Henry H. Turner (1892-1970) was a pioneer endocrinologist, medical practitioner, and educator. He maintained a thriving private practice in Oklahoma City while at the same time serving on the faculty of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and its hospitals.
Henry H. Turner was born August 28, 1892, in Harrisburg, Illinois. He was the only child of John William Turner and Alice Rose Turner. Dr. Turner grew up in Harrisburg and graduated from high school there in 1912. In 1923, on June 28, Henry Turner and Frances Bulkley were married. Two children were born of this union: Marian Frances born in 1925 and Alice Ann in 1929.2 Dr. Turner was strongly civic-minded and was involved in many nonacademic endeavors. He was a Captain in the Oklahoma National Guard (Marine Corp) from 1924-1927. He was a member of several social clubs, including the Doctor's Dining Club, Lotus Club, Touchdown Club, and the Tower Club. He was very active in the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and sat on its Board of Directors for several years. He had a passion for raising exotic orchids. This passion seems to have been fueled by a trip to South America as an invited speaker for the Endocrine Society. After that visit, shipments of orchids from South America came on a regular basis.
Dr. Turner completed his premedical (undergraduate) work at St. Louis University from 1914to 1918.In 1918, he served as a "pregraduate extern" at St. Johns Hospital in St. Louis under Dr. William Englebach. Dr. Englebach was one of the true fathers of the discipline of endocrinology and was one of the first presidents of the Endocrine Society. In an interview at the time of his retirement, Dr. Turner said that he had learned both radiology and endocrinology from Dr. Englebach. From this time on, he would have a keen interestin both of these areas. He then entered the School of Medicine at St. Louis University and spent the first 2 years of medical school there. In 1921, he transferred to the University of Louisville and received the MD degree there in 192I .2 His internship was served at the Louisville City Hospital where he was a house officer in medicine in 1921-1922. He was appointed Chief Medical Resident at Louisville City Hospital and served in that capacity from 1922 through 1924. Although this seems to be a normal direction in training, it was, in fact, an unusual career choice for the time. To help pay for his training, he also held the appointment of resident roentgenologist at Louisville City Hospital. During these 2 years, he also participated in the metabolic ward as a "fellow" under Dr. John Walker Moore. Dr. Moore was likewise a pioneer in the field of metabolic disorders.
RESEARCH AND PRACTICE OF MEDICINE (1924-CIRCA 1941)
Dr. and Mrs. Turner relocated to Oklahoma City in 1924, where he started his private practice and became affiliated with the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and its hospitals. Dr. Turner was appointed Instructor in Medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in 1924, and in October of that year as acting medical superintendent of University Hospital. In 1928, he was promoted to Assistant Professor of Medicine and served in that capacity from 1928 to 1939. In 1930, the only neurologist at the Universityof Oklahoma died. To fill this void, Dr. Turner went to the University of Viennafor special (sabbatical) training in neurology and endocrinology during the period August through September 1930.From October through November 1930, he studied at the Hospital for Paralyzed and Epileptics at Queens Square, London. As mentioned, in 1924, he was appointed Acting Medical Superintendent of the University Hospital in Oklahoma City; as part of these duties, he supervised 5 to 6 interns and several medical students. At the same time, he was appointed Consulting Endocrinologist for University Hospital. He served in this capacity and also as Chief of the Adult Metabolic Clinic at University Hospital from 1924 for several years. During that entire period, Turner saw children with endocrine problems.
He was then appointed at the University of Oklahoma Clinical Professor of Medicine (1949-1966) and Clinical Professor Emeritus of Medicine from 1966 to 1970.2 In 1947, Dr. Turner was appointed Associate Dean of the faculty of the College of Medicine and served in that capacity through 1949. Dr. Turner was active in a variety of professional organizations. He was the Chairman for Post-Graduate Medical Teaching for the Oklahoma State Medical Association from 1932- 1943. In addition, he was the president of that organization from 1940-1941. He played many other prominent roles, notably in the Endocrine Society of America in which he served as vice president, secretary-treasurer, and in 1966-1967 as president. He belonged to the American Goiter Association, the Central Society for Clinical Research, and several local and regional medical organizations. He was a member of the board of directors of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. He was president of the National Society for Nuclear Medicine. He was an honorary member of the Endocrine Societies of Columbia, Haiti, and Mexico.
RETIREMENT (1969-AUGUST 4, 1970)
Dr. Turner was a heavy smoker. Whenever you saw him in his office, he was almost always smoking a cigarette. Thus, it was not a great surprise when he developed pulmonary signs and was found to have carcinoma of the lung, which was the cause of his death in 1970. Dr. Turner died on August 4, 1970, from complications of his lung cancer.
In reviewing the events of Dr. Turner's life, one comes away amazed at many aspects of his life. Clearly, he was a brilliant man with a keen eye for observation. He was a man of apparently endless energy and enthusiasm. His involvement with the early stages of endocrinology was truly pioneering, and his training and collaborations are filled with the names of the true pioneers of the field. Probably most important was his commitment to academic endeavors. This is particularly notable given the reality of early academic medicine-the constraints of private practice conflicting with academic pursuits. He was a teacher, a community leader, and a political strategist. One striking lesson to be learned is that the more things change, the more they tend to stay the same. The reader is referred to the quote below taken from Dr. Turner's 1941 OSMA Presidential Address. In his concluding remarks, one can still see the reality of today's practice of medicine. "Perhaps devotion to scientific improvement and technical effectiveness is responsible for failure to keep the public fully aware of the achievements and standards of American medicine. The future of medicine will be determined by the intelligence and vigor with which we combat this widespread propaganda. We have been called poor businessmen and impractical idealists, an accusation with a great deal of justification. It is more important now than ever before that physicians participate in public activities and cooperate in the promotion of projects, which seem to have community value. We must function as citizens to expect consideration from the lawmakers. We must have more than a superficial knowledge of the machinery of government. It is imperative that we demand from all legislators -senators and congressmen-our local representatives-their views on health legislation. If we are to survive, we must alter the viewpoint of the patient by familiarizing the public with the facts or truths. Let each and every one of us assume the responsibility of preserving the independence of American medicine."
A Tribute to Henry H. Turner, MD (1892-1970) A Pioneer Endocrinologist
G. Bradley Schaefer, MD, and Harris D. Riley, Jr., MD, Historical Note, The Endocrinologist, Volume 14, Number 4, August 2004