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Vanderbilt University Medical Center Reporter

Collins recalled as icon of medical education

by | Posted on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 — 9:33 AM

Robert D. Collins, M.D., professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, Emeritus, died Nov. 28. He was 85.

Dr. Collins received his B.A. in 1948 and his M.D. in 1951, from Vanderbilt. He began his career at Vanderbilt as an instructor of Pathology in 1957. He attained the rank of professor in 1968 and established the Division of Hematopathology in the early 1970s.

Robert D. Collins, M.D.

From 1996 through 2009, he held the John L. Shapiro Chair in Pathology. Dr. Collins was given the Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor Award in recognition of his “distinguished accomplishment in furthering the aims of Vanderbilt University.” He received the Grant Liddle Award for Excellence in Research and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association.

He influenced generations of medical students as an iconic teacher and mentor. Many credit him with being among their earliest and most influential role models regarding professionalism and what it means to be a Vanderbilt doctor. Dr. Collins has been honored with numerous teaching awards such as the Shovel Award (four times) and the Jack Davies Award for Best Preclinical Teacher (seven times). The Medical School faculty award, for Excellence in Teaching Medical or Graduate Students or Practicing Physician in the Lecture Setting, is named the Robert D. Collins Award in his honor. The Robert D. Collins, M.D., Scholarship, which was established in 1996, currently benefits medical students.

“Dr. Collins is an iconic figure for generations of medical students and colleagues. Throughout his distinguished career he remained deeply committed to deeply held values around what was best for students and trainees in medicine,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “A true academic, Dr. Collins devoted his life’s work toward mentoring thousands of students while conducting research that led to important advancements in the care of patients with cancer. He leaves behind not only all those he touched along the way, but also a lasting legacy for future generations through his leadership in raising medical school scholarships. As the Vanderbilt community mourns his passing, we also celebrate his enduring service of more than 50 years to the University.”

Dr. Collins received the Distinguished Pathologist Award from the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology in 2005 which recognized him for distinguished service and major contributions to the discipline of Pathology.

“Dr. Collins established himself as a giant in Pathology,” said Samuel Santoro, M.D., Ph.D., Dorothy Beryl and Theodore R. Austin Professor of Pathology and chair of the department. “He was an important teacher and mentor for me during my student days here at Vanderbilt.”

In recognition of Dr. Collins’ contribution to the Pathology department a fellowship was established in his name in 2005.

“It is especially fitting that we honor him at Vanderbilt by establishing the Robert D. Collins Fellowship in Hematopathology to perpetuate his legacy and commitment to the education of future generations of pathologists,” Santoro said.

Dr. Collins helped launch and lead the Coalition for the Canby Robinson Society (CRS), with the goal of continuing the success of CRS and broadening the scale of support for the Medical Center, a natural extension of his interest in establishing scholarships for medical students. The Coalition was led by Collins, Robert McNeilly Jr., and Judson Randolph, M.D. All three attended Vanderbilt as undergraduates, and Randolph and Dr. Collins were medical students together.

“We were a trio interested in scholarships for Vanderbilt medical students, and we worked to raise money in that endeavor. Dr. Collins was a great leader in that cause. He was an original renaissance man at Vanderbilt. He was a scholar, a research scientist, a clinical pathologist and a teacher. He really was the ultimate example of a Vanderbilt faculty leader,” Randolph said of his friend.

Teaching medical students how to solve problems was his focus for 40 years, during which time he and his wife, Elizabeth Cate Collins, BA’50, welcomed generations of students and faculty into their home.

His second career, begun in 1999, encompassed writing, collaborative research and teaching residents microscopy. He wrote four books: two in his field of hematopathology, the third a biography of Vanderbilt scientist Ernest Goodpasture, “Ernest William Goodpasture: Scientist, Scholar, Gentleman,” and the fourth, titled “Ahmic Lake Connections, The Founding Leadership of Vanderbilt University.”

Dr. Collins is survived by his wife of 63 years, Elizabeth Cate Collins; his children: Robert Deaver Collins Jr. (Rebecca); Richard Roos-Collins (Margit); Elizabeth Landress Collins (Steven); and William Drew Collins, (Janet); five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

A memorial service will be held at West End United Methodist Church on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 (time to be determined). In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Vanderbilt Medical School Endowed Scholarship Program, Alive Hospice, American Rivers and West End United Methodist Church.

Contact:
Kathy Whitney, (615) 322-4747
kathy.f.whitney@vanderbilt.edu


  • Eric Senn

    I’ll never forget the first time I heard Dr. Collins say, “A day out of Middle Tennessee is a day wasted”…..He was indeed a phenomenal teacher, firm but kind. His passing is a huge loss to Vanderbilt and indeed the world.

    Yet a life well lived.

    Eric Senn MD ’88

    • April Truett Poling

      I can still hear him say, “common things occur commonly…” He was an amazing teacher!

  • Paul DeFlorio

    A towering paragon of medicine. A great teacher, a gentleman, and a scholar. His books are on my shelf, his teachings in my mind, and his memory will be held close for the rest of my life.

  • Ted Feintuch

    Robert Collins, M.D. will be remembered by students as well as Pathology colleagues as giant in the world of Pathology especially in the field of Hematopathology. As a student he helped me to learn how to study the disease process. As a practicing Pathologist, he provided me with valuable assistance in the evaluation of often confusing and difficult diagnostic problems. His many acolytes in Pathology now provide similar assistance to new generations of Pathologists.

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