
However, there is a quote from Dr. Crile that always has resonated with me. In his remarks to the first graduates of the CCF Fellows(residents) training class in 1926, he said:
“…those who have received these certificates will perhaps even more in the future than in the present, have a feeling that what has been done for them here in this institution has been of great practical value. We would like you to feel that the permanent staff and Board of Directors have great interest in your welfare and that we shall follow you as far as possible and hope that you will always remember that this is an institution that is sort of a home, in which you may always return from time to time.”
It is astounding that his words continue to perfectly explain my feelings for Cleveland Clinic. I can only assume that he envisioned exactly what I have experienced. Lifelong interaction with Cleveland Clinic has benefited my career, my education, and both my personal and professional satisfaction. I have indeed returned to my home to receive this Alumni Service Award, and I will forever feel part of the Cleveland Clinic family.