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Alumni Gazette

The Surgeon Is in the House. And He’s Laughing.

“You realize you’ve got to be a little nutty to do this, right?,” Walter Pories ’55M (MD), ’62M (Res) says into the telephone.

He’s just come from a presentation by a visiting scholar—“this really fancy professor”—on palliative care. “She was so serious,” he says, drawing out the word serious. “Seeee-rious.” He’s already sketched up a cartoon in which a patient arises from bed and removes the “Do Not Resuscitate” sign from his door.

Pories has gone to (and delivered) a long list of presentations, and sat through (and led) countless faculty meetings in his 50-plus-year career in academic medicine. He arrived at East Carolina University in 1977 to help establish the medical school. The founding chair of surgery, he’s now the director of East Carolina’s Metabolic Surgery Research Group.

He’s responded to life in academic medicine through humor since his time as a resident at Rochester. When it came time to choose who among his 12 cohorts in the general surgery residency program would remain to become chief residents, “I had some real concerns, like everybody else,” he says. “But my biggest concern was that fact that I made cartoons of a lot of these faculty members. I thought, ‘I’m really dead meat here.’ ”

It turns out Pories was wrong. “By God, I got picked to be a chief resident,” he says. “So I said, ‘What in the world happened?’ And they said, ‘Well, the only people upset were the ones you didn’t cartoon.’ ”

Pories’s cartoons are regular features of the journals Bariatric Times, which runs “Walter Pories’s Cartoon Corner, as well as Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, which features a cartoon by Pories on the back page of every issue. In 2015 the American College of Surgeons published a collection of Pories’s cartoons, Is There a Surgeon in the House?

“I was amazed that the American College of Surgeons would ask to publish” the collection, Pories says. He deals with controversial themes in the messy and uncertain world of fast-changing health care economics. “Patients have become commodities, and the rules are made to save money,” he says. He doesn’t spare the academic leaders caught in that bind. But so far, he’s kept many of them laughing.

—Karen McCally ’02 (PhD)