Penn doctor's Russian ties

It helps to know the local language.

And it was Patrick Storey's familiarity with the local language that helped him gain the trust of Russian officials over more than three decades. As associate dean for International Medical Programs in the Medical School, Storey has built on that trust to help Penn forge strong ties with one of Russia's leading medical institutes.

Storey's Russian ties go back to the height of the Cold War, he explained in an interview filled with anecdotes. After the Soviets launched Sputnik, the hospital where Story was then chief of medicine offered a Russian class for its staff. "Forty-eight of us showed up," he said. "At the end of a year and a half, there were three left -- the two teachers and me."

Because of his facility with Russian he was chosen to head a 32-member team that spent five months touring the Soviet Union in the early 1960s.

"I had a camera, and since I knew the language, the KGB didn't worry too much about where I went. This sounds like a paradox, but they didn't worry about losing me.

"When I came back from that trip," he continued, "I knew more about these three capital cities of Russia than most Russians, because Russians don't travel."

After this first visit, Storey returned repeatedly to study the Russian medical system. Storey was impressed by its comprehensiveness and by the efficiency of its emergency ambulance system: "Our whole 911 system is based on their 03 system, which was fantastic," he said. But while Russian medical record-keeping was thorough and detailed, he said, "the problem is, they never got to typewriters," so records were all scribbled in ink.

When Storey arrived at Penn in 1972, then-Penn President Martin Meyerson was actively promoting expanded international ties, a trend that continues to this day. Shortly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Storey found himself on a mission to Leningrad -- once again called St. Petersburg -- with then-Provost Michael Aiken and then-Director of International Medical Programs Larry Early, with the goal of establishing academic ties with the Pavlov Medical Institute there.

The three met with Institute director Nicholai Antonovitch Yaitsky, and a translator. "Nicholai Antonovich is giving this talk and he sees me writing this note, and the translator hadn't said anything yet, so he said, 'What's going on?'

"His just knowing that I knew Russian helped break through all the hurdles" in establishing the partnership, he said.

The Penn-Pavlov partnership has achieved three major goals so far: connecting the Pavlov Institute's medical library to the database of the National Library of Medicine in the United States, establishing a regular medical exchange that brings Pavlov students to Penn and developing a computerized information-management system for the institute.

For all he has done to promote ties with Russian doctors, Storey insists that he is not their instigator: "All I am is a link." The real driving forces behind Penn's growing connections abroad, he said, are Senior Associate Dean for Academic Programs Donald Silverberg and the faculty of the various departments in the Medical Center.

In fact, Storey noted, ties between Penn and Russian doctors go back decades: "When I first came into this job," he said, "they gave me a letter from [Ivan] Pavlov to Prof. [A.N.] Richards, our most famous physiologist, written in 1928. They sent it up to me to translate, because they knew I knew Russian. But I knew it wasn't in Russian -- they used the common [medical] language of that time, which was German."

Originally published on May 14, 1998