Fuhrman won his department’s teaching award so many times that they named it for him. (Photo by Nikhil B. Amesur)
Don’t even think about using the word ‘prominent.’ Foreheads are prominent. If you’re going to tell me about what you’ve seen, you need to tell me about the structure’s size, its shape, its contour, its position. No ‘prominent.’”
That’s the sort of guidance radiologist Carl Fuhrman (MD ’79) was famous for giving. A celebrated teacher, Fuhrman challenged students to be precise in their language and observations.
Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Fuhrman attended Pitt for his undergraduate and medical studies. He became a full professor in the Department of Radiology in 1994 and served as chief of thoracic radiology for the next 27 years. He died unexpectedly in June, while reading X-rays.
Speaking at a memorial celebration in July, Christopher Faber characterized Fuhrman’s teaching as “the Socratic method, but with a Carl Fuhrman twist.” By asking binary questions such as “Which lung is larger?” Fuhrman guided students’ observations. “At the end, you would believe you had come up with the correct diagnosis,” Faber, associate professor of medicine, said.
“Everybody was brighter when they were around Carl.”
“His passion was teaching,” said Melissa McNeil (MD ’80), professor of medicine and a friend for more than 40 years. “He loved our students, and they loved him.” At the memorial, McNeil read excerpts from Fuhrman’s teaching evaluations, which she said contained more exclamation points than she had ever seen. “Dr. Fuhrman!!!” read one evaluation. “Everyone has got to listen to his lectures.”
Fuhrman was a nine-time winner of the Golden Apple Award, given annually by medical students to the top-rated professor. His peers in the national Association of University Radiologists voted him top teacher in 2013. And Pitt awarded him the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Fuhrman won his department’s teaching award 15 times—so often that in 2016 it was renamed in his honor.
For those who worked with and learned from Fuhrman, his skill as a teacher was inseparable from his excellence as a clinician. “You can’t be a gifted teacher unless you know your field backwards and forwards,” says Jules Sumkin, chair of radiology. “Carl just had all the pieces.”
Marion Hughes (MD ’00), who trained with Fuhrman and later became his colleague as associate professor of radiology, says: “To be excellent as a radiologist there’s a lot of inferring, and he was very good at that. He was extremely accurate and very fast, a rare combination.”
Fuhrman also possessed a legendary memory. At Fuhrman’s memorial, Jacob Sechrist, assistant professor of radiology, said, “Not only did he remember their medical history but he could tell you when they got divorced and how much their spouse got in the settlement.”
As a researcher, Fuhrman distinguished himself with more than 100 publications, contributing to the understanding of lung cancer, interstitial lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Fuhrman created a tutorial to aid radiologists across the UPMC system and beyond in correctly identifying the virus on a chest X-ray.
He was often reading chest X-rays by 5 or 6 a.m., Hughes says, so he could be finished in time to hear student presentations. Each Friday, from 7 to 8 a.m., he held a conference that was wildly popular.
“I learned something from Carl in every interaction,” said Faber. “Regrettably my education lasted only 33 years. In that time I learned perhaps 1% of what he knew. I was hoping to get to 2%.”
“It’s an incomparable loss,” says Hughes. “When you [are] not only great yourself but train hundreds of other people to be great, that’s your legacy.”