Smart Moves

Norman Einstein is giving medical students the power of choice.
Portrait of Norman Einstein, a white male, standing outdoors


In 1992, ESPN Sportscaster Joe Theismann took some gentle flack for what seemed like an on-air flub. "The word genius isn't applicable in football," he said. "A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."

Everyone made fun of Theismann for not knowing the first name of history's most famous scientist. But he defended himself: There was a Norman Einstein—he was a valedictorian in their New Jersey high school. And Theismann had found him "very intelligent."

Norman Einstein, M73, studied physics at Rutgers University (yes, his professors teased him about it) and medicine at Tufts. He spent twenty-eight years as an emergency room physician at Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, North Carolina. Now retired, he's still making smart moves—as well as thoughtful ones. He recently pledged $400,000 to set up a scholarship program that will provide up to $10,000 a year for up to four medical students at a time. The scholarships will be for the neediest students, on top of what Tufts would already provide for financial aid.

Einstein noticed that the cost of medical school has grown significantly since he was in school. And that got him thinking. "I wonder whether these medical students today, faced with all these loans and debt—is that going to influence what they do in medicine?" He could easily see a young doctor feeling pressured to go into a lucrative specialty, such as cardiology or plastic surgery, just to pay off crushing debt.

Einstein said he was thinking about both doctors and patients when he created his scholarship. If students with an interest in pediatrics or family medicine can follow their passion, everyone wins. "It's very important to have good primary care," he said. "That's where it starts."

Initially considering a planned gift, he later decided that he wanted to see his gift doing good in his lifetime. "My hope is that I get to meet the scholarship recipients," he said, perhaps at his fiftieth Tufts reunion.

Einstein's own years at Tufts were marked by meaningful interactions with "wonderful humanists and teacher clinicians" including Louis Weinstein, Jerome Kassirer, Robert Schwartz, and Jack Mitus. After Tufts, he practiced and taught medicine at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., and later became a general internist in a small town in North Carolina. When he took the E.R. job in Hickory, he was reluctant to abandon the patients he was treating for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. "Many didn't have a lot of money and going ninety miles to a rheumatologist was going to be a hardship."

So he worked out a deal with his new job to work one day a week seeing his rheumatology patients. This, he said, reveals one of his less-genius moments: He hadn't thought that it sometimes meant working a night shift in the E.R. on Wednesday night and driving to his clinic Thursday morning. He said he could have been a little savvier on the economics, too. "But I didn't do it for the money. It was really, really reward- ing helping those patients."

As for Theismann's comment, Einstein demurs. "He never came right out and said whether he really meant me or Albert Einstein," he said. We think it was a smart choice either way.