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Dr. Nate Schnaper, Longtime Professor of Psychiatry, Dead at Age 92

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

 Dr. Schnaper was still seeing patients, even though in his 90s.

Nate Schnaper, MD, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry for more than 50 years, passed away on August 23, 2010 after a brief illness. He was 92. Dr. Schnaper, though retired, was still seing patients until just shortly before his death, counseling them at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center (UMGCC).


“He was a much beloved father figure to everyone who worked here,” said Kevin Cullen, MD, professor of Medicine and director of the UMGCC, in an email sent to staff. “From his irascible sense of humor to his omnipresent red socks, Nate was inextricably woven into the fabric of this place.”


According to The Baltimore Sun, Dr. Schnaper was the son of Russian Jewish immigrant parents who was born in a second-floor apartment above his father's East Baltimore shoe store, and in 1925 moved with his family to a home near Pimlico racetrack. After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in 1936, he enrolled at Washington College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1940. Even though he had been accepted as a student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Schapner didn't have the tuition money, so in 1940 he enlisted in the Army instead. He served five years with the118th General Hospital's psychiatric unit in the Pacific. “It was like an apprenticeship to medical school,” Dr. Schnaper told The Baltimore Sun in a 2003 interview. It was this military experience that helped him decide to become a psychiatrist.


After the war, he entered the School of Medicine, where he earned his medical degree in 1949. He completed his internship at the former U.S. Public Health Hospital in Wyman Park, MD, and his psychiatric residency at Sheppard & Enoch Pratt Hospital.


Afterwards, Dr. Schnaper returned to the School of Medicine to teach medical students in the newly established Department of Psychiatry. He also worked as chief of the medical center's psychiatric branch from 1970 to 1977. And from 1974 until his retirement in 1996, Dr. Schnaper was chief of psychosocial services at the UMGCC. Even after his retirement, Dr. Schnaper continued to see patients at the cancer center and help them face their diagnoses, sometimes in unconventional ways.


“It was tough love, his brand, and he got right down to the problem,” said Dr. Stephen C. Schimpf, clinical professor of Medicine, in the Baltimore Sun obituary for Dr. Schnaper. “But his approach was a very practical one, an approach that helped patients cope with their illnesses, their anxieties, their threat of death and indeed with their death,” he said.


Dr. Schimpf, former director of UMGCC and CEO of the Medical Center until his retirement five years ago, added that his old friend and colleague was never one to mince words, either. “He cut through all the crap and would tell them, ‘This is what you're going to have to do. Life is tough. You may not make it. What's important is what you do with the time you have left,’ ” Dr. Schimpf said. “He was direct and very effective. The patients loved him.”


Patients weren't the only ones whose lives were touched by Dr. Schnaper. “He also helped residents and oncology fellows cope with the issues of an intense training program, but also with their insecurities of entering a field where success is often measured in reducing pain and suffering rather than cure,” Dr. Schimpf said.


In 2003, a summer internship program bearing Dr. Schnaper’s name was established at the UMGCC. This eight-week program for undergraduate students in the arts and sciences matches these aspiring researchers with cancer research mentors to provide the students with the opportunity to become acquainted with cutting-edge areas of research in the current fight against cancer.


Contributions in Dr. Schnaper’s memory may be sent to the Dr. Nathan Schnaper Summer Scholars Program, University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, 22 South Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201.


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