Employee Spotlight: College of Medicine Dean Daniel V. Schidlow, MD, and His Storied Life and Career
July 11, 2018
Last month, it was announced that Drexel University College of Medicine Dean Daniel V. Schidlow, MD, will be leaving his post as dean next June. By that time, he will have led the College for eight years as the Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Dean and senior vice president of medical affairs. He will have taught at the College for all of its 17 years. He will have spent 43 years living in Philadelphia and working at the now-Drexel-affiliated St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, where he moved from a pediatric pulmonary disease fellow to the institution’s youngest chief of medicine to the chairman of the Department of Pediatrics to physician-in-chief and senior associate dean of the pediatric clinical campus. And he will have lived in the United States for 45 years, after settling in the country for good in the spring of 1974 to escape the political turmoil of his native Chile.
So what’s the plan for going forward, then? Well, starting next July, he will embark on a year-long sabbatical to finally pursue a variety of plans he’s had to postpone, like traveling with his family and taking up educational experiences in health care, education and music (more on that later).
And after that well-deserved sabbatical, he’ll return to Drexel to add to his experiences (and time) at the College and the University.
“I want to continue doing some of the things I love,” he said. “I’m also coming back as a very strong symbol of my confidence and love for this College of Medicine and the University as a whole. I want to be a part of its future, and I want to contribute to its success in any way or form, in a different manner than I’m doing now.”
As a dean, Schidlow has already contributed to the College’s success in a myriad of ways. Currently, it’s one of the most applied-to medical colleges in the country — last year it ranked third in the country for receiving the most applications. During his tenure as dean, the College created its Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Professional Studies. Before his tenure as dean, Schidlow helped his beloved St. Christopher’s bounce back after it declared bankruptcy and lost over half of its faculty and many clinical programs. And overall, he’s very proud of what the College of Medicine community has done collectively — build up the College’s educational experiences and residency training program, increase research opportunities and build upon and strengthen the College’s diversity to look like what Schidlow calls “a mirror of the society that surrounds us.”
“I’m really proud that we’ve increased the conscious need for diversity here and are working to make the College a place full of opportunity,” he said. “We must really try to recruit people who will be representative of that diversity and serve as role models for those coming in afterwards. And I’m proud that globally, we are trying to create opportunities for students who have or want international experience, and international experience in global health, to learn about other cultures and see how other cultures view the practice of medicine.”
In addition to his roles and duties as the dean, Schidlow has never stopped teaching and helping medical students with their educations and careers. In recent years, he’s brought in former patients for lectures about the physician-patient bond and has participated in facilitating simulations at the College’s Independence Blue Cross Medical Simulation Center. He’s also taught at “Bowtie School.”
Yes, “Bowtie School.”
It’s a seminar Schidlow hosts to teach students of both genders how to tie a bowtie, and about bowties in general. It’s a topic that’s literally and figuratively dear to his heart — which you might have already known if you’ve ever met Schidlow, or really paid attention to the photo at the top of this story [Editor’s note: Schidlow wore a yellow bowtie while being interviewed for this article].
Schidlow estimates that he’s been wearing bowties for about 35 years now — add it to the list of his long-term accomplishments — and started wearing them when he became a pediatrician.
“Pediatricians can be identified with bowties,” he explained. “And I learned that long ties can be more of a handicap when you’re in pediatrics and you have to lean over and it can get in the way. I always felt that you had to be dressed professionally for your patient, and working in pediatrics, it’s nice to add a little twist and show a lighter touch.”
Now, Schidlow estimates that, based off of his bowtie racks, he owns over 120 bowties. He wears them so frequently that sometimes people don’t recognize him if he’s wearing a long tie. Over the years, it’s become tradition for him to give bowties — from his personal collection or ones that he’s bought — as gifts or to auction them off for various charities or benefits, like the College’s annual Pediatric AIDS Benefit Concert.
Less obvious, however, is Schidlow’s love of cufflinks, of which he estimates he now has more than 250 pairs, after “divesting” over 150 pairs as gifts or donations. He has boxes and boxes of medical cufflinks, Drexel cufflinks, “fancy” cufflinks with a stone or precious metal and animal cufflinks [Editor’s note: he wore yellow frog cufflinks to the interview for this article].
“I didn’t mean for cufflinks or bowties to become a thing,” he said. “You know, when you collect anything, you always start with one and you get another and then it just grows.”
Another one of Schidlow’s signature “things” is his love of opera and classical music, which he has incorporated into the College of Medicine. Growing up, Schidlow enjoyed singing and listening to his parents’ opera records, but he didn’t take formal lessons until he met his wife, who minored in music and would accompany him on the piano. Now, he’s a classically trained, lyric baritone with 30 years of vocal studies — also add that to his list of long-term accomplishments — and liturgical cantor who conducts and sings at religious services and life cycle events.
Six years ago, Schidlow founded DuCOM Classical, a special interest group for College of Medicine students and faculty to come together and sing and play instruments to share their love of music. Once a year, Schidlow takes a group of Dragons to the Philadelphia Opera or, more recently, to the movie theater to watch the Metropolitan Opera’s movie transmissions.
“I wanted people to come together and really remember that we are more than just students or physicians or scientists,” he said. “We are human beings with a full array of interests that we should ideally keep up to give us some balance and a larger understanding of the human experience.”
The importance of the ability to share and connect with others is something Schidlow knows very well. It’s been ingrained in him since before he was born, when his parents fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and moved to La Paz, Bolivia before settling in Santiago, Chile, where Schidlow grew up.
“I was born in a Hispanic country and a Latino country, but my parents and grandparents were Jewish; my grandparents were from Poland, my dad was born in Vienna and my mom was born in Berlin, and they lived in Germany before escaping,” said Schidlow. “There’s certainly no conflict there in any way or form — I think they’re complimentary. I am very proud of my Hispanic heritage and of having been born in a Latin American country — it may not be in my genes, but it’s certainly carved into my way of being and my language, since my first language is Spanish. But I also have my family’s Jewish and European backgrounds, and that heritage is very powerful and important to me as well.”
After living through a tumultuous time in Chile’s history and coming of age in Salvado Allende’s reign of power, Schidlow quit his position at a Chilean hospital a day before Allende was overthrown in a military coup in 1973. He ultimately joined his brother and family members already living in America and started a new life in the Bronx. He then moved to Philadelphia two years later, in 1976, to train at St. Christopher’s after having trouble finding a position as a pediatric pulmonary specialist with an exchange visitor visa. And though that all happened a long time ago, it has continued to influence Schidlow as an educator, a physician and, most of all, as a human being.
“Coming from another country, I understand that there are many common threads to connect everyone. We’re all human and we all bleed red and we all have the same yearnings and interests,” he said. “I have a love of language, a love of different cultures and maybe some openness to experiences and diversity that I may not have had otherwise, all because of my background and the fact that I came as an immigrant to this country.”
This story was published in the summer 2018 issue of Drexel Quarterly.