When Dr. Isidor Schwaner Ravdin received orders to head to Assam, India, in January of 1943, he had little idea of what awaited. But just as he had throughout an impressive medical career, he persevered—and excelled.
As executive officer and chief of the surgical service for the 20th General Hospital of the U.S. Army, Ravdin oversaw a medical unit charged with building a new hospital from scratch. In his journal, the acclaimed surgeon—and namesake of HUP’s Ravdin Pavilion—recounted his first glimpse of the proposed site: “The chota monsoon had begun the day before our arrival and where all before had been dust, now was mud. It was not possible to drive vehicles through the area. There were no roads, nor fires, no provision for messes, no satisfactory quarters for women. Real work lay ahead.” Under Ravdin’s guidance, that work was done. The hospital would treat 50,000 patients and by 1945, Ravdin was commanding officer of his unit.
Ravdin’s military accomplishments are a microcosm of what he achieved in a sterling medical career that began at Penn in 1928, when he was named chair of surgical research. A man of varied research interests, Ravdin investigated everything from shock to gall bladders, blood substitutes to cancer. Maybe his greatest contribution to Penn, however, was his administrative leadership. President Gaylord Harnwell considered Ravdin his right-hand man and he earned enough respect among other administrators that he was named vice president of medical affairs. In that role, he worked to make HUP one of the world’s greatest hospitals—and lent his expertise to other Philadelphia hospitals as well. He led several fundraising initiatives and, in appreciation of his efforts, the University named the Ravdin Institute in his honor.
Ravdin was loved and respected among his family and colleagues, and built a large circle of friends—including President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Asked once to describe his life, Ravdin said: “Each day is a full day, but a rewarding one.”
Originally published on March 30, 2006