Obituaries

Dr. Daniel D. Federman, 89, longtime dean at Harvard Medical School

Dr. Federman was the Carl W. Walter distinguished professor of medicine and medical education and a transformative figure during his 63-year career at Harvard Medical School. Above: Federman in an undated file photo.
Beth Beighlie/Harvard College
Dr. Federman was the Carl W. Walter distinguished professor of medicine and medical education and a transformative figure during his 63-year career at Harvard Medical School. Above: Federman in an undated file photo.

In a course he taught that was simply called “Patient-Doctor,” Dr. Daniel D. Federman offered wisdom to Harvard Medical School students about that relationship.

Known for putting everyone he met at ease, Dr. Federman was eloquent and charismatic – traits that made him an admired clinician and a popular choice for the class day address at Harvard. “He is by far the best speaker I have ever heard,” Dr. Nancy Oriol, the medical school’s former dean for students, told the Harvard Crimson in 2000. “When he puts his golden words to those powerful concepts, they take flight.”

And his ability to dissect and explain the complexities of medicine, education, and administration made him a valued colleague, too. “Dan was a genius in the way that he could take a concept and break it down to understandable words and sentences,” Dr. Joseph K. Hurd Jr., a former gynecology department chairman at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, said in a 2014 video tribute to Dr. Federman that the medical school posted online.

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In 2012, the medical school’s teaching awards were renamed for Dr. Federman, who once said the multiple roles and titles he had held as a professor and a dean could be concisely expressed in order of importance: “In my heart, I am a doctor, teacher, administrator.”

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Dr. Federman, who was the Carl W. Walter distinguished professor of medicine and medical education, and a transformative figure during his 63-year career at Harvard Medical School, died Wednesday in his Boston home of complications from a fall a couple of years ago. He was 89.

“Dan Federman was one of my heroes,” Dr. George Q. Daley, dean of the medical school, wrote in a message to alumni. Praising Dr. Federman’s many accomplishments, including his deft abilities as a bedside teacher on grand rounds, Daley added that he “remains for me and many in our community an inspirational role model as the consummate clinician-educator.”

Upon becoming the medical school’s dean for students and alumni in 1977, Dr. Federman helped develop and implement what is known as the New Pathway curriculum, a student-centered approach that has been imitated by medical schools throughout the United States and around the world. In 1989, he was named dean for medical education and served in that role until 2000, when he became senior dean for alumni relations and clinical teaching.

“There is nobody who typifies the teacher so well as Dan — in the lecture hall, at the bedside, or in the conference room,” Dr. Ronald Arky, who holds the professorship named for Dr. Federman, told the Harvard Gazette in 2000. “He has no equal in his ability to take a very complex subject and put it in simple, lucid, and precise terms.”

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Dr. Federman also was a respected researcher whose book “Abnormal Sexual Development,” published in 1967, “brought genetics and endocrinology together” into a new discipline, he said in a 2010 oral history video for the Endocrine Society that is posted online.

For many colleagues, however, Dr. Federman’s most memorable role was as a teacher, whether in a classroom or in one-on-one conversations.

He recalled in the 2014 Harvard Medical School video that he had been drawn to his calling early in his career. “I began by being interested in teaching and clinical work and, in essence, initiated that role at Harvard: a full-time faculty member who was predominantly a teacher and a doctor, rather than mainly a researcher,” he said.

The younger of two brothers, Daniel David Federman was born in New York City and grew up in the Bronx. His father, Louis Federman, was a jewelry salesman who traveled throughout the eastern part of the country. His mother, the former Frances Cohen, was a concert pianist and piano teacher who had trained at the Institute of Musical Art in New York, the precursor to The Juilliard School.

Dr. Federman recalled in the oral history that he “was a compulsive student” at DeWitt Clinton High School. “I did as I was supposed to,” he said. I read extensively — every day, every meal, every spare moment I was reading. I was never good in math and not really interested in science, but I loved English, poetry, French, and social studies.”

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At one point he considered pursuing music, though in his high school yearbook he listed psychiatrist as his career goal.

At Harvard College, he majored in social relations, a field of study that “was a blend of psychology — especially clinical psychology — sociology, and cultural anthropology. It was formed the year I started in it, and it was dazzling.” He graduated in 1949 and went to Harvard Medical School intending to become a psychoanalyst until a class in physiology prompted him to switch to internal medicine.

Nevertheless, “my interest was awakened in teaching in medical school,” he added in the interview. “In a number of classes we had to stand up and give a talk, and I really enjoyed it. Most people looked on it as a chore. After the first one, I realized I got a kick out of it.”

He graduated in 1953 and during his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital he met Elizabeth Buckley, who was always known as Betty and was the youngest head nurse in the hospital’s history. “If her family had been of a little different work background, she probably would have gone to medical school,” Dr. Federman said in the oral history. “She was a colleague not just to me, but to generations of my friends. By generations I mean successive classes at Harvard Medical School. I saw how much I had learned in three months working on her service. I knew I could never learn all she had to teach in three months, so we got married.”

They married in 1955 and were role models for their two daughters, Lise Federman of Boston, who has worked in health policy for state government and other organizations, and Dr. Carolyn Federman of Chicago, a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Betty Federman died in 2008.

Dr. Federman spent nearly his entire career at Harvard Medical School, except for four years in the mid-1970s when he was chairman of medicine at Stanford University. He had served as chairman of the American Board of Internal Medicine, as president of the American College of Physicians, and as a member of the Institute of Medicine, which is now the National Academy of Medicine. His many honors included the Distinguished Educator Award from the Endocrine Society.

In addition to his two daughters, Dr. Federman leaves a brother, Ralph of Plantation, Fla., and three grandchildren.

Dr. Federman’s family, friends, and colleagues will gather to celebrate his life at 1 p.m. Nov. 5 in the Harvard Club in Boston.

“He was a lovely, charming man,” Lise said. “He was a brilliant, brilliant clinician, but when he talked to you, he made you feel like a smart person.”

Dr. Federman also was an avid sailor and never lost the love of music he developed as a son of a concert pianist. “I’ve just found a teacher who specializes in older people going back to music,” he told the Harvard Gazette in 2000, when he was 72.

Bryan Marquard
can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a previous version of this obituary included an incorrect date for the planned celebration of life service. The gathering for Dr. Daniel D. Federman will be held at 1 p.m. Nov. 5 in the Harvard Club in Boston. Dr. Federman, a longtime dean at Harvard Medical School, died Sept. 6.